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Ten Years of Preventing and Detecting Cheating

As Caveon celebrates its 10th anniversary, anabolics Caveon president John Fremer shares and inside look at how the process of catching cheaters has evolved from art to science over the past 10 years.

Ten years ago, Caveon was founded to help test administrators detect and defeat individuals who cheat on certification exams. Back then, there was widespread suspicion that cheating was happening, but catching offenders was difficult; a task many did not have the time, resources or knowledge to take on. Since then, the art of preventing and detecting exam cheating has become more  of a science, and I’m pleased our company has played a leading role.

"With all of the efforts required to protect results today, test security has grown from a concern into a profession"

There is no question that managing a certification testing program and simultaneously ensuring results are fair and valid has become more difficult in recent years. The increased internationalization of testing, the expansion of technology-related cheating, and the ability of unscrupulous individuals to earn large sums through impersonation, test piracy, and other testing misbehaviors are just a few of the reasons. In addition, the “transfer of knowledge” of systematic test fraud methods that we first saw in the IT Certification arena has now moved into all testing domains. And, adding to these issues is difficulty in pursuing successful legal action due to geographic, political, or operational challenges. All these trends make test security a much bigger issue than it was a decade ago.

Fortunately, test certification program managers, associated legal staff, and leading test delivery vendors have taken productive actions to ensure fair and valid testing.  Efforts include greatly enhancing identity confirmation of test takers by using biometric information and/or requiring more substantial identification documents to verify the person presenting to take the test is actually who they say they are. During an administered test, an enhanced focus on proctoring and monitoring test takers in both brick and mortar test sites and through secure Internet-based testing has also been key in improving security. And, once a test is complete, test administrators now sometimes incorporate a photograph of the test taker into the score report. All these efforts have helped, but there are still problems in test security.

Because of this, the development of even more progressive protection methods has come about in recent years and these newer methods have, in many cases, risen to the top of an organization’s test security priorities. These approaches include closely monitoring item performance, closely managing the life of an item pool and refreshing or replacing items frequently; applying innovative approaches to detecting misbehavior as it occurs and discontinuing or protecting secure pools; and using test security data forensics methods to deter and detect attempts to cheat. 

With all of the efforts required to protect results today, test security has grown from a concern into a profession. Some companies have even hired Test Security Managers or Data Forensics Analysts in-house, and there are now resources out there to help people in these roles. The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) now publishes test security standards. Publications specific to the field such as the new Handbook of Test Security are available, and, annual industry meetings, such as the Conference on the Statistical Detection of Test Fraud focus on test security.

The effort required to protect tests today and the array of resources out there to assist with test protection can be overwhelming to administrators. Sometimes people suspect they have a problem but aren’t sure and don’t know where to turn for help. In 2003, several industry experts came together to provide services – to protect the integrity of test results - to help with this problem. Caveon was founded, offering a comprehensive solution for test security issues. Caveon offers all the pieces of the test security pie…secure test design & development, web patrol, data forensics, security audits and finally investigations when something may have gone wrong. Caveon celebrates 10 years in business this year, an exciting milestone for myself and my team members at Caveon.

In the spirit of a famous philosopher from my childhood, New York Yankees catcher Yogi Berra, “it is hard to predict the future because you don’t know what is going to happen.”  True, but it seems very likely that efforts to cheat will continue.  Hence, measurement professionals will continue to do their best to assure that test results are based on the skills and knowledge of the test taker, not on the size of test takers’ bankrolls and degree of unscrupulousness.  The challenges will require our best effort but we owe it to those who make use of our testing programs to make effective test security a major priority.

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About the Author

John Fremer, Ph.D., President of Caveon Consulting Services, has 40 years of experience in the field of test publishing and test program development and revision. Caveon has been helping certification programs detect and nab exam cheaters since 2003.