Beware of fraudsters

Venguswamy Ramaswamy
Monday, 12 November 2018

Venguswamy Ramaswamy, global head of TCS iON, a Tata Consultancy Services unit focused on education, Assessment Boards and SMBs, shares a few pointers so that candidates don’t fall prey to scams in online exams

For every competitive exam, there are a number of fraudsters who claim that they have access to the question paper. There could even be fake papers circulating on social media. In the case of computer-based testing, there are other technology-based practices — imposters making promises to fake the biometrics, touts claiming to have hacked the server, companies advertising Bluetooth devices to help crack the paper, and so on.

Don’t be gullible; these are false promises. Today 99.99 per cent of cheaters and miscreants end up at the police station with FIR filed against the candidate.

There have also been cases where a candidate sneaks a camera into the hall, and posts actual images of the question paper on social media and WhatsApp during the exam. However, these images actually help identify precisely which console has been used and hence which candidate has attempted the fraud. Every single one of these attempts have led to police cases, ending with the candidate getting barred for life.

Tests taken in paper-pencil mode are far more vulnerable to leakage and malpractices. Computer-based testing, on the other hand, has rapidly evolved over the last few years to prevent fraud. Here’s a peek behind the scenes to show how computer-based tests are helping to catch fraudsters and prevent cheating. 

In a computer-based test, the question paper is not printed on paper at all. Experts create a bank of questions and then the question paper is assembled by a software algorithm that selects appropriate questions based on a Question Paper blueprint. No single individual has access to all the questions and answers, and the chances of leakage goes down dramatically. 

Today’s technologies allow the machine-assembled question paper to be encrypted before it is sent out to the test centres. The question paper is decrypted only at the time of the first click by the candidate. This makes the question paper fully secured. Clearly, touts who claim that they have advance knowledge of the question paper are running a scam.

New technologies for computer-based testing include smart algorithms that create multiple question papers with the same format and level of difficulty. This means that questions and options are randomised for each candidate. Since the question order and the multiple choice answer order for each question is not the same for two candidates, copying answers from the person sitting next to you is impossible —  it will only lead to wrong answers.

In the paper-pencil model, the entire question paper is visible and this opens up plenty of possibilities for malpractices. On the other hand, in computer-based testing, the candidate can access just one question at a time. Moreover, there are time limitations for questions, which again reduces the chances of candidates getting answers from people on the outside to solve the paper.

High stake exams are conducted using secured, standalone servers where the question paper files are encrypted. In addition, the candidate consoles do not support remote access. All these measures prevent hacking attempts or access by any fraudsters. Also, the system will trigger real time alerts if anyone tries to manipulate the computer system.

Paper-and-pencil answer sheets can be filled in by an imposter answering on behalf of a candidate even after the test is over. Computer-based testing is in real time and the centres check the identification of each candidate carefully. Photo recognition algorithms are used to compare the candidate’s face with the photo submitted in the application. Photos are also displayed on the candidate’s monitor so that the invigilator can confirm that the right candidate is taking the test. Candidates are asked to provide fingerprint verification and handwriting samples which are used to check identity. Biometrics are also taken mid-test for confirmation of identity. In short, imposters are bound to get caught.

At the test centre, candidates are seated randomly and will not know in advance which machine will be allotted to him or her. All data regarding the test — number of candidates, the machines allotted, etc — are transmitted from the exam centre to a central command centre system. The command centre is used to monitor patterns that indicate cheating. The CCTV feed from the centre also helps in spotting suspicious cases. Centres typically use metal detectors to check for mobile phones or other electronic devices. However, security has improved to a much higher level — a few centres now use RF signal detectors and noise signals to block the use of mobile phones or Bluetooth devices.

Candidates sometimes try to click pictures of the computer screen and share the images via messaging platforms or social media. This is risky because the order of questions and answers provides a clear trail identifying the miscreant. New technologies also allow for each candidate’s ID number to be projected as a watermark on the screen. A picture of the computer screen can actually provide clues to identify which candidate has shared the image. So smart phones and social media can help identify cheaters!

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