Science - September 15, 2005

Cheating easier with electronic aids

The number of students caught cheating in exams has risen considerably in recent years. According to teachers it is the increase in use of dictionaries and electronic aids that is the main cause. Invigilating during exams must move with the times.

Some lecturers do not perceive cheating as such a big problem. Their exams are not about spitting out facts, but showing understanding. Students are even allowed to bring in books and notes to these exams. Dr Gerrit Beldman, examiner for the Food Chemistry course: ‘I don’t see that many opportunities for cheating in our exams. Most questions require some reasoning or that a problem is solved. Having facts at your fingertips is least important.’ But students are not allowed to bring their own notes into exams for most subjects. And there the lecturers are stricter in checking. The problem is that there has been an increase in dictionaries, programmable calculators and mobile phones being brought into exams. All these create more opportunities for cheating. Dr Jan Knuiman of the Physical Chemistry and Colloid Science: ‘Chemical thermodynamics is the most difficult subject to invigilate. Students are allowed to use all sorts of extra materials, like programmable calculators and dictionaries, which they can use for all sorts of extra information. Foreigners in particular are difficult to check. They sometimes come into exams with translating aids and imagine trying tow work out what’s inside them.’

Checking dictionaries and calculators costs a lot of time, but must be done according to the lecturers. Dr Emiel Wubben of the Management Studies group, who recently found eight students with notes in their dictionaries: ‘Obviously at some point students succumb to the temptation. So you have to carry out checks, just like in the train. The opportunity creates the thief,’ as Wubben puts it.

There is no other alternative but to be stricter in checking. Knuiman: ‘We have to move with the times. We used to be given a logarithm table specially for the exam, now we would be jeered at if we did that. In the Chemical Thermodynamics exam we require that students have an empty calculator. We carry out spot checks. The idea is that everyone starts in the same position.’
Students are in favour of stricter checks, even though most say they have never had anything to do with cheating. They regard it as an activity for high school. The examinations committees are meeting this week to discuss the measures they intend to take to prevent cheating. / JH