New measures to curb cyber-cheating in computer-based exams have be set out by the British Standards Institution, following concerns that new scams could be damaging the credibility of online tests.
Cyber-exams have evolved over the last three years from being relatively specialist to a mainstream activity, with at least 1,000 computer-aided assessments conducted every day in the UK.
But traditional exam wheezes like cribbing, copying and passing notes have been given a high-tech edge with the use of computers. The BSI guide, BS 7988, introduces minimum requirements for any organisation that uses computers to make assessments.
Steve Tyler, a spokesman for the BSI, said the speed and power of computers combined with individuals' technical know-how meant cyber-cheating was a huge issue.
"You find individuals trying to hack into exam centres to delete their papers or to change their answers at a later date. Verification of candidates is another big issue, particularly where candidates log in from a remote location and get a smart friend to take their exam for them."
Although the BSI standard is nothing more than a voluntary code, Tyler said an accreditation scheme for online exam centres could be set up in the future.
Ayesha Okai, skills manager at Microsoft, said the introduction of adaptive testing - where questions are determined by candidates' answers - and the use of simulations in its exams had made it more difficult for people to cheat. "But it's an ongoing issue that we take very seriously. We have to make sure that individuals don't have the ability to cheat, because it reduces the validity of exams and the value of certification."
Earlier this year Microsoft took on an anti-piracy manager in its certification and training division after discovering that mock exam questions available over the internet had been copied directly from Microsoft's exams. The software giant makes all exam candidates sign non-disclosure agreements to prevent exam questions being leaked out.
"When people take exams, the stakes are often high because qualifications are so important to people's progress through life," said David Lazenby, director of BSI.
"Although computers are making things more efficient in many areas, their use in exams introduces a whole new set of risks that were unknown just a few years ago."
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