Smart Watches and Cheating on Tests

The Independent Commission on Examination Malpractice in the UK has recommended that all watches be banned from exam rooms, basically because it's becoming very difficult to tell regular watches from smart watches.

Posted on September 13, 2019 at 8:22 AM • 15 Comments


WulfSeptember 13, 2019 8:53 AM

Let's wait a few years:

Some organization has recommended that all clothes be banned from exam rooms, basically because it's becoming very difficult to tell regular clothes from smart clothes.

There is also a discussion about glasses and pencils.

JonKnowsNothingSeptember 13, 2019 9:22 AM

Don't forget about Google Glasses 'cause the GlassH*Les are on the way back to market.

Those and other semi-bio-implants are gonna cause some havoc too. Once you get your enhanced seeing and hearing device with auto-connect on every spectrum, the doors to University are gonna fly off their hinges.

You might not have your SIRI "on" but the proctors are likely to have them enabled 'cause who doesn't want to talk to an inert device pretending to be human by actually sending the conversations to humans who pretend to be computers.

Even if you might not be able to tap into one of these close proximity devices, there will be the ones enabled in all buildings by their owners. You just cannot live without it!

There is also the recourse to *cash* that now vanishing material. The ban on *cash* isn't working that well either.

Last they are gonna have to scan for DNA 'cause if any of your ancestors attended the preferred list of choices, well.. Bob's Your Uncle there.

It sort of might be better to scrap the entire For Profit Testing Systems that shows nothing of importance and are simply gating mechanisms.

Just do what the US Military did during the Viet Nam work to stop the Anti-War movement: Go for a Lottery System. Once some folks got numbers off the spectrum they didn't give a F about the folks with the first lots and the anti-war movement collapsed. The lack of facing imminent death had the desired impact.

So roll out a Lottery System. Works much better. Cheaper. You get TV air time. Less hassles and the results actually might be better. They certainly won't be much worse.

CigaesSeptember 13, 2019 10:07 AM

At some point, we will have to consider the use of stingrays around exam centers. If I am not mistaken, they can detect the location of the phones with good accuracy, so they should be able to filter people inside the exam center, not on an approved list and not calling emergency numbers. I think that would be a perfectly acceptable use of that technology.

It does not solve the problem of cheating using the offline data on a smart device, but communication is the biggest fraud issue. Cheating with dumb data can be mitigated by adapting the questions.

Don KenneySeptember 13, 2019 10:49 AM

Digital cheating on examinations is indeed going to be problem, but I doubt that smart watches are a very suitable vehicle for such bad behavior. My guess would be that anyone chatting with his/her wristwatch or tapping frantically on it would be suspected of transgressing. But there will almost certainly be better cheating tools in the future. In the long run the choice may come down to a lot of probably erratic and bad tempered technology or a lot of open book tests. My preference would be the latter, so we'll probably get the former.

AdrianSeptember 13, 2019 11:16 AM

People have been cheating on tests with "dumb" watches for a long time.

The old Casios had four buttons, one in each corner. If you removed the guts, you could insert a small scroll with notes. The "buttons" become wheels to scroll your notes past the display window.

Ear buds, too. In the 1980s, a friend of mine recorded all of the Spanish vocabulary words we were supposed to have memorized for a quiz. When the (substitute) teacher questioned him about his Walkman during the quiz, he said it was a hearing aid. The teacher said hearing aids were much smaller. My friend said the small ones were very expensive and his family was poor. Several other students immediately picked up on the scheme and called out the teacher for what today we might call "poor-shaming." The teacher then apologized.

Ross SniderSeptember 13, 2019 3:36 PM

The better way to do this is to design tests with the assumption that the test taker will have access to the internet and their friends and textbook. Design the test so that you have to really know what you're doing to pass it, and having the internet, a cheat sheet, or smart friends isn't going to help you.

This is what my some of my best professors did. People who cheated avoided their classes. People who took their classes were judged (much more accurately) on actually mastery of the material.

JonKnowsNothingSeptember 14, 2019 2:22 AM

@Ross Snider

The better way to do this is to design tests with the assumption that the test taker will have access to the internet and their friends and textbook.

In the ancient days of non-electric education, I also had professors that preferred you to know WHERE to find the information rather than ROTE memory answers.

There's a new twist on this though, because people ask answers of Google, SIRI etc because they don't know the answers much less what those answers mean. They may get a canned answer from Alexa or best case some human has to step in and figure out the answer to 42.

Recently I read an article about someone trying to go Google-Free and they couldn't. They couldn't find their own home without the GPS map. They didn't know how to buy in a real store for real money. They couldn't buy a book or find the library much less use it (the destructions of card catalogs). It was pathetic really.

In the article one of the basic questions was "Before Google how DID anyone know X?" The answer was "You asked someone and hoped they knew the answer".

Not only do folks not know how to answer anything without Google, they no longer even know where to go to find out how to find an answer. If it isn't drip fed electronically they just do not know.

It's not going to be about cheating so much but about who can program enough text replacement phrases to plug in an answer. Maybe that counts, but if they don't even understand what the phrases mean, of what value is it?


WinterSeptember 15, 2019 7:57 AM

As was written above, go for the "Open Book" exams (you may keep your textbooks). These are much more realistic tests for mastery of a subject than anything else.

Also, run any questions through the major search engines and keep the answers. Anyone coming up with such answers as are returned by these search engines is in for a questioning.

