My Personal Responsibility to Combat Cheating

Test-takers cheat. Test examiners cheat. At times, it seems as if everyone is cheating. Of course, that’s not true and most people are honest. But, as cheating has become more ubiquitous, the attitudes “Everybody’s doing it” and “If I don’t cheat I can’t compete” seem to be fostering an acceptance of cheating as the status quo. In other words, many say, “Cheating is OK.”

Cheating is not OK. Those who cheat steal from others. They steal a placement on a list and rob others the opportunity that may come from a higher placement, such as admission into school. They steal the value of the test result from the test publisher. They steal integrity from our social systems. It’s time to take back the ground that has been ceded to cheaters. It’s time for each of us to accept personal responsibility and do our part to protect our institutions and society.

We view the problem as larger than we are, and for that reason almost concede defeat. A friend tells me, “Inch by inch, life’s a cinch. Yard by yard, it’s hard.” There are small things that each of us can do in our own personal sphere of influence to fight cheating. It’s merely a matter of becoming aware and doing them.

Let me relate a simple, personal experience. As I have been researching the methods that used to share and otherwise disclose test content on the Internet, I have come to realize there are just a few basic approaches. There are braindump sites. There are forums. There are chat-rooms. In other words, test questions are disclosed wherever people have an opportunity to connect on the Internet. The braindump sites have the potential to cause the greatest harm to a testing program, because they advertise and promote the availability of actual test content. Forums are more personal and have a lower visibility. Chat-rooms are the most personal and are semi-private.

I realized that a lot of information shared in forums and chat-rooms is “below radar.” In other words, braindump sites are regularly crawled by the major search engines, but generally, the information in forums and chat-rooms is not indexed and not easily searched. Many participants in these on-line forums share information. And sometimes that information is about tests.

While searching through some of these forums (one that happened to be indexed by Google), I encountered a particular question that had been asked on a teacher’s forum about the content of the State of California’s Teacher Certification test. There were several responses, but eventually one of the discussion participants asked if anyone would be willing to share some of the questions on the test.

A few days later, a response was posted:

I took the CSET a few days ago and attempted all 3 subtests for the Multiple Subjects exam. I had to rush my short responses the last hour. I recommend taking no more than two in this 5 hour period. The multiple choice questions on the exam are mostly short passages you have to read only allowing you enough time for the multiple choice part.

… [Then a detailed description was given of several questions].

The very next reply started,

“Took the test on Saturday. Wow! My questions were similar to Chris’ test.”

And even more questions were shared.

I decided to try a simple experiment. I sent the forum moderator a simple request.

Dear Forum Moderator,

I thought I would bring it to your attention that participants on several threads are sharing test questions in violation of their signed test taking agreements. I am sure that you agree with me that this is unethical and not in harmony with the spirit and intent of your forum. Now this has been brought to your attention, I assume that you will take appropriate action.

Only two hours later, the moderator replied.

Thank you! Those posts will be removed. Feel free to write again if you spot similar posts.

And, the inappropriate posts were gone. It was so simple and so easy. It’s just a little thing, but each of us can do our part to stem the tide of cheating and mostly it’s by doing simple, little things, well.

Dennis Maynes

Chief Scientist, Caveon Test Security