Cheating’s new wave

Students are now using cell phones with built-in cameras and e-mail to cheat on tests, reports the Contra Costa Times.

Betsy, who’s a teacher, suggests not allowing test takers to have anything out on the desk.

About Joanne


  1. Mad Scientist says:

    Don’t get me started. I will be sitting for the Professional Engineering License Exam in April. The exam requires many calculations requiring a scientific calculator, and is open book/notes.

    The NCEES (the group that administers the nationwide exam has banned certain calculators precisely because of the potential for cheating. People who have earned at least a BS in engineering and have a minumum of 3 years of professional experience cannot be trusted.

    There are example of these professionals who have modified some calculators to communicate with other similar models during the test. Another issue is the time zone difference, where someone in say NYS, could relay the actual questions to someone on the west coast.

    Just another case of a few misguided individuals making life miserable for the majority of honest, hard workers.

  2. this is not so very new.

    there was a story, a year or more ago, about a “cheating ring” in Singapore or somewhere that was busted for using text-messaging during exams.

    I’ve not seen it myself (partly because I give mainly essay exams and it would be darned hard to text-message-cheat those, I think).

    One of my colleagues did have to threaten to throw a student out of her class because the girl and a friend were text-messaging – and giggling loudly and disruptively – during class.

  3. I had a student whose cell phone went off during every single test. He would shut it off sheepishly, up until the final, where he ANSWERED THE PHONE!! I stood there stunned for a minute, then walked over with the full intention of snatching the phone out of his hand. He shut it off and put it away before I could get there.

  4. This isn’t even new in the US – there was an incident at the University of Maryland where students have used text messaging to cheat on an exam.

    In my classes at my 2-year college, I put a statement in my syllabus that students could automatically receive a zero if they had a communications device in plain-sight during a test. That’s just the nature of the world we live in.

  5. The suggestion of having empty desks during an exam is new?? I always require nothing but a writing utensil and, if necessary, a piece of paper on desks during a test.

  6. Caffeinated Curmudgeon says:

    Mad Scientist wrote:

    “The NCEES (the group that administers the nationwide exam has banned certain calculators precisely because of the potential for cheating. People who have earned at least a BS in engineering and have a minumum of 3 years of professional experience cannot be trusted.”

    California bar exam essay portion (about 2/3 of exam) can be taken either with pen & paper or typewriter and paper. It is definitely not “open book”.

    “Typewriters” (which by now include computers) must be given to bar examiners days in advance of exam for inspection. The inspection is serious and thorough. No data or communication capability is allowed. Only necessary text editor/word processor software is allowed.

    Earplugs are recommended. A room of several hundred typewriters ranging from old mechanical Underwoods to daisy wheel and dot-matrix printers, very quickly begins to sound like a WWII bomber sortie. And it continues for about 3 hours per session.

  7. I know certain college students at Penn State (coughfratboyscough) would use their calculators to store the exams in their math classes. Then, when they got home they would get it back out, solve everything with the help of their house mates and books, and put the answers (including proofs) back into the calculators of everyone else in the house that would be taking the test later in the week for another session. It didn’t help the guy “scouting the test” much, but the rest of the house aced every exam.

    Of course, the better professors banned calculators, cell phones, pagers, hats, rubber bands on the wrist, anything but the test and a pen on the desk, and any open bags. For essay exams, the blue books were collected in a stack and re-distributed so that no one could write an essay beforehand with the book out. Extreme, but people still cheeted.

  8. PJ/Maryland says:

    Joanne, I haven’t been able to access the CC Times article.

    Mad Scientist, I would point out that the the more important a test is, the greater the incentive to cheat on it. It’s not simply that “people who have earned at least a BS in engineering and have a minumum of 3 years of professional experience” can’t be trusted, but that the PELE is so important. Of course, temptation is not an excuse for giving in, especially since (I assume) they can always retake the exam later.

    Good luck on the exam, by the way.

  9. I’m surprised that this is a new rule. This was the rule when I was in high school.

  10. Mad, you’ll be delighted to hear this …I’ve proctored the NYS Teacher’s Certification Exam on several occasions… cell phones are collected, all desks must be cleared of everything (except the test itself, pencils and two forms of ID which must remain visible), and you are ‘fingered printed’. Calculators where permitted are provided by the testing company, no others are allowed. Holy cow, even prospective teachers … go configure!!

