'Fake news' on GCSE papers spreading panic among pupils

Hoax leaks involving doctored GCSE exam papers are 'spreading like wildfire' online

Will Hazell

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"Fake news" about leaked GCSE exam papers is spreading panic among pupils online, Tes can reveal.

Last week, Ofqual wrote to schools, warning that individuals on social media are claiming to have exam papers.

Now Tes can reveal the impact the phenomenon is having on pupils and their anxiety levels, and how the hoaxers are working. 

In some cases, individuals are posting photos of past papers on social media – with the date doctored – to pretend they have copies of this year’s exams. 

While some of the hoaxes are the work of pranksters, others appear to be trying to con candidates into parting with cash. Exam boards have said they are investigating the "fraudulent activity". 

Read: A-level Edexcel maths paper leak referred to prosecutors

Read: Exam cheating commission wants to 'future proof' the system

Expert view: 'Without action, exam cheating will continue'

The first incident to have been picked up was in relation to two AQA GCSE biology papers. On the comment boards of The Student Room website, pupils can be seen panicking over an alleged leak.

One commenter posts: “According to many people, the AQA paper has been leaked! Although we still don’t know whether we have to resit or not!”

Another writes: “The papers have apparently found their way online. Is anything going to happen since they are online, could people have found this yesterday or before the exam and used them?”

It later emerged that the papers had been posted on the website Reddit well after the exam had finished – an infringement of AQA’s copyright, but with no possibility of cheating.

Shortly afterwards, rumours of another leak began circulating in relation to an AQA GCSE maths paper. Just hours before pupils were due to take it, an apparent image of the front page, including the date Tuesday 21 May 2019, was posted on Twitter.

Someone tweeting using the handle @aqamathsgcse claimed they had obtained the paper by hacking into the AQA website, and was offering to sell the paper for £15.

On the gaming platform Discord, someone also claimed they had “the leaked maths paper”. Clicking on the link they provided opened up an apparently official exam paper set for Tuesday 21 May.

However, if users scrolled to the end of the paper, it revealed a page with a mocking picture from the game Fortnite – the paper was a copy of last year’s exam with an edited front page.

Similar hoaxes have been perpetrated relating to an Edexcel GCSE maths paper – one video showed someone quickly scrolling through what appeared to be this year’s paper. Again, it was an old paper with a doctored date.

Joe Woodcock, community manager at The Student Room, told Tes the incidents had caused “quite a lot of panic”, and that the faked AQA maths paper had “spread like wildfire” online.

“Whoever started doctoring these papers realised that they could get quite a lot of oxygen from ‘leaked’ papers,” he said.

“There’s still misinformation with students on what happens if exam papers leak…What kids are stressing about is that the paper has been leaked to everyone but them – so the grade boundaries are going to be really high – and then also the idea that they may have to come back in to redo the exam with a different paper.”

A spokesperson for the Joint Council for Qualifications, which represents exam boards, told Tes: "JCQ exam boards are aware of fake exam papers being offered for sale this year. 

"The exam boards have procedures in place to ensure the security of their papers and are currently investigating this fraudulent activity. 

"The exam boards take this very seriously and there will be consequences for any student involved. If any student hears about papers being offered online, they should tell their school or college straightaway.”

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Will Hazell

Will Hazell

Will Hazell is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @whazell

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