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Tuesday, 19 June, 2001, 17:17 GMT 18:17 UK
Should the exam have been cancelled?
Exam room
A maths A-level exam has gone ahead despite the fact that leaked copies of the paper are believed to have been sold to some students.

A BBC News investigation discovered that up to 80 people may have bought copies of the paper, for as much as 400 each.

But the examination authorities decided to go ahead with the exam, being taken on Thursday, because it was too late to do anything about it. They warned that students suspected of cheating would be failed.

Earlier this year BBC News Online discovered that questions for another exam - Key Skills - had been posted on an internet site, prompting a review of security procedures.

Should this exam have gone ahead? Is exam security adequate? With so much at stake in modern exams, is the temptation to cheat just too big?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

This is disgraceful. Has no one heard of plagiarism? The whole point of sitting an exam is so that the candidate is examined on his/her knowledge of the subject. If the students already know what they'll be tested on, then its not an's cheating pure and simple.
Leon, Greater Manchester, UK

When I was at school I was predicted C, D, D/E for my A-levels. When I sat my exams I eventually got A, B, B. I never cheated, I just studied hard. I know that you can do badly in mocks but still shine in the real thing, and I feel that a number of students who will do the same as I did will now have to suffer scrutiny and self doubt rather than appreciate the praise they deserve for the hard work that they do. Sadly this is very much a case of a few bad apples spoiling the barrel.
Sharon B, UK

The problem could be much worse than currently claimed

Oliver, UK

I think that had I been sitting this exam I would have refused to sit the paper, because any effort I made to improve upon my predicted grade would have been seen as evidence of cheating, probably the easiest solution would have been to give all students their predicted grade, dependent on the teachers recommendation. Also, it is very possible that thousands of students saw the paper, 19 hours is plenty of time for someone to email the questions anywhere in the world, so the problem could be much worse than currently claimed.
Oliver, UK

Leaked exam papers? Students who do better than predicted to receive failing grade due to suspicion of cheating? Is this really the UK and not some pathetic Banana Republic? I have been teaching for 30 years in a public school with final Government "A level" exams. The actions taken by Edexcel are more reprehensible than those of the students who stole the exams and may be cheating.

In my senior classes many students spend many hours reviewing, studying and writing answers to sample exam questions from old exams that are in the public domain. Their final exam mark may be much higher than previous practice exams, and for good reason! Perhaps Edexel should continue their bizarre logic and fire teachers whose students score much lower on the A-levels than they did on their mock A-levels. Has the UK abandoned the belief in law that a person is innocent until proven guilty. Have the people at Edexcel given any consideration to the psychological stress placed on all students who write these exams? "Blimey, I hope I don't do too well on this maths exam, I might fail!"
Bruce, Canada

I took the paper and it was indeed quite tough compared to recent P2 papers. I believe that even the top maths students are likely to agree with me. The thing I would hate to see happen is the grade boundaries being raised just because the 100 or so students who saw the paper did much better and so shifted the average upwards. It would be very unfair to us, the honest students.
Michael, Hong Kong

Is this the tip of the iceberg? The fraud was only detected because a student took an actual paper to a private tutor, virtually guaranteeing detection. How many other exams have been compromised? Exam boards do not take this sort of thing seriously enough. Until about 11 years ago some exam papers were not even stored in sealed plastic envelopes. They were kept in sealed brown envelopes, the exam boards must have known that such envelopes could be easily tampered with but took ages to change over to sealed plastic envelopes.
Brian, U.K

Sounds like a very small percentage of the participants may have an advantage, but to reschedule the whole thing would have been madness. It shows our obsession with grades and what pressure it puts students under. If more than 10% of the students ever use pure maths again in their adult life I will be surprised.
Mark, Austria

It would have been totally unfair to cancel the exam. Exam timetables are set out to try and offer students a chance to revise for subjects in an organised way. Cancelling the exam and re-scheduling it for a few weeks later would have been a complete mess. You can bet however that next year there will be at least one "reserve" paper for each exam. As an aside which idiot outsourced the examination system? That's just asking for trouble!
Kenny, UK