  11. Wacky Hermit says:

    I have a classroom policy that if your cell phone goes off during a quiz or exam, I take your quiz or exam away at that moment, even if you’re not done. Some students have asked me why I take away the exam instead of the cell phone. Simple– the cell phone does not belong to me, so I have no right to take it.

  12. JimInNoVA,

    Are you serious? What kind of idiotic, moronic, lazy professors give the SAME exam to different sessions on different days????

    At Berkeley, if there were different sections of the same class, with exams on different days, the professor ALWAYS made up completely different versions of the exam.

  13. Mad Scientist says:

    Oh, it gets better. You are only allowed the testing service’s mechanical pencil. If you run out of lead, you will be issued a new pencil. There are documented cases where they actually did not have enough pencils for all of the people sitting the exam. You cannot bring in your own ERASER!

    Fingerprinting was required when I took the Fundamentals exam (some 20 years ago); I do not know if they will refingerprint us at the exam.

    *ALERT* – Some people may find the following a bit of a whine. It is not. It is meant to show the hassles inflicted on people by a poorly thought out implementation.

    The problem I have with the calculator policy is that there are basically 2 types of scientific calculators – algebraic and RPN. When I say scientific, I do not necessarily mean a programmable or graphical calculator, just one that can do log, ln, trig functions, roots (square and otherwise), and powers. I have used RPN for over 20 years, and my trusty calculator was on the banned list. No big deal – until you find out the only RPN calculators allowable were (until recently) either collectors items (I am NOT making this up – I could sell my illegal calculator on eBay for about 3 time what I paid for it) or not yet available for sale. The ones that just came on the market are of a very poor and confusing design. The implementation of the policy was poorly thought out by the policy makers.

    The problem with using an algebraic calculator (for me at least) is that it’s like trying to learn to drive over in the UK. Yes, you could figure out the mechanics, but it takes you that much longer. This is a big deal in an exam where there is serious time pressure.

    Luckily, a co-worker has an RPN calculator that is legal for the exam.

  14. Mad Scientist says:


    I know about the correlation between the importance of an exam and the incentive to cheat on it. However, this could be addressed by denying a cheater the ability to EVER take the exam again. At least in engineering, there does not seem to be this rule.

    Personally, I do not want unethical people responsible for the safety of the general public.

  15. Walter Wallis says:

    It was smoke signals and tomtoms when I took my PE’s. Good luck Mad EIT. May you make your number.

    M-14387, EE-9754

  16. I’m with Walter Wallis – let them use slide rules! That was good enough to send men to the moon, should be good enough for a PE exam! 😛

  17. Mad Scientist says:

    Walter and Harvey:

    I, once upon a time, did know how to use a slide rule. Once calculators came along, I never looked back.

    But then again, you guys probably were bled by leeches for a headache. Asprin is so much better for that.

    And the PE is really not that important for my current position (due to the industrial exemption and spending the majority of my career in R&D). Two years ago, I started doing some capital projects, and thought it would be best if I actually knew something. A PhD only gets you so far.

    Besides, in this economy, I really do not want to be looking for a job; I’ll be my own boss.

  18. Wacky Hermit says:

    Mad Scientist, that is so interesting about the RPN calculators! I had no idea they made RPN calculators like that. I will have to let my students know; I have several who prefer RPN to algebraic.

  19. Jab – Not only did they give the same exam to two different sections on different days, one was known for giving the same exam three or four YEARS in a row. He’d give a speech about how he graded on a curve across all sections for the semester, and how we’d only be hurting ourselves if we passed on the test. IMHO, a lazy way to grade and a lazy way to test, just to make the numbers come out right so that he could keep his job.

    There was a running gag about him at school. It was said that if you went into Masseric’s class knowning advanced college calculus, you’d come out with a basic grasp of high school algebra. The man actually took knowledge out of your brain, never to return.

  20. Mad Scientist says:


    Have them check out the HP33s – this is the new RPN style calculator. Many people who have seen it do NOT like it. Higher end ones are the HP48 and HP49 models.

