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Reports on students using GRE 'experts' cause concerns over the credibility of applicants

Updated: May 14, 2022

Credit: (reprint)

Cheating by students taking the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) online from their homes, following the Covid-19 outbreak, has been red-flagged by the largest Indian franchise of US-based The Princeton Review.

The GRE, owned and administered by the US-headquartered Educational Testing Service (ETS), is a standardized test required for admissions to graduate schools in the US and Canada. In India, 85,050 candidates took the GRE in 2019 compared with 90,146 in China and 3.95 lakh in the US, according to the ETS.

Besides informing the ETS about the rise in fraudulent activities, the Indian franchisee has written to the Ministry of Education and Niti Aayog highlighting the ‘moral’ aspect of using unfair means and its impact on student’ quality.

The Indian Express spoke to several students who took the GRE with help from outside experts or ‘collaborators’. While none of them wished to be named, they revealed a meticulously-planned modus operandi.

In the “at-home” offering of the GRE, an online proctor asks the test taker to show the entire room using a webcam to ensure nobody else is inside the room. In case of any suspicion, the proctor would then sporadically ask the exam taker to show the room on the camera. The exam begins after the proctor is satisfied.

A key feature of the online GRE test is that the advanced adaptive design allows the exam taker to freely move forward and backward through a section being attempted. This is a loophole exploited by those resorting to unfair practices.

According to people who witnessed cheating first-hand, a person would enter the room from an angle he/ she is not visible to the online proctor, take pictures of all questions in the particular section — verbal reasoning or quantitative reasoning — as the exam taker scrolls up and down through it. The person then leaves the room to solve these questions with the help of collaborators outside. He would enter the room with a piece of paper with all answers.

A third-year biomedical engineering student enrolled at a premier national institute, who spoke to The Indian Express on condition of anonymity, said most of those who take tests on behalf of others are in the third and fourth year. Often, they are approached by teachers from other institutes to help candidates for money. A 4-5 student group gets paid in the range Rs 30,000-Rs 40,000.

“We do it for the money and to learn more about the exam pattern. It helps us prepare better because we also want to take the exam in the future. And it is easy money for us. Some students from management colleges who are in the first year…they are also in touch with their teachers from these institutes…so they also help,” said another student who had ‘collaborated’.

Aradhana Mahna, the co-founder and managing director, Manya Education, said some of their students, mostly from Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, approached teachers for similar help. Manya Education runs more than 40 competitive exam prep centers across India and is the biggest operation of The Princeton Review outside the US. Manya Education has already informed ETS about the fraud, but Mahna said its response was a “bit casual”. Hence, Manya Education has now pointed it out to the government.

Responding to queries, an ETS spokesperson told The Indian Express: “The ETS Office of Testing Integrity is constantly addressing attempts by some to gain an unfair advantage on our assessments. ETS characterizes a variety of improper testing behaviors (e.g., cheating, misuse of test content) as fraudulent, which we take very seriously and work tirelessly to prevent and investigate as and when they occur. Furthermore, ETS has been successful in invalidating the scores of those who attempt these behaviors and is therefore confident in score validity worldwide”.

Asked if it planned to amend the GRE test rules to prevent alleged fraudsters from exploiting the test design flaws, the spokesperson said, “Given that GRE General Tests taken in a test center or from home are identical, creating continuity with the on-screen experience is imperative to maintaining students’ testing experiences, and therefore we have no plans to update the test format”. The spokesperson said the “at-home offerings” will continue to be a part of ETS’s product portfolios “even in a post-Covid world”.

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