High-tech Cheating in China’s University Entrance Exams

Cheats at China’s university entrance examinations were told this year that they could be blacklisted for life, but hundreds still turned to technology, hoping to beat the system. Cheats – more than a hundred in some provinces – uncovered in last week’s annual exam had used devices smaller and more innocuous-looking than ever before, according to Chinese media.

For example, some of the transmitter devices were embedded in normal erasers and watches, while some wireless receiving gadgets were the size of tiny red beans. The most ingenious was probably a device that could be concealed in a stationery set: among the ordinary pens and pencils would be a 20cm by 4cm standard “ruler” equipped with a monitor with alphanumerical capabilities that could display any kind of text information. The devices were hard to detect and required extra-prudent checks to separate them form normal stationery, said a spokesman for the Public Security Bureau of Songyuan city, in north-eastern Jilin province. They looked like ordinary rules but were able to provide wireless information to the users.

Thirty-four sellers of such gadgets were caught in the city, among them two teachers who brokered for their students. English language teacher Liu Yanhua was charged with selling 27 cheating devices, including receivers, earphones, chargers and batteries, to parents of students before the national test. She allegedly made a profit of more than 400,000 yuan, the spokesman said. Liu confessed that she had bought the devices through a website last month and promised parents she would send test answers through them during the exam, the spokesman revealed.

According to the Chinese law, a seller of such a device could be jailed for up to three years but only if it was put to use by students. Another six people were detained in northern Shanxi province for allegedly selling receivers to students so that they could be fed correct answers during the June 7 to June 9 tests, the Xinhua news agency said. They included four students and one middle school teacher, said Xinhua.

China’s national college entrance examination is considered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for candidates to get into prestigious universities, a gateway to career success and social status. As more than 10 million students sit for the exam every year, competition is fierce. That explains why some students and their parents go to such lengths – including cheating – to ensure they do well, said the Chinese media.

This year, video cameras were installed in 60,000 exam halls across the country to prevent cheating. The stepped-up efforts came after more than 1,000 applicants were recently caught cheating in China’s civil service exams. In Beijing, the wireless squad was called up for the first time to check for abnormal radio waves around test centers. Elsewhere, students were ordered to file through a metal detector before being ushered to their seats. But the measures, it appears, are not enough to deter cheats.

Written by Dennis Tay, The Straits Times