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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Cheating down, not out at grade 12 exams

A student gets searched for contraband by officials before entering a national exam last month
A student gets searched for contraband by officials before entering a national exam last month. Pha Lina

Cheating down, not out at grade 12 exams

Rash, brazen and outright desperate, some grade 12 candidates dared to defy this year’s national exam crackdown by attempting to cheat their way to a better score, the Anti-Corruption Unit reported this weekend.

The defrauders might have found their techniques successful with the looser rules in place during exams in previous years, but this round, their tricks earned them failing grades and humiliation.

“It’s clear that the students’ capacity and level of knowledge did not match the exam. Their lack of confidence in their ability to answer the questions drove them to cheat,” said Preap Kol, executive director of Transparency International Cambodia.

But the tally of students resorting to illicit measures this year represents a significant drop. During previous exams, leaked copies of the test proliferated, and students could pay proctors to ignore blatant smartphone usage or shared exam copies. In 2012, exam candidates spent an average of 120,000 riel ($30) on bribes to secure exam answers, according to an independent analyst’s research. And last year, teachers raked in over a half a million dollars in bribes in exchange for cheat sheets, answers posted on Facebook or a passing grade, an NGO study found.

But just 38 irregularities occurred during this August’s two-day national exam, including 13 students attempting to cheat, one student slapping an exam monitor, two teachers accepting bribes and two independent observers taking snapshots of the exam in an attempt to leak it, the ACU reported. The majority of the irregularities occurred in Phnom Penh, but incidents of corruption were spread throughout the 154 testing sites. Six students (two in Phnom Penh) and eight teachers (another two in Phnom Penh) tried with no luck to smuggle smartphones into the exam centres. The resolved cheaters also tried getting someone else to ace their tests for them in five cases.

The few who deviated from the rules did so in the face of extreme measures taken to secure the test, which qualifies students for a high school diploma and acceptance at an institution of higher education.

On the exam days last month, students were patted down and searched, were prohibited from taking in even blank scrap paper and were directed to store their phones. While taking the test, students faced the scrutiny of proctors, monitors, ACU police and hundreds of independent observers.

The results of the stricter exam were abysmal. While last year more than 87 per cent of students collected a passing grade, this year less than a third of the nearly 90,000 test-sitters could manage to give 47 per cent of the answers or more.

But the outcome for those who sought to cheat this year was even worse. Months before the high-stakes test, the ACU delineated on its website the punishments in store for would-be swindlers.

Late-comers got a warning, while more serious breaches incurred immediate failure and a two-year test-taking ban. Those who sought to disseminate copies of the exam could face legal consequences.

The Post reported last month that three of the exam imposters were arrested and put in pretrial detention along with two Takeo print-shop owners who tried to sell fake copies of the test for $100 a pop, but the ACU declined yesterday to comment on the cases or whether any of the irregularities would be brought to court.

However, not all are convinced the exam was the success the ACU makes it seem.

“The report reflected only part of what was found,” said Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Independent Teachers Association, who claimed that he and his staff witnessed several irregularities that didn’t make it into the government findings. “I don’t believe the ACU observers who took part in this work; they are just like ACU itself, which cannot be trusted.”

Students too hinted that the ACU didn’t catch everything.

“In every subject, there’s at least one or two good students willing to share the test … [and] the teachers don’t want us all to fail,” one said on exam day.

The Education Ministry could not be reached for comment, but previously said the exam was successful because there was no authentic leakage.

Correction: An early version of this article incorrectly stated that 93,000 students took the year 12 exam this year. The figure has been corrected to nearly 90,000 students.
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