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Test Security in China: A Protracted War since the Beginning of History

2023-01-05 1821

In China, as in most Asian countries, despite the large population base, there are limited educational resources available to offer tertiary education, which created extremely fierce competition among students. From very young age, with dreams of being accepted by a prestigious university, Chinese children must excel in various high-stakes exams along their academic journey to survive the educational system. The reality being a large portion of them will be diverted to vocational training systems or dropped out of school system altogether. In this hard-fought battle for academic educational resources, most Chinese students will do whatever it takes to get ahead, some may even use extreme or unethical methods.

Against this backdrop, how should test publishers in China eliminate practices that undermine test fairness, such as cheating, reverse engineering, and repeated mock exams? This article explores the positive roles that advanced testing technologies play.

Cheating and anti-cheatingThe culture, mechanism, and solutions

Ensuring exam fairness and test security has been a major concern and research topic in the Chinese assessment community due to the overwhelming significance placed upon test scores and results. There was a time when cheating was more widespread in China, when misbehaved candidates were simply punished by the test organizers (scolded, suspended, or being disqualified from the scores obtained) instead of receiving a legal sanction. As a result, in 2015, the Chinese government has made cheating behaviours a criminal offence whereby candidates or services providers who are caught cheating or assisting cheating can be liable to imprisonment for up to seven years.

While the seven-year sentence is a severe punishment and a deterrent for candidates on one side of the game, technology is necessary to improve the impartiality and effectiveness of anti-cheating systems by the organizers of the exam. It can be challenging for human proctors to keep every candidate under constant surveillance when the proctor-candidate ratio is high, but luckily, today’s high-tech solutions can be of great help.

For instance, ATA’s Onsite AI-assisted Proctor Robot has been widely deployed in various large-scale high-stakes examinations nationwide (e.g., 2021 China CPA exam involving over a million candidates over a single day). Featuring AI-enhanced behavioral pattern recognition monitoring technologies, the video-based algorithm can flag suspicious candidate acts to alert human proctors for intervention in order to improve the efficiency of onsite proctoring. As for online exams taken at home, our Multi-camera Remote Proctoring Solutions can realize 360-degree monitoring of candidates, with automated anti-cheating mechanisms as an extra layer of test security. For both test scenarios, full-length video footage would be stored via reliable cloud infrastructure for play back and review anytime, archiving trackable evidence of candidate misconducts.

Proxy testing/impersonation is another common challenge to test security. “Bad Geniuses” are available to be hired on the black market to take the exams in the disguise of real candidates, using very ingenious haircuts and makeup techniques. To eradicate this risk, our smart system automatically compares and verifies a candidate’s facial features matching with those recorded by the Chinese national ID system. For both onsite and online testing modalities, the whole process will take no more than a few seconds.

Pre-examination cramming classes: Training centers that provide Reverse Engineering and Repeated Mock Exams

Certain non-cheating approaches can also harm test security go way before the exam session. Typical offerings to assist candidate are Reverse Engineering of test forms/items and Repeated Mock Exams, which are ubiquitously provided in Chinese pre-examination cramming classes as a high-end service.

Driven by the huge market opportunities, commercial training centers are heavily involved in forecasting the exam contents, and even the specific items to appear in upcoming high-stakes exams, via “reverse engineering” the past forms in formulating blueprints and potentially repeating items. In other words, individuals were sent from these organizations to repeatedly take the exams of the same program, for the sole purpose of harvesting the content by memorizing the questions in order to build up a used-item pool for “repeated mock exams. Though being incredibly expensive, such services can help candidates score higher than their actual level of competence, and thus the market demand remains high in China.

Even though pre-examination cramming classes are not against the law and popular, there are still technology-based solutions to protect test content integrity in China. One of the remedies is to implement Automated Item Generation (AIG)-enhanced assessment system that enable expansion of test item pool effectively to stay ahead of the content harvesting firms. Besides AIG, the implementation of testing theories and new test format to minimize the exposure of contents are widely recognized. For example, ATA’s test delivery system enables Multiple-sectioned Form Assembly, LOFTs (Linear-on-the-fly Testing), CATs (Computerized Adaptive Tests) leveraging Item Responses Theory (IRT), consequently making the test content less predictable if not impossible to be forecasted by the training centers.

When it comes to exam fairness and test security in the Chinese market, cheating candidates and pre-examination cramming classes are two major obstacles. Thankfully, today’s advanced testing technologies have helped human proctors to do their jobs effectively, while minimizing the impacts of content exposure, item forecasting, and many other legal and illegal approaches. The core value proposition of these technologies help levelling the battlefield, where all candidates can be assessed fairly and receive the scores they deserve.