Misc 23/01/2021

Paying 35 euros for someone to take your 'uni' test

Impersonation puts further virtual testing in faculties on hold

3 min
Taulell with the types of messages that can be found on the networks to take college exams.

BarcelonaIn just 30 minutes, ten people respond to an ad offering to help, or directly take, a university exam: "Contact me by Telegram and tell me the subject, the university and the time of the exam. Thank you". The buying and selling of jobs and the cheats of passing a university subject have been perfected and, taking advantage of the fact that the pandemic has forced virtual teaching and assessment, have been extended to examinations too. There are hundreds of messages on the networks such as this one: "I'm looking for a person to take a law exam this Monday afternoon, the 25th. I pay 35 euros".

The traditional cheap sheets hidden in the most unlikely places are now part of history, along with the sophisticated techniques that allow for virtual exams. The most basic is a WhatsApp group with all the classmates to pass the answers in case the exam is a multiple choice, and is presented to the students in the same order. Some teachers, however, have already managed to infiltrate these groups by posing as a student in order to detect cheating.

There are much more elaborate methods. The ARA has also found that it is easy to find candidates who pose as students and, charging an amount that in a few cases exceeds 100 euros, take the university exam, taking advantage of the fact that it can be done from home, and that most universities do not have systems to check whether the person on the other side of the screen is the student or not. They even investigate if there are systems that allow someone to enter a computer to take an exam while the student is on the screen.

A harming minority

Although only a minority of students do these tricks, the truth is that they jeopardize the general trust between university and students and, in fact, they have served as an argument for the rectors not to take all exams virtually, as the students wanted. Students have criticized the inconsistency of taking classes online throughout the semester but instead having to go to their faculty to take exams in person. And several student associations have regreted that this situation is not being used to change the methods of evaluating and focusing on tests in a more competent and less memoristic way.

This is, at least, what Jordi Regincós, professor at the department of computer science, applied mathematics and statistics at the University of Girona, has tried to do in the virtual examination of his students. Aware that "there will always be someone who will cheat", he avoided these sort of exams and tried to do a final evaluation which included "analysis, justification and development" to prevent students from "copying and pasting through a WhatsApp group".

He believes he has succeeded: he suspects that there has been no more fraud than in previous years, and says that whatever he may have done is bearable if he has been able to save "putting more pressure" on "honest" students: "I am aware that perhaps someone has cheated, but I also know that it is a minority. I'd rather have two or three take advantage of it and have the majority get the grade they're entitled to than have them all in a lot of classrooms, wearing a mask and a coat".

In order to gain their trust, Regincós had the students sign a "commitment to academic integrity" in which they pledged to "respect basic rules of behaviour and act honestly" during the software engineering II exam.

Six hours for 11 students

What Regincós could not check in any way is whether it was really his students who were taking the exam. It's one thing to copy, another to impersonate. "That would really bother me", he says. Precisely to avoid cases like these, Jordi Muñoz, professor of political science at the University of Barcelona, preferred to take the exam in person, but giving a virtual option to students who wanted it, which in the end was 11 out of 60.

In the online option, Muñoz made sure to check that whoever was taking the test was really his student, which was what concerned him most. How? By taking an oral exam with half an hour of conversation. "If they haven't taken the subject, it's easily detectable", he says. However, the toll for this type of test is very expensive for teachers: "It took me six hours to evaluate 11 students".

One of the most advanced universities in this area is the UOC, which has applied the TeSLA project to check the identity of students and the authorship of online activities and exams through facial recognition, voice recognition or typing patterns, among other mechanisms. However, even in these cases there is a risk of fraud. "The only way to know for sure that it is the student -and not someone else- who has achieved the knowledge is to have face-to-face exams in classrooms", a university professor stresses. No one knows when we will recover this presentiality.