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Business News/ Companies / Study confirms widespread cheating on job examinations

Washington: A secret international investigation into job certification test fraud conducted by a US technology firm has confirmed suspicions that thousands of people worldwide are cheating on certification exams for coveted jobs.

Cisco Systems Inc., the Silicon Valley firm behind some of the world's biggest computer networks, and Pearson VUE, one of the world's largest test administrators, recently conducted a trial run of an anti-cheating system intended to identify and crackdown on "proxy test takers," people who impersonate others to take exams for them.

Officials at Cisco and Pearson VUE told TheBoston Globe this week that during an eight-month span ending in June, they monitored hundreds of thousands of exams given in eight countries in Asia, Europe, West Asia, and North America. Cisco said it had confirmed that one in 200 of those exams was taken by a proxy, and not the actual enrollee.

Randall T. Trask, a vice-president at Pearson VUE, which administers some of Cisco's tests, said he suspected the numbers were "the tip of the iceberg" because they only measured a limited number of one company's tests. Cisco's exams are given in 4,400 test centres in more than 160 countries, according to Pearson VUE's website.

In many white-collar fields, certification tests have taken on growing significance as a prerequisite for many well-paying jobs and proof that employees are maintaining skills.

In the highly competitive technology industry, surveys have shown that technicians with enough certifications can add up to $35,000 (about Rs15 lakh) to their annual salary.

Cisco was set to disclose plans on Tuesday to launch the new test security system in all of its worldwide testing locations, beginning 1 August. Company officials describe it as a combination of measures that Pearson VUE employs in its US testing centres.

The measures include new software that analyses "data forensics," including tracking a test taker's performance to spot abnormalities, such as answering questions too quickly. Additionally, those taking tests will have their photos taken and digitally stored with their test scores in a database, allowing potential employers to match results with the photo.

Pearson VUE and Cisco officials declined to reveal more details, but added they will also deploy undercover test takers. Security officials at Cisco and Pearson VUE say the measures will not only allow them to catch individual cheaters but help them determine the scope of the problem.

"It's not just evaluating and being able to stop the people at that location. It was really being able to see more of the global patterns" of cheating, said Erik Ullanderson, head of exam security at Cisco. He said the improved analysis allows Cisco to pinpoint the individuals taking exams under false names around the world.

During the pilot programme, test security officials identified high rates of proxy test taking at centres in China, India, Hong Kong and Pakistan. The new system identified potential cheaters—including some who later were identified trying the same thing in neighbouring countries, which Cisco said it was not aware was happening.

Out of 200,000 tests given in all eight countries, Cisco said it identified 1,400 possible cheaters and with follow-up investigations confirmed that approximately 1,000 were trying to take an exam for someone else. Cisco's security push comes months after Pearson VUE signed exclusive rights to deliver its exams worldwide.

©2008/The Boston Globe

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Updated: 23 Jul 2008, 08:50 AM IST
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