Those of us who are honest will get a lower grade

Joshua B, UK
I recently took the paper, and it was definitely one of the most difficult they have set - all my friends agreed with me. Therefore, those who cheated gained an extra advantage. Since they will have done well, the grade boundaries will have gone up and those of us who are honest will get a lower grade, despite writing the same information. So it should certainly have been stopped.
Joshua B, UK

I took the P2 exam on Thursday in Hong Kong. None of us knew it had been leaked until later on. It's all very well to say that a back up paper should have been used but how would they have got it to people like me in Hong Kong? The exam boards find it hard enough to send the first paper to us on time and all correct - believe me, they mess up enough!
Pippa Low, Hong Kong

The exam should have been cancelled due to the leak. Now the pupils who deserve an A will be left behind and the less deserving ones will succeed. The paper should have been postponed for 2-3 days to allow the examiners to write a new one. I am surprised that the board doesn't have a backup paper, which could have been used in case of a leak. I hope other pupils agree with me.
Taha Farooq, United Arab Emirates

I think this incident is a sign of negligence by Edexcel

Samer Kassam, Kenya
I think this incident is a sign of negligence by Edexcel in not taking the right steps in securing the paper from being leaked. I personally feel, that taking the predicted grade as a decider whether one should fail or not, does not make sense. Many candidates from my school failed in their mocks A- levels, so their predicted grade should be an E, but during that period me and my colleagues have spent hours during weekdays and weekends with teachers to sort our problems out. We therefore don't want to be named as failures because of hard work.
Samer Kassam, Kenya

I was one of the students who sat the Pure Maths P2 paper yesterday. In my opinion, I think the exam should have been postponed and new questions set for another date. The exam board, Edexcel, has said that they will compare the results with predicted grades. But how fair is that? There will be students who are sitting between a A and B grade and if a student managed to buy the paper, he will get that A grade, even though without the paper he would have only got a B grade. But it wouldn't look obvious and suspicious to the examiners. How are they going to ever find out?

This year's results will certainly not be a 100% reflection on the abilities of certain students and this is most unfair to those of us who have worked very hard for the Pure Maths exam.
Donald, UK

I took this exam and found it a tough ride
Rishi, UK
I took this exam and found it a tough ride - I have worked extremely hard and makes me extremely mad that Edexcel didn't have adequate security. A back-up paper should have been sent straight away! It's called an exam for a reason - those who cheated are only cheating themselves and have achieved nothing at all! and Edexcel should keep all students updated with news on whether any convictions have been made but I don't see how they are going to catch cheats.
Rishi, UK

I believe that it is quite unfair for the exam to have gone ahead. Although I did not face too much difficulty in the paper, I thought a lot of my friends found it hard and it really is unfair on them. Some people with too much money will be able to attain a good grade while my friends, who worked hard, will not do too well. On top of that, the grades are set by a curve, and the students who cheated will help raise that curve, which could significantly affect all the grades, even mine. It was very careless of the authorities to not have better security and I really think that this exam should be cancelled to be fair to all. As for the cheats, I sincerely hope that they lose later on in life. I have no sympathy for them, and I'm sure very few people will.
Arpan Ghosh, United Arab Emirates

I'm not sure what difference it makes

John McVey, Scotland
I'm not sure what difference it makes. After all, exams are just memory tests and all students, regardless of whether or not they've got prior knowledge of the questions, still have to understand and recall their study material. They may have been given the questions, but they still have to work out the answers for themselves.
John McVey, Scotland

It's easy to say that the exam should be re-run, but this would leave students having to revise this material a second time, taking time away from their other subjects, and they would have one fewer AS result to show to prospective universities when applications start in the Christmas term.
Dave Riley, UK

No system will be 100% safe

Michael, UK
If this exam is cancelled then we may as well cancel every other exam in the UK. Even when I was at college some 19 years ago it was common knowledge that exam papers could be purchased (though I never did), so sure have a review of the security procedures but no system will be 100% safe and exam papers will always be leaked because there is dirty money to be made.
Michael, UK

Of course this exam shouldn't have gone ahead, at least not in the original form. The examination boards should ALWAYS have back-up papers. However the fact is that some students go into this exam with a big advantage over others, which is clearly not right. There is little chance they will catch all, if any, of the cheats as in every exam some people do a lot better than predicted. It does however go to show the pressure kids are under for exam results if they are willing to pay 400 quid for the paper!
Ian King, UK

