Tracking tweets to catch out test cheats

24th May 2013 at 01:00
Exam board announces monitoring of social media

They might more often be used to share pictures of friends and family or organise a night out, but now social media posts are being monitored to find students who cheat in their exams.

In previous exam seasons, questions have been posted online and students have even been caught using Twitter during tests. This has prompted exam board AQA, which operates in the UK (excluding Scotland), to warn this week that it will monitor social media and take action if it finds evidence of cheating.

"If we do come across any examples of overstepping the boundaries, or of actual cheating, we will step in and investigate," a spokeswoman said. "We do this to be fair to all students taking our exams - it isn't right that anyone has an unfair advantage."

She explained that the exam board was publicising its move in order to educate students about what they could not share online, such as rumours about exam contents, which could trigger an investigation. OCR, an exam board based in Cambridge, England, also said that it monitored social media.

A Twitter search by TES for "cheating" and "GCSE" (exams taken by 16-year-olds) provided evidence that there are indeed students shrewd enough to give themselves an advantage in exams, but not quite so cunning as to refrain from admitting to it on a public forum. The volume of confessions was low, however, and they tended to be written under pseudonyms.

One user wrote: "you know me and my brain. i wasn't exactly cheating... i was seeing if i could do team work in an exam. Loool." Another said: "hell yeah I cheated!!! I got 100% in my writing exam! Top tip: sit by the computers they can't see you there."

The exam board's move reflects an increasing concern by testing bodies globally about the potential for cheating using smartphones, as devices become ubiquitous. A report by UK telecoms regulator Ofcom in 2011 found that 47 per cent of teenagers had smartphones, while a survey by the Pew Research Center in the US last year found that the ownership rate was 37 per cent.

The Boston Globe reported earlier this year that in Massachusetts, US, a dedicated staff member scans Twitter for use of the term #MCAS (Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System). Ten students were caught tweeting during exams and had their tests invalidated.

California's education department, meanwhile, has introduced heightened security measures for its standardised tests after dozens of questions appeared on social media sites last year, the Los Angeles Times revealed this month. The state education department and test administration company check Twitter "every 15 minutes", looking for students who have revealed questions.

With cheap smartphones now available for the equivalent of #163;45, high-tech cheating is also a concern in developing nations. In Kenya, the Daily Nation reports that smartphone cheating is on the increase because of lax invigilation.

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