Fake fingerprints and electronic erasers: how China’s innovative cheats tap hi-tech to beat the gaokao and other exams

Even though cheating on China’s college entrance exam carries a punishment of up to seven years in jail, schemes abound for gaining an edge over millions of candidates

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 June, 2018, 12:12pm
UPDATED : Monday, 11 June, 2018, 10:14am

The gaokao – China’s make-or-break college entrance exams – started yesterday and will take place across the mainland until tomorrow. And while thousands of students will cope with the most important exam in their life – an assessment that can set the course for their future – by studying, studying and studying some more, there always seem to be others who will try to get better scores by cheating despite the risk of being sent to jail for seven years if they are caught.

There is no end to the schemes some will try to gain an edge over the millions of Chinese youth competing fiercely for admission to the country’s top universities. But even as methods of cheating change fast, authorities, too, are updating tactics and technology to keep up with the cheaters.

This year, education authorities in Inner Mongolia will use a finger vein recognition system – said to be more accurate and reliable than traditional finger prints – to confirm the identities of candidates sitting for the gaokao.

This method of biometric authentication uses pattern recognition technology that will help keep any potential substitute test-takers out of the proceedings – including an identical twin of a student who is supposed to take the exam, according to a posting on the Weibo microblogging service by the autonomous prefecture’s centre for admission tests.

Meanwhile, in Hubei province, police will inspect all properties close to schools, in particular short-term rental spaces where someone could receive test questions via a wireless device and send answers back to a test-taker in the examination room, China National Radio reported on Monday.

In addition to facial and fingerprint recognition systems, metal detectors will keep mobile phones and other electronic devices out of the exam room, while detectors will be used to find wireless earphones. Specially equipped vehicles and drones can block signals around schools.

During the examination period, in areas such as the Ningxia Autonomous Region, universities will ban students from leaving campus without an instructor’s permission, to prevent them from working as surrogates for gaokao candidates. Students who are allowed to leave must report their location off campus.

But the gaokao is not the only exam that cheaters have targeted in China, and innovative cheating tools have been found in other important tests across the country.

Here are some of the most notorious cases:

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Fake fingerprints

In one of the biggest organised cheating cases in China’s history, more than 120 university students used fake fingerprints to get into the test room and take the gaokao for high school graduates who had paid thousands of yuan for the service in Henan province in June 2014.

The organisers bribed invigilators (inspectors who watch for cheating while the test in being conducted) to help the university students, who wore membranes with the candidate’s fingerprints, to enter the examination room and take the exams for the candidates, according to a report by China Central Television.

The substitutes each received 5,000 yuan (US$782) as a down payment and were promised tens of thousands of yuan more if the test results were good.

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Henan authorities found 127 college students were involved in the case.

The Ministry of Education eventually took over the case and punished 58 teachers, 21 students and three agents. The substitutes were expelled from their universities, while the high school students were barred from taking any major national exams for three years.

Electronic ‘erasers’

An eraser containing a signal transmitter helped 27 people get the right answers in a pharmacist licensing exam in Jiangsu province in November. The devices, which looked like ordinary rubber erasers, contained integrated circuits that allowed the exam takers to send questions to people outside the test rooms and receive answers from them, China Central Television reported.

An invigilator who was a police officer suspected the eraser might be part of an effort to cheat on the exam after noticing that a woman taking the test was frequently staring at her eraser, according to the report.

Police later detained 10 people for selling cheating tools and seized more than 100 electronic devices designed for cheating.

Wiretap singlet

More than 40 people were found to have worn singlets wired to mobile phones on their waists to get correct answers on the national examination for supervising engineer qualifications in Sichuan in 2014, Xinhua reported.

The test-takers used a pen with a micro camera to send the questions to partners outside the test rooms, and received answers by listening to a teleconference via micro earphones, Sichuan authorities said.

Hi-tech wallet

A man attempted to cheat on the written test for a driving licence in Shenzhen in January 2016 by using a micro camera attached to his arm to send questions to a coach, the Southern Metropolis Daily reported.

The coach had been promised a payment of 3,500 yuan for sending answers to the man through a transmitter in the man’s wallet. When the man realised he had left his wallet behind after the test, he returned to fetch it.

But the anxiety he displayed raised suspicions among security staff at the test centre.

The man, the coach and three others who provided assistance ultimately were detained.

Super small earphones

Micro earphones hidden in the ear canal are a popular cheating tool; so much so that doctors at two major hospitals in Wuhan, Hubei province, removed the devices from the ears of 16 students – on the very same day as a national English proficiency test.

But the earphones have become a health hazard by becoming smaller and harder to find by the human eye, a doctor was quoted as saying by Chutian Metropolis Daily in 2006.

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One of the devices he removed on the same day as the College English Test, Band Four, was just 3 millimetres wide and 1 millimetre thick.

In one case, he only found the object by asking the student to take an X-ray and removed it with the help of a microscope.

Hidden notes in pen

A resident of Xiangfan, Hubei province, said he managed to buy a cheating pen – which provided important mathematical formulas from a local shop – in November 2004, Xinhua reported.

The instrument looked like a normal pen, but had a metal edge that could be pulled out and connected with a piece of paper about 6 centimetres wide and 18 centimetres long that contained all the key formulas needed for the tests.