However, the current trend is that a teacher deposits all questions with the answer sheets beforehand, in the name of "objectivity".

That scheme will be killed by technological development.

JonKnowsNothingSeptember 15, 2019 10:42 PM


run any questions through the major search engines and keep the answers. Anyone coming up with such answers as are returned by these search engines is in for a questioning.

I am pretty sure this is already done. Nearly every possible variation on "cliff notes" essays plus purchased essays either from companies or even other students are run through some sort of check system.

A possible side effect of pre-vetting is "trending scores" will alter. If you pre-search a topic there is a bump in their trending score making it more likely to be at the top of the list.

Except where that search term/word is paid to remain below the first pages. There are a lot of these actually but few people notice because they rarely go to page 99+ on a query and never notice something "important" is found on page 2,999. These can be paid drops or political drops in scoring.

There is also in place surveillance techniques to see a student browsing history.

Folks in all sorts of testing environments can get "caught", not just students fudging exam answers. There's also the Bump-Downs in scores such as the Admissions Exam to Medical Schools in Japan that happened if you were the "wrong gender" and done by the Administrators of a number of the Top Medical Schools. Reported to have gone on for a decade or more.

If you have enough money you can just buy a degree and skip the whole charade.

NiclSeptember 16, 2019 4:22 AM

Cheating is rampant in our society because there's a financial incentive to do so. Test admin have been corrupted by money in the past. This is also evident in our governments where stunts like pay to play is common practice even among the self-proclaimed champions of democracy.

Peter A.September 16, 2019 8:40 AM

Technology and students' invention will provide more and more ways of cheating, harder and harder to detect.

A few cases from my student times...

Once a lecture was moved to another hall, normally used by another department. The halls were equipped with raising rows of seats in front of long room-wide desks. The backrests of row N obscured the view of what's below the desk of row N+1. Sitting there I felt something strange under the desk. Intrigued, I dived down - a loop of fishing line was strung along all the length of the desk on plastic rollers, with alligator clips attached. It moved very smoothly - cable-railway for horizontal transport of handwritten notes...

A conspiracy at physics exam: one student had a small FM transmitter under his shirt with a microphone up his sleeve and was murmuring solutions into it (ess equals ah tee squared divided by two... etc.) and some others had pocket radios tuned in and earbud headphones (some reportedly grew a bit longer hair just for the exam).

One algebra professor was notorious for destroying elaborated sitting setups devised for easier information relay. "Gentlemen, let's transpose this matrix!" or "Row 3 and 7, column 5 and 11, please switch places." ;-)

A conspiracy/hacking in high school: the physics teacher created a program (on a ZX Spectrum) for testing, and a set of tests. Quite clever design it had, I would say. To save time during lessons, instead of grilling some poor pupil at the blackboard, he made the pupil solve a test assignment at the computer, while he continued with the lesson. I had hacked the prog (*blush*) so it reacted to a nonstandard key combination and jump to the right answer, and obscured the code in the BASIC program listing by artificially adding enough backspaces. I just said to classmates: use it sparingly. It was never detected before my graduation...

All this in a country with much less (then, at least, it got a bit better since) school/academic ethics that is traditional for English-speaking world.

The true solution is, as said here before, open book exams. I have had a few (one quite recently, for an industry cert) and they are the best in my opinion. Test true knowledge and analytic skills, and information finding skills, not just the ability to hammer in textbook definitions.

Sometimes, two-phase exams (written/oral) are a good tool. My physics professor at the university had a habit of asking much more "tricky" questions of those students that scored A or B on the written part - often landing them at D or worse. Standard advice from higher-course colleagues: unless you're really confident with your knowledge, strive for C on written and have it done. :-P

TheoSeptember 16, 2019 3:53 PM

"Open book" and "open internet" are two different things. The internet allows communication, you can effectively pay somebody to take an "open internet" test for you.

Being able to buy a few hours of expert time to take a test does not mean you will be able to buy a thousand hours of expert time every year to do your job.

Tests are simulations. The only perfect simulation is the real thing. Anything less will allow various creative solutions/cheats that will not apply to the real thing. You pretty much have to prevent those by fiat rather than by design.

Imi VottelerSeptember 17, 2019 10:38 AM

"Using technology" shouldn't be considered cheating, and should indeed be part of the test.

Clive RobinsonSeptember 17, 2019 11:18 AM

@ Imi Votteler,

"Using technology" shouldn't be considered cheating, and should indeed be part of the test.

Whilst it's a nice idea it's fraut with difficulties, bias and unfairness (if not discrimination).

JonKnowsNothingSeptember 17, 2019 5:23 PM

@Imi Votteler

"Using technology" shouldn't be considered cheating, and should indeed be part of the test.

Google is not technology. It's a private corporation search engine that produces biased results, tilted to the highest paying advertiser for "first page" placement.

It's not even accurate because "they don't write the stuff they show" in response to a query. It's a fancy Listing Service with a BIG NAME. The other search engines are the same.

Not only is the listing biased and tilted, the methods of attaching attributes to a query or possible results are biased because well... "you cannot be unbiased about things you know nothing about". The Default is whatever they know because they don't know about anything different.

If you don't know Kimchi, you don't know Kimchi.

Using technology is fine but what they are doing is using a portal to access inaccurate information at best and at worst a copy of the exam with the answers filled in.

If they don't know they answer, they don't know Kimchi.

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