Hong Kong's exams body calls time on students cheating with watches

Alert raised on electronic 'smartwatches' that let students store notes and surf the web discreetly

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 12 July, 2014, 3:28am
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 July, 2014, 3:28am

Supervisors at exam centres are being warned to be on the lookout for students cheating with electronic devices, including feature-rich "smartwatches".

The latest generation of such watches, powered by Google and released by Samsung and LG in recent weeks, may become a cheating headache as they enable the user to check e-mail, store notes and perform online searches from the wrist.

Professor Szeto Kwok Yip, of the University of Science and Technology's physics department, said students were already "very smart at cheating".

"For freshman and secondary school pupils, smartwatches could be a problem," he said. All electronic devices, including smartwatches, are banned from exams by the Examinations and Assessment Authority.

While the authority reported only one case of cheating last year, during a Diploma of Secondary Education exam, 26 pupils were penalised for plagiarism after they were found to have copied articles without citations from the internet.

A spokesman for the authority said: "Candidates are advised to bring their own watch to time the exam as not all the exam rooms will have a clock.

"We would not ban the use of watches, but we will update centre supervisors on any new electronic devices capable of gaining unfair assistance … The smartwatches look quite different from the normal watches in appearance, and centre supervisors and invigilators have been alerted."

Despite the ban on electronic devices, there was still a lack of checks, according to pupil Chris Leung Sung-nok, 15, of the New Territories Heung Yee Kuk Yuen Long District Secondary School.

Spokespersons from the Australian International School and Chinese International School, which were ranked first and fourth in last year's International Baccalaureate results respectively, said they were unaware of potential misuses of smartwatches. Alex Gibbs, director of development and community relations at the Australian school, said they would "keep our eye out" for any problems.

Meanwhile, Turnitin, which develops plagiarism-checking software, raised similar concerns in a blog post last year, saying new smartwatches were offering "yet another way for students to use technology to cheat".

In the aftermath of the plagiarism scandal, the exams authority said in October that schools must report all serious plagiarism cases during DSE exams to authorities to ensure all cheats got the same treatment, including the possibility of disqualification.

"The Public Examinations Board guidelines on exam irregularities are reviewed annually and the exam regulations are incorporated in the handbook for candidates," it said.

Smartwatch sales in Hong Kong were expected to more than double to 390,000 units this year from 165,000 last year, and then increase again next year to nearly 1.1 million, Neil Shah, research director of Counterpoint Technology Market Research, said.

As many as 330 million smartwatches are expected to ship globally by 2018, compared with just three million last year, a recent report by research firm ON World shows.

The wearable-technology industry was estimated to be worth up to US$50 billion within four years, it said.