Warning: This post was published more than 10 years ago.
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Back on Monday, the media were worrying about the reported 27% increase in the number of pupils cheating in public exams, with the increase mainly surrounding mobile phone usage. This is a topic I’ve touched on a couple of times before (here and here).
Of course the biggest question is whether the larger figure indicates an actual increase in the level of cheating (which I doubt), or whether it represents an increase in the number of pupils being found to have their mobile phones on them at the time of the exam thanks to greater awareness amongst invigilators (which I suspect). Cheating has gone on since the first exams. After all, by putting all of the emphasis of the educational system on the outcome of standardised tests, rather than on the learning experience itself, we are positively encouraging cheating. There’s certainly an argument to be made that those that succeed in cheating in exams are those that have the ability to use their initiative. But that’s not what we’re trying to test, for whatever reason.
The current development of the short-answer exam style lends itself, of course, to cheating. More challenging essay-questions are harder to cheat, but also harder and more time-consuming to mark. However, the announcement that the number of modules in each A-Level is to be cut, which will allow for more essay questions, goes some way to tackling this issue.
The bigger picture here is that whilst cheating in an exam is relatively difficult, cheating in coursework is easy, and almost certainly much more common. That’s where the bigger, and more difficult, problem in the exam system resides. That one’s going to be harder to solve.
The other big cheating story of the week is that Blue Peter badges have been sold on eBay. But fear not. I have it on good authority, from the most hard-hitting of news sites, that a solution has been found: Badge Holders’ Cards are to be issued along with the badges, to identify the rightful owner. Obviously, as a Blue Peter badge winner myself, I was personally incredibly shocked by this awful news. Though why on Earth people are paying £70 for a badge they can win by writing a letter to the show (for the cost of a second-class stamp) is beyond me. Clearly these people aren’t clever enough to deserve the honour.
Finally, just returning to the exam story, I loved this comment by Benjamin Murphy on the Guardian website:
As a student at a Catholic seminary, I was told a story of a student who predicted probable essay titles, wrote an essay ahead of time and sneaked it into the examination. All he had to do was write the appropriate question title at the top and hand it in. His one fatal error was to type the essay.