Universities struggle against online exam cheats

Cheats are scoring in universities as many exams are held online during the pandemic. Some students are tempted to pay as little as 50 HK cents to have a question solved by an outside helper. And with the Covid-19 outbreak raging on, universities are allowing some of their students to...

Sophie Hui

Friday, April 23, 2021

Cheats are scoring in universities as many exams are held online during the pandemic.

Some students are tempted to pay as little as 50 HK cents to have a question solved by an outside helper.

And with the Covid-19 outbreak raging on, universities are allowing some of their students to take exams at home.

The level of vigilance against cheating varies. The University of Hong Kong requires students of certain courses to use multiple devices to monitor themselves and their computer activities, including opening the video conferencing app Zoom, during exams.

But in some laxer exams, students are left with little monitoring - making it easy for them to cheat.

Some students post their exam questions on Chegg, a website run by a United States-based education company that provides homework help.

Chegg subscribers can ask a maximum of 20 questions a month to get as many as 300 solutions a week.

The company said students can get their answers in as fast as 30 minutes, with the average time being 46 minutes. A monthly subscription costs US$19.95 (HK$155.60).

But as many students are not subscribers, another business model was born. People online who have access to Chegg offered to post questions to the website at a price.

On online shopping websites like Taobao and Carousell, such "sellers" are asking for 50 HK cents and HK$7 to post one question. They promise to reply to buyers within seconds.

A university student, Ho, said it is easy and common for candidates to cheat at online exams and there are discussions over methods in university online forums. She said in most online exams, students are required to turn on their computer camera to prevent cheating and they have to take the exam alone, but they don't need to share their screens.

"My friend in another university told me that they only need to show their face on camera but not their hands, so they can search for answers using mobile phones," she said. Some students find a place on campus, gather with friends and take the exam together. Students have even hired ghostwriters for their exams.

"As far as I know, no one has been caught so far," she said.

Ho said exams still contribute 30 to 50 percent of the final grade of her subjects.

With the cheating comes regulations. The University of Hong Kong sent an e-mail to students, telling them to prepare two devices and to start two Zoom meetings - a Zoom invigilation session and a desktop-sharing session - during online exams next month.

Students are required to join the Zoom invigilation session with their computer during the exam for live proctoring by an invigilator. They will also need to use a mobile phone to film their exam environment.

At the same time, they need to share the complete desktop screen with the invigilator and also record it throughout the examination via the desktop-sharing session in Zoom, and to upload the recording after the exam.

Some students complained about the arrangement, as they are worried their computers or internet connection may not be able to cope with multiple tasks at the same time. Others said they do not have enough devices at home to meet the requirements.

A HKU spokesman said yesterday it will review and improve the arrangements for online exams regularly to ensure the fairness and credibility of the exams.

"For the final exams of this semester, the university has issued detailed and specific guidelines to teachers and students," he said. "Briefing sessions have been held in the middle of the month to explain the arrangements in detail. The university has also set up a hotline to provide support to students who encounter technical problems."

He said if students cannot take the exam at home due to network connection or other problems, they can tell the examinations office by Monday. "The university will make alternative arrangements such as providing suitable venues or equipment for students to take the exams," he said.

At the Chinese University of Hong Kong, students have to submit a "declaration of academic honesty" when they take centralized online exams.

For invigilated examinations, only articles or books or materials permitted by the course teacher or invigilator may be placed on the examination desk or nearby furniture when the candidate takes the exam.