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How Colleges Are Preventing High Tech Class Cheating

In past generations, people who didn’t feel confident about their test-taking abilities might have taken to old-fashioned cheats like listing the answers on the insides of their wrists or on the soles of their shoes. Or, they might have been tempted to peek at the paper of the smart kid sitting next to them.

Whatever the temptation or the technique, these were low-tech methods in contrast to what’s possible and used today. Now, colleges are needing to deal with pretty high tech forms of cheating, occasionally so high tech that the FBI has been called in. Seriously. The FBI.

Here’s another challenge. Surveys show that cheating, including high tech forms, is much more common than we’d like to believe, which means colleges are having to expend plenty of time, energy and resources to combat this behavior to create an even playing field for honest, hardworking students who are earning their grades through studying.

This post will take a look at the extent of this problem, along with high tech methods being used today. We’ll also share how colleges are fighting back against cheating strategies that range from essay mills to cell phone cheating and more.

Cheating in College: Extent of the Problem


According to a 2017 McAfee study cited in a New York Post article, nearly two-thirds of students in the United States know people who are using high tech devices to cheat in school. It would be tempting, of course, to hope these figures are wrong, but the study shows that 29% of students actually admit to high tech cheating, so the problem is real.

The study surveyed 3,902 high school students; 1,201 were in the United States, while the remainder were in the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia. Using these results as a benchmark, the percentages of reported cheating in this fashion were, alas, higher in the United States.

Fairly straightforward ways used include writing down notes or, if available, test answers, and then taking pictures of them with cell phones. All that’s needed, then, are quick peeks at the phones when the teacher isn’t looking.

More advanced techniques for cheating in college included the system created by a former University of Iowa student . This man added keylogging hardware into the keyboards of his professors, which allowed him to capture every single one of their keystrokes, including passwords. So, he gained the ability to get intelligence on tests in advance plus the power to change his own grades.

New York Post calls this a “criminal mastermind move,” adding that, “unfortunately FBI agents, who got called in to investigate, do not give out coolness points.” The university needed to spend $68,000 to update security, while the former student was facing federal charges for hacking with a potential sentence of 20 years in prison.

Is that an extreme case? Thankfully, yes, but other students are obtaining test information ahead of time, sometimes selling copies to other students—and, in Thailand , enterprising medical students used glasses with hidden cameras during their entrance exams.

Here’s another example. Students buying papers written by someone else is so prevalent that it’s a cottage industry for untold numbers of writers who either don’t understand their work will be used to help students cheat or don’t care.

In the United Kingdom , the problem is significant, with more than 20,000 students apparently buying professionally-written essays and trying to pass them off as their own work. More than a third of these students are enrolled at Russell Group and Oxbridge universities, with these essays available from multiple essay mills found with just a few clicks on the internet.

How to Prevent Students from Cheating Using Technology

Using these UK-based essay mills as an example, “leading academics and lords” alike are urging that the essay-selling industry be banned. In the past, when students plagiarized material, whether intentionally or through sloppy work, material was typically taken from already-published writing that the teacher often recognized—or, if not recognized, was picked up by the plagiarism software they used. Now, students are buying tailor-made essays, so plagiarism software is useless in uncovering this form of cheating.

And, if the figure of 20,000 cheating students sounds horrifying, one English lord trying to fight against this industry believes the real figure is closer to 50,000. Over the past three years alone, more than 50,000 instances of essay-mill cheating have been recorded in British universities.

Another way to detect potential cheating through essay mills is to have students write essays in a classroom setting and compare quality. Although this can’t definitely prove plagiarism, it should provide teachers with insights into who might be a culprit.

Plus, there is software that analyzes sentence structure and the organization of a paper. Although it’s certainly not reasonable to expect a paper that a student writes in, say, two hours in a classroom setting to one where he or she had weeks to write it, disparities in style and skill will often be obvious.

And, although essay mills often claim a student is buying a paper that will never sold to anyone else, those promises aren’t always kept—and there is software that can compare a student’s paper with about 337 million others submitted .

A simple way to prevent cheating—cheating with cell phones in school—is to ban them during test taking. And, because many college students report feeling addicted to their cell phones, benefits of banning them during class in general may have a positive effect on academic performance. One teacher, when explaining the classroom ban, said the following: “Consider this class to be an oasis from your device.”

How to Stop Cheating Through Webcams

Because a percentage of students cheat through high tech methods, high tech methods to detect and prevent cheating keep getting developed. For example, there’s Proctortrack by Verificent Technologies, which is software that monitors students that are taking tests online via webcams.

This software identifies when students slouch or stretch, pick up a pencil they dropped and so forth, behaviors that have been identified as ones that potentially dishonest students might engage in. It also monitors shifts in lighting to try to detect cheating behaviors.

This software has been used on more than one million online exams and is installed on at least 300,000 student computers . While some applaud these technologies that fight back against cheating, others feel this situation is really becoming a technological race, one where students will attempt to circumvent the latest and greatest in cheating-busting technologies, causing educational systems to find an even more advanced way to catch them.

There’s No Cheating the System–But You Can Stay Ahead of It

No easy answers exist about how to stop cheating, and we’re not going to claim to have all the answers. But in the end, if you work hard and treat every piece of work as if it’s make or break time, chance are, it will pay off. Speaking of which, for students who’ll imminently be dealing with student loan debt, there are ways you, too, can keep ahead of it—through consolidating them into one convenient loan and payment, refinancing them at a (hopefully) lower rate.

Refinancing Student Loans

When it comes time to start paying back your student loans, you may discover they take up a good portion of your monthly budget. So, it might makes sense to see if you can get a better deal. Ideally, when you combine federal and private student loans, you’d obtain a lower interest rate.

If you only have federal student loans, you can combine them into a Direct Consolidation Loan at no cost. This can give you a longer period in which to pay back your loans and the consolidation process simplifies the payback because you don’t have multiple monthly loan payments to make. But, you don’t necessarily save money that way because your rate is typically the weighted average of each of your federal loans’ original rates.

If you have both federal and private student loans (a situation that isn’t unusual), you can’t combine all of them through a federal program, and not all private lenders will combine the two types (Fortunately, SoFi will).

It’s important to note the differences between refinancing and consolidating, because it’s easy to get the two processes confused because you’re signing new loan terms with each of them.

The process of consolidation bundles all of your student loans together, which streamlines the process of paying back your debt and allows you to get new repayment terms. It does not, however, enable you to get a lower rate. Refinancing your student loans, on the other hand, combines the loans and can get you that lower rate.

You’ll want to make sure you don’t lose any benefits of federal loans that you might want to take advantage of—which is what can happen if you refinance with a private lender.

To help you decide, you can use our student loan refinance calculator to help you see how much money you might save. And, if you decide that, yes, refinancing is the way to go, then we invite you to choose SoFi. Applying is fast and easy, and we charge absolutely no fees. None.

Refinance your student loans at SoFi today!
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Notice: SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income Based Repayment or Income Contingent Repayment or PAYE. SoFi always recommends that you consult a qualified financial advisor to discuss what is best for your unique situation.

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