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Tuesday, 29 January, 2002, 12:11 GMT
Clampdown on timezone cheats
nol graphic
Students were alarmed by the potential for cheating
The body that oversees most UK examinations has asked the exam boards to tighten up the security of their overseas papers.

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) is concerned at the potential for so-called "timezone cheating".

This follows the revelation that Edexcel exams were sat by students in Hong Kong eight hours ahead of those in the UK, which emerged during the fuss over a maths AS-level with an error in a diagram.

There is no suggestion the students in Hong Kong passed on information - but the fact that exams are taken as the sun sweeps round the globe has raised eyebrows.

E-mails to BBC News Online have expressed astonishment.

Website

"Edxcel have opened a 'cheats charter'," said one recent correspondent.

"All that has to happen is a website is set up - pay per view - and candidates in HK can put the exam paper there.

"Eight hours is a big advantage! In that time you can go through the whole paper - and no-one would ever know you cheated!"

A spokesperson for the QCA said: "We have identified this problem and have already asked all awarding bodies to take action to improve the security for papers sat overseas.

"Whilst there is a small potential security risk, in the past there has been little evidence that it has caused problems.

"However, we are continuing to monitor the situation."

'Not much help'

The subject came up in relation to Edexcel last summer, with the news that some of its A-level papers were being offered for sale in London in advance of the exams.

On that occasion it seems likely that time differences were not involved, because the papers were allegedly circulating some days in advance - although they might well have originated overseas.

Edexcel said that even if someone remembered every question and faxed or e-mailed them to a contact in the UK, it would be of limited use.

"If you are lazy and haven't done the work then it won't help you very much," a spokesperson said.

Different policy

The biggest exam board in the UK, AQA, takes an entirely different view, insisting that its exams are taken a the same time everywhere.

Spokesman George Turnbull said wherever candidates were - Singapore, Hong Kong, Africa - they sat the same exam at the same time as in the UK, precisely to rule out cheating.

The other big board, OCR, said its overseas involvement was limited - mainly to British forces' schools - but it was aware of the issue and had taken steps to "neutralise" it.

Edexcel's practices are already the subject of an urgent report to the Education Secretary, Estelle Morris, expected to be delivered at the end of the week.

See also:

26 Jan 02 | Mike Baker
Some facts about Edexcel and exams
29 Jan 02 | Education
Edexcel's latest A-level error
23 Jan 02 | Education
Two thirds managed faulty maths paper
22 Jan 02 | Education
Call for exam board to be sacked
22 Jan 02 | Education
More errors blamed on exam board
21 Jan 02 | Education
Examiners knew about maths error
22 Jan 02 | Education
Q&A: Edexcel
18 Dec 01 | Education
Exams repeated mock questions
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