Of course the exam should have been stopped and rescheduled. Genuine hard working students wouldn't mind so long as they are examined on an even fair playing field. The cheats are not just cheating other students in maths but possibly out of university places also.
Darren Yates, England

No it shouldn't have gone ahead. The same should be said of an exam at one of my children's schools, where there was a clash and one half took the exam before lunch, the other half after lunch. The first group were meant to be isolated, but no-one had told them this, they were hungry and so went to get food. They met up with the second group and told them what was on the exam paper, thus compromising the exam. The school have not even bothered to inform the examination board of this event. There is so much emphasis placed on these exams that this will continue to happen. The people due to take the exam should now have to take the resit option in January next year.
Anon, UK

No security system is infallible, especially when human beings are involved. I am surprised that this has not happened sooner given the importance of exam results in securing university places and jobs. However, if it leads to the abandonment of the AS exam, then some good will have come from this. I hope that students who are proved to have cheated are failed, but suspicion will not be enough for such a penalty.
Chris Klein, England

I took the exam this morning and found it extremely difficult

Paul Mayfield, England
I took the exam this morning and found it extremely difficult. I don't think that it is fair that other candidates should have this advantage, and in my view, the exam should have been postponed for a short while, whilst the examiners re-write a new paper! I feel cheated, to have been at this disadvantage to other candidates especially as the exam was so hard! I am anxious to hear what other pupils, and the examiners have to say about this matter.
Paul Mayfield, England

As long as the student shows how the answer was derived, how do you show someone has cheated? This was a pure maths paper and it will be very difficult to show cheating. People who do well this time, but have not done well throughout the year should not be automatically cancelled but given every opportunity to prove their innocence. How will this affect students mentally in the next year as they go on to finish their A-levels?
Jason, UK

I work in a school and it worries me that Edexcel have said they will fail students whose final grade is significantly better than their estimated result. I have had personal experience of students who have achieved final grades 2 or 3 grades higher than their estimated grades. Not because they have cheated, but because they have realised, following disappointing results on their mock exams (on which most estimated grades are based), that they need to WORK to do well - and work they have. Does the decision of Edexcel mean that students who have made this effort will be accused of cheating and fail?
Jill, UK

How are they going to prove that they did not cheat?

Josh, UK
What annoys me about this is that if a student is suspected of cheating (i.e., if they do better than their expected results) they fail. This is wrong. What happens if a student did badly on their mock exam, but has spent the time in between to work hard, revise well and achieve a good grade, but then get told they cheated and fail the whole exam? How are they going to prove that they did not cheat? I did badly on my mock A-Levels, but did well on my real A-Levels - I did not cheat, I just worked hard towards the end.
Josh, UK

The paper should not have gone ahead because it isn't fair on the rest of the students. As an A-level maths student, I feel cheated by the fact other students had seen the paper before me. Having extra time to think about the questions makes such a difference. I can't see how the method that the board will employ to identify those who cheated will work. Those who have been predicted grades lower than what they achieve may have improved since the predictions were made, and those who were predicted high grades in the first place won't be identified. A back up paper should definitely have been used as this episode shows people can cheat and get away with it.
Lara, UK

This just about sums up the disaster Curriculum 2000 has been. Especially EDEXCEL who have systematically mismanaged not only the AS levels but also the new AVCE (old advanced GNVQs)
Anon, England

I sat the exam in question this morning, along with many other people at my college who were all aware of the incident. From the past two years of A Level exams it's quite obvious that Edexcel and other boards normally take extreme care with the security of the exams. Today's paper leak was a very unfortunate lapse of security, and clearly the breach needs to be addressed immediately. However I think some suggestions that the exam should have been cancelled or a backup be used would not be welcome by a vast majority of hard-working students and teachers who are already faced with an admin nightmare with the new AS levels.
S Latham, UK

I think the UK Education System needs drastic re-thinking, before our teenagers give up on it all together