  21. When I was a TA for an econ 200 class (600 students), we banned calculators (students were storing graphs etc & if they needed one for the math on those tests they didn’t belong in college), cellphones, & anything other than a pencil and id on the desk. We checked every student’s id. We also numbered the exams by seat. After the scantron results came back we ran them through a statistical program to compare same wrong answers. It spits out the names & seat numbers of individuals with same wrong answers above a certain threshold. Then we compared those to the seating chart. If the students were adjacent they were called in to explain themselves. Every test, at least two or three confessed after being shown the results. The only problem I have with the program is that it only catches those who are really bad at cheating.

  22. alittlewhatish says:

    They used that program at McGill, where it was developed, until students complained, though I don’t recall why.

  23. Mad Scientist says:

    Yeah, well, different subjects use different levels of mathematics. Try working out required pump horsepower without a calculator – can’t be done. Try solving a 2nd order PDE with strange boundary conditions – typically easy (unless the SOB gives you one that is insoluble).

    In grad school, I took a course “Partial Differential Equation in Mathematical Physics”. The instructor was brilliant, but somewhat lazy – he liked teaching, just not grading. One day he walks into class and announces there will be a mid-term in 1 week. We all bust our butts studying, after all most of these people are PhD candidates in Math, Science, and Engineering.

    The test was mimeographed on ONE page; there were two questions. The answer to the first question was ZERO. No fake! It was a wave equation with ZERO for the boundary and initial conditions. The second question was almost as inane.

    What was amusing was that it took him 5 weeks to return the graded papers.

  24. Mad Scientist says:

    Which also reminded me of one instance of cheating at my school. Seems one brilliant slacker figured out what he thought was a way to beat the system. For the lower level Freshmen classes, the large halls were used, students were seated in every other row, with at least two seats between them.

    The kid put on an act, looking like he was dilligently working on a Calculus exam. When the 5 minute call came and people started filing up to turn in their papers, this person moseyed up, grabbed a paper at random, and headed back to his seat, and quickly copied the ENTIRE exam onto his blank sheet. He then threw both papers into the pile and left the room.

    Only problem was he chose the paper of a person in his section. When the TA was grading these papers, he sees one paper with erasures and one with none. Same mistakes, same answers, same approaches. The TA calls the two kids in and asks “care to explain?” It did not take long to figure out which paper belonged to the cheater.

    So the kid gets called into the school judicial process, loses and appeals. While his case was under review, HE DID THE EXACT SAME THING AGAIN.

    They booted his ass out.

  25. in response to alittlewhatish: you can use any statistical package to do this – its not custom

  26. I just took the Conn. bar exam and exam takers were not allowed to have anything on the desk except for pencils/pens/test book and all backpacks, water bottles and pocketbooks had to be left on the floor by the proctor’s desk in the front of the room. Is there any reason that high schools can’t routinely do the same thing for their tests?

  27. alittlewhatish says:

    I’m sure it’s not hard to do; all they did was correlate wrong answers with the statistical likelihood that it could be by chance and seating charts. But they did indeed create their own program for it — called Harpp or Harpp-Hogan — and students did complain about it.

    I once had a grad student proctoring a final (the person teaching it was defending the day after the exam, so he only showed up for an hour) and we started late because he kept fighting with a student in the course about whether or not she should keep her cell phone on the desk. He won.

  28. After my first semester teaching – in which cell phones going off was almost a daily occurrence – I implemented a strict policy on cell phones. I told my students that if I so much as see, or hear, a cell phone during a quiz or test, I will count that as cheating – for precisely the reason mentioned in this article. Betsy mentions that this feature of cell phones is a selling point, and I have actually seen cell phone ads showing kids sitting in class and sending text messages of the form “1 – a, 2 -c, 3 – b…”

  29. patrick says:

    I found the HP-33s on line at for $59.95 + shipping.

  30. opiaelr says:

    The kid put on an act, looking like he was dilligently working on a Calculus exam. When the 5 minute call came and people started filing up to turn in their papers, this person moseyed up, grabbed a paper at random, and headed back to his seat, and quickly copied the ENTIRE exam onto his blank sheet. He then threw both papers into the pile and left the room.

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