Cheaters caught by BBC cameras

As long as there have been tests, there have been people who want to cheat on them. English proficiency tests are especially big targets. Since a good score can mean not only entrance to a particular institution, but also a visa for that institution’s country, the stakes are high.

The BBC recently ran a program exposing some very egregious cheating on the TOEFL exam in the UK. Unlike previous cheating scandals, which involved con artists deceiving proctors, the BBC gathered evidence of administrators participating in the deception. Here’s one particularly vivid passage:

Minutes before the exam was due to start, new people entered the room. In the footage, the dozen or so candidates in the room are seen standing aside from their desks to allow these “fake sitters” to take the exam for them.

In the footage the “fake sitter” taking the BBC researcher’s exam is seen answering questions in the written and oral papers in perfect English. Meanwhile the registered candidates are seen standing quietly in the aisle waiting their turn to be called to the front of the room to have their photo taken by an invigilator to “prove” they sat the test.

The undercover researcher returned to the same test centre a few days later and filmed the second half of the exam, the multiple choice. In the footage, the invigilator is seen simply reading out the answers to all 200 questions so the registered candidates can copy them down. A two-hour test took just seven minutes to complete.

“I can be somewhat sympathetic with ETS,” says Boston Educational Services Chairman Perry Akins. “I know all of us in this industry go to great lengths to ensure tests are not compromised.”

At BES, we know our mission of greater convenience and affordability in the English proficiency testing market means nothing without security. All of our test centers are hand selected for their reputation and secure environment, and our staff visits them periodically and stays in touch with the people who run them.

Of course, cheating is an arms race (especially when dealing with an Internet-based test). We are working on “video checks” as well as “voice checks” of test takers which we hope to introduce in the near future. These tools will certainly create additional challenges for the would be cheater.

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