Below is a translation of this article by Southern Weekend. The article outlines the lengths that some test takers are willing to go to for good marks, and what foreign testing institutions, like ETS, are doing to stop them.
The foreign testing institutions’ battle to combat Chinese students from cheating has been going on for years now.
In the quest to go abroad, cheaters have not hesitated to hire substitute test takers, also known as “sharpshooters”, to take tests such as the TOEFL and IELTS on their behalf. Some have even gone as far as to forge degrees, resumes, etc. Such tactics have forced foreign testing institutions to implement tedious measures and protocols. However, in spite of new measures, the “Substitute Test Taker” industry still thrives.
Tongji University graduate student “Du Mou” is a sharpshooter who specializes in taking English-language tests [such as the IELTS and TOEFL]. Finding someone [like Du Mou] is as simple as running a Baidu search for “TOEFL test-taker”. Hundreds of websites on pages and pages of search-engine results belong to agencies waiting to serve.
Lin An, a student looking to take the TOEFL, hired Du Mou to take the test for him. They agreed upon a price of 20,000 RMB, which included Du Mou’s guarantee that he would produce four grade 7’s on the test. In addition to taking the test on Lin An’s behalf, Du Mou would handle all of the paperwork, including forging an identity card, which is his specialty.
IELTS requires that before test takers enter the examination site that they provide their identity card, test registration papers, and a color passport photo taken within the last six months. Exam proctors examine these credentials carefully before allowing students to take the test. Such protocol appears to be a safe approach, but Du Mou has a way around this. Using a computer, his photograph and Lin An’s, Du Mou produced a new picture which resembled both of them. This new picture was used to create the fake identify card.
Lin An expressed his worries to Du Mou about using fabricated credentials, but was reassured that the new identity card was a first generation card, and could not be detected by IELTS machines as fraudulent.
Finally, Du Mou chose to take the test in Wuhan, away from Lin An’s home province of Guangzhou. Du Mou said that the Wuhan testing site was “safer” than others. However, Lin An’s worst nightmare came true when Du Mou’s forged identity card was detected as a fake, and he was refused entry to the test site.
The failure of Lin An’s hired sharpshooter proves that IELTS and others have increased their vigilance regarding how they monitor test takers. Since the 90s when the craze to go abroad started to pick up, the battle of foreign testing institutions to combat cheating amongst Chinese students has not rested.
Originally, advertisements offering substitute test-taking services were just a psoriasis for foreign language testing institutions like TOEFL, IELTS and GRE. Now, specific details on pricing and registration procedure can easily be found on any site advertising such services. Such companies even make the services they offer sound valiant, as if you could find them in the Fortune 500: “Ten Years Of Business Producing Glorious Results”.
Moreover, there is no shortage of independent sharpshooters, many of whom recruit and grow bigger by working offline. Du Mou recruits from his school, building up his stock of sharpshooters, enlisting the help of students from prestigious universities, or those serving as teachers at foreign language training schools.
Du Mou frequently visits the forums of schools such as Fudan and posts “wanted” ads in the classified section. Initially seeking students with a high English level interested in part-time translation work, Du Mou requires applicants to submit a photograph along with their resume. When he finds a client who resembles one of the recruits applying for “part-time translation work”, he persuades the recruit to become a sharpshooter.
Another aspect of the battle to combat cheating is that such fraudulent behavior taking place in China is “training” test invigilators, and making them more astute. “Originally, there were limits to how ETS imagined combating cheating, to the extent that they believed students using old tests to study from was cheating,” said a senior teacher at a foreign language training institute. ETS is the abbreviation for America’s Educational Testing Service, and is responsible for organizing GRE, TOEFL and IELTS exams across the globe. In late 2000, ETS sued a New Oriental testing site because one of its teachers, either through memorization or some other means, used ETS’ bank of old tests to create and publish a textbook.
For westerners, exams are for testing one’s ability [to apply their] knowledge and experience, and not for evaluating the polish of their test-taking technique. However, analysis of test questions is the cornerstone to every [Chinese] teacher’s class work [….]
“We’ve begun implementing new procedures and safety measures, which begin at registration and follow a student all the way through until they’ve complete the test,” said an ETS official. Such measures include plain-clothes personnel who attend exams and monitor test takers undercover. These personnel also collect and examine details and handwriting samples from individual students. ETS even takes a picture of each test taker and includes that picture alongside copies of the student’s transcripts whenever it sends transcripts to a business or other institution requesting said documentation [….]
On one internet post, a former sharpshooter outlined procedures administered by some test officials. For example, if the official notices that one’s identity card was recently issued, the official will ask for the identity card number and place of birth, and even call the prospective test-taker to see if his or her accent matches that of the registered birth place. If a test taker often visits the same site, it’s also possible that proctors will recognize him or her from a previous exam. Such details help examiners see through a sharpshooter’s game [….]
In July of 2001, the German embassy established a department to investigate those interested in traveling abroad to Germany. The department’s main responsibility includes examining the authenticity of go approach application documents. The processing fee for the initial application is 2,500 RMB, but includes the stipulation that should the documents initially submitted require further investigation, the applicant agrees to pay another fee as well as provide all diplomas, certificates and transcripts in the manner as Chen Baoya. Applicants may also need to attend a face-to-face interview.
Only mainland Chinese students are required to undergo such procedures.
Although some companies dealing in the go-abroad business have shared their trade secrets related to proctoring exams and combating cheating, they have refused to share statistics on what percent of Chinese students cheat. They have made it a point to proctor mainland Chinese test sites just as they would any other site, and hold them to the same international standards. However, the department of the British Consulate General affiliated with cultural education stated, “In view of the enormous scale of operations [that take place in China] and their complexity, we invest a great amount of resources in this area in order to ensure there is fairness in upholding our strict standards.”
The insincerity of some Chinese students has already become an issue for many. In 2000, ETS sent a letter to all American universities suggesting that they carefully examine all admission documents originating from the Chinese mainland relating to the GRE and TOEFL exams.
An ETS official told Southern Weekend reporters, “Chinese students are one of the world’s most gifted, hardworking and dedicated group of students. Just like most other countries, most Chinese students fairly and sincerely take part in exams [….]”