Students use social network to cheat Russian exams
On Oct. 7, the Federal Education and Science Supervision Agency (Rosobrnadzor)—the government agency that administers the Unified State Exam (USE)—announced on its website that it would be working with the social networking site VKontakte. Representatives from VKontakte promised that, in 2014, they would block the circulation of USE questions and answers; a group consisting of Rosobrnadzor representatives and VKontakte employees will be created in order to do this.
Meanwhile, during the 2013 USE session, around 2,000 groups posting exam questions and answers on social networks were blocked. The vast majority of the blocked communities were on VKontakte, the most popular social networking site among young people. The strategy of Rosobrnadzor and the website seemed simple: The government agency sent a link to offending forums and the social network blocked them during the exam period.
However, USE answers were leaked over the course of several days before the first Russian exam, and, for every forum blocked, 10 more sprang up. The system the social networking site uses to eliminate illegal content at the request of an offended party has previously revealed its shortcomings in the battle with pirated videos.
Nevertheless, solving this problem is realistic: Modern technology makes it possible to eliminate content while a user is uploading it. For example, for several years, YouTube has been successfully using Content ID technology, which prevents users from uploading pirated video, even if its name has been changed or it is authorized in segments.
A similar internal solution could also be adapted in the case of USE leak. For example, one could bar search results from a defined set of terms or create forums with a defined series of tags. However, Rosobrnadzor and VKontakte representatives have not stated whether or not adapted innovations are planned.
Yet, among the many Rosobrnadzor proposals, there are still interesting ones from a technological perspective.
For example, the government agency intends to combine the 10 different information transmission systems in the state exam system into a single closed network. A possibility is that a dedicated program will track who receives and edits documents, and when and to whom they then transfer them. This approach is designed to combat leaking that comes from the government agency itself and from the Ministry of Education and Science that oversees it.
Meanwhile, students themselves say that they have been able to purchase test results. For example, pupils at a Moscow school pooled their money to buy USE answers. The answers for Russian and mathematics tests cost 70,000 rubles ($2,300), and they split this so that each student ended up paying 2,000 rubles ($67) each. One of the students received USE answers of all the existing possible tests directly from his teacher, who had participated in creating the tests.
Versions of the Russian exam that were sent were identical to the original, and one of the sections of the mathematics test contained an assortment of questions from different versions. It came down to a matter of technique: The most diligent students simply memorized the answers to the difficult problems, while the laziest made cheat sheets.
The latter group was masterful in concealing the cheat sheets: Proctors at one of the schools in the Moscow region said that they could not catch students in the act, even though “there was a definite sense that they were cheating.”
“They were probably using some sort of newfangled technology,” teachers guessed.
In fact, a basic Yandex search yields numerous technologically advanced cheating methods—pens with invisible ink, miniature Bluetooth headsets, iPods that can save images and be worn on straps like watches, vibrating speakers that turn an ordinary desk into a speaker (you can put your ear down and listen to the answers).
VKontakte itself carries numerous ads for Escowatch—“a unique watch that will let you stop worrying about passing exams.” Exam answers can be uploaded onto the watch’s memory with a conventional USB flash drive.
However, in practice, things are much more prosaic: The modern student’s best friends are still the classic paper “cheat sheet” and the commonplace smartphone. To deal with the use of smartphones, many schools have installed “jammers” of mobile connection signals. However, such jammers do not reach school restrooms. The restroom stall is the most comfortable and popular place for looking over a “cheat sheet” and calling friends for help.