Sarah, England
Today, people are discussing the leak of an AS exam. As a 15 year-old student, taking GCSEs this year, I'm not surprised there has been an event like this. Every teenager who is affected by exams will be able to tell you that the pressure they are under is immense, and has been for the duration of their courses. The extreme amount of on-going coursework these days, results in stress for months on end. Students are so worried about exams, they are making themselves ill, and some are obviously resorting to measures such as cheating. I think the UK Education System needs drastic re-thinking, before our teenagers give up on it all together.
Sarah, England

As it appears there was no replacement paper available, cancelling the exam would have unfairly impacted the vast majority of students without prior access to the script. Honest students are going to find the exam no more difficult than they would have previously. One may hope that the scrutiny of this gaff may improve security in future. The exam board should have had contingency plans to deal with the paper being released in this fashion. That it has not, and is scrambling to regain a sense of control reflects very badly on them.
Mark, UK

This exam should not of gone ahead. It is most unfair on students who did not have an opportunity to look at the paper. The students who saw the exam before sitting it would of been able to focus revision specifically on the questions given and receive help from text books and piers. The results from this paper must not be counted and a date for a re-take should be set.
Paul Champkin, UK

I cannot imagine how this paper got into the public domain in advance of the examination

E. A. Furbur, UK
As exams officer in a large comprehensive I am appalled that such an occurrence should happen! However, this is a modular paper and therefore for the aggregation of an award for A and A/S marks for the other modules are added. Obviously students who do very well on the 'stolen' paper and less well on any unseens should be investigated and their papers cancelled. Students are warned about cheating. I cannot imagine how this paper got into the public domain in advance of the examination.
E. A. Furbur, UK

Thirty-three years ago when I was preparing for GCE "O" and "A" levels the tutors would often set questions copied from examination papers held over from previous years. It is small wonder that when we did the real exam that they were a hybrid of previous exam questions, even if at times the wording was slightly altered yet meaning the same as the original. The amount of difference this insight made was minimal as the results were based on how well the student understood the subject of the question, not on how much of a "sneak preview" that was had of the set paper.
Hazel, UK

As long as the student shows how the problem was worked out, how are the exam authorities going to know that the student has cheated? They should use a substitute exam paper if they suspect foul play. Looks like a case of profits come before standards.
Steve, England

I am just amazed that this has not happened before. Perhaps it has and this is just the first time it has been discovered. I am concerned that the exam board are going to suspect that pupils whose exam grades are much better than their predicted scores have seen the leaked paper. It might put many students off trying to do well. In every exam I have taken my grades have been significantly better than the grades I was given in class and in fact I got a grade 1 in Physics at "O" level when my teacher expected me to fail. Yet I never cheated once.
Gill, UK

I cannot believe that there was not a second paper which could have been issued. We are trying to educate our children to compete in the world of business and industry, but those charged with the responsibility of organising this process do not seem able to organise a party in a brewery.
Vincent Hammersley, England

Anyone in that situation would try to cheat

Arkady, Japan
So how do they decide who cheated? And given the seven deadly sins among the flaws of a human character, anyone in that situation would try to cheat, if not blatantly do so. Unfortunately, during my A-levels, exam security was pretty good, so I failed to cheat. Modern exams or not, there always has been cheating, and there always will be. Whether they get found out is another matter.
Arkady, Japan

Unfortunately it would have been too late to cancel it, but the fact that the paper has been leaked will cast a big shadow over anybody who gets an A. There will always be that slight suspicion that it may not be deserved.
Janet, UK

I am very surprised that the examination authorities do not have back-up papers

Owain Cole, UK
I am very surprised that the examination authorities do not have back-up papers to use in such emergencies as this; especially easy in the case of a Maths exam, where a simple change of the numbers could throw would-be cheats. I assume this is another one of those logistic problems where they printed off the exam papers a year ago and so can't change them. Hopefully this will spur them into taking some preventative action for the next time this occurs.
Owain Cole, UK

It depends. Is this exam being taken by thousands of students across the country? If so, then 80 potential cheats do not warrant the time and money required to recall the papers and set new questions.
Mark, UK

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See also:

14 Jun 01 | Education
Police probe exam cheats
25 May 01 | Education
Tests changed after security breach
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