Exam, in some form or the other, is an integral part of any academic activity. As with all good things, in exams also, malpractices seem to be growing, and it should be curbed.
Any dishonest and improper act associated with an exam aimed at gaining undeserved advantage is an exam malpractice. Such malpractices can be grouped under two categories, based on their sources of origin.
One is candidate-oriented, and the other is system-generated. In the first one, either the candidate or anyone interested in the welfare of the candidate, like the parent(s), siblings or friends may be involved. The types of such malpractices could be: copying in the exam hall from bits of information carried by the candidate clandestinely into the hall, or from the neighbouring candidates, bribing examiners for lenience and favourable assessments, altering marks/grades in certificates, impersonation and so on. Plagiarism in project reports and MPhil/PhD thesis, which are also exam materials, can also be grouped under this.
The second type, namely the system-generated malpractices include inappropriate question paper set by unqualified examiners, repeating recent previous years’ questions (that happened recently at Anna University), or question papers set in a hurry without adequate time. Teachers’ ineffective teaching methods, failure to cover the syllabus, unethical earning desires through tuitions and favouritism, hall supervisors’ carelessness and an institute’s greed to produce high results through sponsored malpractices like allowing group copying are some more of this kind.
The problem with malpractice is when unchecked, it produces ‘square pegs for round holes’, with mismatch between result and requirement, imbibing disregard to morality, aiding creation of fraudulent and corrupt citizens.
This is an issue that can be addressed with the right education. Enough ethical values must be infused into the students at the habit-formative school level, with moral instruction classes and/or workshops and lectures by competent personalities. Above all, teachers, administrators and parents must set themselves as examples fit to emulate.
As a negative measure, the perils of punishment for wrongdoers in exams must be made well-known to students and parents. Malpractices will impact negatively on the institutions also.
Some specific modes of exam malpractices need special attention.
Copying: In almost all competitive exams using objective type questions, including NEET and JEE, a few ‘versions’ of the question paper are used. All the versions of question papers used for an exam will have the same questions, but not in the same order. Candidates occupying neighbouring seats will receive question papers of different versions, thus making it impossible to copy from neighbours. However, in the case of Tamil Nadu Professional Courses Entrance Exams (TNCCEE), which used such versions, I came across an attempted malpractice, in which a candidate, with a view to pass on to others, tried to write on a loose sheet the first few words of each question (as per the version of his question paper) along with the correct answer code (one of 1, 2, 3 and 4). To outsmart such attempts, in the subsequent years, in addition to jumbling of questions, I jumbled the answers too. This is for the kind notice of the interested examining authorities.
Another interesting aspect of TNPCEE was that the candidates were not informed of the code letter (usually, one of A, B, C, ...), corresponding to their version of the question paper, and hence not troubled with mentioning that code in the response sheet. Before evaluation, the computer captured the version from the identical seven-digit serial number printed on the question booklet and the corresponding response sheet.
Impersonation: Impersonation in entrance exams has earned prominence with reference to NEET2019-UG. Any admission system based on an entrance exam consists of four major components: (i) an exam (ii) evaluation and ranking, (iii) counselling and allotment, and (iv) actual admission in the allotted institution. The errors that could occur in each of them are independent and not exclusive.
It is true that the impersonator cannot be easily detected in the first three stages. But the real candidate will face the music in the final stage, namely admission, where the beans can be easily spilt — if the admitting authority at the allotted institution does his/ her job properly.
Clearly, there cannot be any compromise on the correct identification of the candidate. Photographs, physiological and biometric methods using fingerprints, face or iris scan and signatures can be used for verifying identities. Even with all these, mistakes still do happen. That is why, attestation of photos by responsible personalities, insistence on using copies of the same photo on all documents produced during the entire duration of study, starting from applying for the entrance test, are some measures that could help to mitigate this evil.
Videographing/photographing the exam hall, with the seated candidates, without infringing on the confidential aspects of the process, may not only be helpful for any later analysis, if required, but also serve as a deterrent to indulgence in such malpractices.
The writer is former Professor and Director, Entrance Examinations and Admission, Anna University, Chennai.