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    How China is trying to bust high-tech exam cheats
    How China is trying to bust high-tech exam cheats
    EDUCATION

    How China is trying to bust high-tech exam cheats

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    Photo: Reuters/Stringer
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    Mandy Zuo
    Mandy Zuo
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    China’s make-or-break national college entrance exams start on Thursday and will take place across the mainland through Saturday.

    This will be the most important exam in many students’ lives, an assessment that can set the course for their future.

    But while millions will cope with the test by studying, studying and studying some more, others will be trying to cheat their way to success.

    Even though cheating carries a punishment of up to seven years in jail under Chinese law, there’s no end to the schemes some will use to gain an edge.

    But even as the methods of cheating change, the authorities, too, are updating their technologies and tactics to keep up.

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    Police officers oversee the gaokao exam.
    Police officers oversee the gaokao exam. Photo: Reuters/Stringer

    This year in Inner Mongolia, education authorities will use a finger vein recognition system instead of the traditional method of fingerprint verification, in order to confirm that test-takers are who they say they are.

    This method of biometric authentication is even harder to fool than fingerprint recognition, and will help ferret out any potential substitute test-takers.

    That even includes any identical twins, according to a post on the Weibo microblogging service by the autonomous prefecture’s center for admission tests.

    Students are checked with metal detectors before being allowed into the exam room.
    Students are checked with metal detectors before being allowed into the exam room. Photo: Baidu

    Meanwhile, in central China’s Hubei province, police will inspect all property around school areas.

    They will take an especially close look at short-term rental spaces, where someone receiving test questions via a wireless device could ostensibly send answers back to a test taker, China National Radio reported this week.

    Other commonly deployed devices will include: 

    • facial and fingerprint recognition systems
    • metal detectors to keep phones and other electronic devices out of the exam room
    • detectors that can find wireless earphones
    • vehicles and drones that block signals around a school
    • location monitors that determine the whereabouts of test papers
    Cheating is by no means a new phenomenon. This is a replica of a linen vest overwritten with notes for a civil service exams in China’s Qing dynasty (1644-1912)
    Cheating is by no means a new phenomenon. This is a replica of a linen vest overwritten with notes for a civil service exams in China’s Qing dynasty (1644-1912) Photo: Dickson Lee

    During the examination period, in certain areas such as central autonomous region of Ningxia, universities will ban students from leaving campus without an instructor’s permission, to prevent them from working as surrogates for exam candidates.

    In the past, China’s exam cheaters have shown ingenuity that might have been best applied to actually studying.

    Here are four of the most notorious cases:

    Fingerprint membranes allow ringers to take the place of less talented students.
    Fingerprint membranes allow ringers to take the place of less talented students. Photo: CCTV

    1. Fake fingerprints

    In one of the biggest organized cheating cases in China’s history, in 2014,more than 120 university students used fake fingerprints to act as substitute test-takers in the central province of Henan.

    The organizers bribed exam proctors to help the university students, who wore membranes with the candidates’ fingerprints on their fingers, enter the exam room and take the test for the actual candidates, according to an investigation by CCTV.

    The substitutes each received 5,000 yuan ($782) as a down-payment and were promised tens of thousands of yuan more if they got good test scores.

    Authorities later found that 127 college students had been involved. They eventually punished 58 teachers, 21 students and three agents.

    The substitutes were all expelled from their universities, and the high school students were suspended from taking any major national exam for three years.

    An eraser containing a signal transmitter helped 27 people get the right answers on a pharmacist licensing exam.
    An eraser containing a signal transmitter helped 27 people get the right answers on a pharmacist licensing exam. Photo: CCTV

    2. Electronic ‘erasers’

    An eraser containing a signal transmitter helped 27 people get the right answers on a pharmacist licensing exam in China’s eastern Jiangsu province in 2017.

    Inside a rubber case that resembled an eraser, an integrated circuit allowed the exam takers to send questions to people outside the test rooms and receive answers, CCTV reported.

    A patrolling proctor who was a police officer suspected the eraser might be part of a scam, after noticing that a woman taking the test was frequently staring at it, according to the report.

    Police later detained 10 people and seized more than 100 electronic devices designed for cheating.

    Are you wearing a wire? These tank tops hid cheating equipment.
    Are you wearing a wire? These tank tops hid cheating equipment. Photo: Xinhua

    3. Wiretap tank tops

    More than 40 people were found to have worn tank tops wired to mobile phones during a national engineering exam in Sichuan in 2014, Xinhua reported.

    The test-takers used a pen with a micro camera to send the questions to partners outside the test rooms. They received answers by listening in on a teleconference via micro-earphones, Sichuan authorities said.

    A transmitter setup hidden in a wallet.
    A transmitter setup hidden in a wallet. Photo: Southern Metropolis Daily

    4. Hi-tech wallets

    A man attempted to cheat on the written part of driving test in Shenzhen in 2016 by using a micro camera attached to his arm to send questions to a coach, the Southern Metropolis Daily reported.

    The coach had been promised a payment of $550 for sending answers to the man through a transmitter in the man’s wallet. When the man realized he had left his wallet behind after the test, he returned to fetch it.

    But the anxiety he displayed raised suspicions among security staff at the test center.

    The man, the coach and three others who provided assistance were ultimately detained.

    MANDY ZUO
    MANDY ZUO
    Mandy is a contributor to Inkstone, and a Shanghai-based China reporter for the South China Morning Post.

    MANDY ZUO
    MANDY ZUO
    Mandy is a contributor to Inkstone, and a Shanghai-based China reporter for the South China Morning Post.

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