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On January 4, 2014, 15 persons returned certificates issued to them by the West African Examination Council. During their individual exams, which spanned from 1983 to 2010, the 15 persons confessed that they were involved in various forms of exam malpractices, including impersonation. But now, as ‘born-again’ Christians, they said they could not live with the ‘sin’ anymore.
Similarly, on February 24, 2015, WAEC published a list of 178 candidates, who returned their certificates on the basis of being ‘born-again’ and seeking restitution. They reportedly confessed to hiring people to sit exams for them.
However, these candidates are rare examples. Cheating during examinations is quite common in Nigeria’s educational system.
This is despite the fact that the Examination Malpractices Act No. 33 of the 1999 Constitution stipulates a minimum punishment of N50,000 and a maximum of five years imprisonment without the option of fine for violators of the offences stipulated in the Act. Some of the offences listed include cheating during examination, stealing question papers, impersonation, disturbances at examination, obstruction of supervision, forgery of result slip, breach of duty, conspiracy and aiding.
The law has not deterred some candidates from engaging in these tricks. Here are 20 ways students cheat during exams:
- Hiding chips inside hair
Some mischievous female candidates smuggle pieces of paper bearing answers — commonly known as chips — into the examination hall by hiding the chips in their weave-on or wig. The unsuspecting exam supervisor hardly suspects anything is amiss when the female candidate begins to scratch her hair.
“They (the candidates) would scratch their hair and after a few seconds, the chips would appear from underneath the hair,” says Edidiong Udofia, a recent secondary school graduate.
- Bubble gum wrappers
What a cheating candidate does in this method is to purchase a substantial amount of bubble gum, empty all of it, write the answers on the pieces of paper used to wrap the gum and then repackage it. An unsuspecting invigilator will not know that the bubble gum wrappers, in fact, are chips. Tobi Akinyede, now an undergraduate, recalls this method which she witnessed while in secondary school.
Akinyede said, “Bubble gum is usually not prohibited in the exam hall, and when the invigilator sees a candidate with it, they assume the person needs it to concentrate or maybe to prevent falling asleep in the hall.”
- Mobile phones
An increasingly common technique of cheating in exam halls is the use of mobile devices. In the past, candidates would sneak a phone into the exam hall by concealing it in their underwear or socks. But a newer approach that has been noted involves dismantling the device and hiding the bits under various clothing items. It is one of the techniques which exam bodies, including the West African Examination Council, have started devising means to tackle.
The Public Affairs Officer, WAEC in Nigeria, Mr. Demianus Ojijeogu, noted that most candidates are not aware of the strict rule against bringing mobile phones into the examination hall. He said, “Once, I was in an exam hall during an Economics paper. I saw a candidate with a phone and I seized it. As I was holding the phone, text messages, which contained answers to the objective and essay questions, started trickling in. But the candidate denied the phone was his.” The exam body said the offence attracts cancellation of the culprit’s entire results.
For ill-intentioned candidates who are not brave enough to sneak in chips or mobile devices, it is common to resort to non-verbal communication with other candidates during exams. This approach which is handy especially during multiple-choice exams, is a form of encryption which makes use of the fingers. Edet Ekpo, a senior secondary school pupil, noted that the method involves a group of candidates, prior to a paper, agreeing on which finger represents what option. He said, “Holding up a thumb could represent option A; holding up both a thumb and an index finger could represent option B, and so on.
“In order not to confuse one another, the group has to choose which hand will be for answers and which will be for questions. For instance, the left hand could be for answering option A, B, C and so on. While, the right hand would be for a candidate to indicate which question he wants an answer to. If one wants an answer to question four, one simply holds up four fingers using the right hand. It may look simple on the surface, but it is a complex technique that usually works only with groups of friends agreeing on the fingers to use for the answer and question codes.”
- Math sets, four-figure tables
In using this method, candidates, especially during science-based papers, commonly take advantage of the need for materials, such as sets of mathematical instruments and four-figure tables, to cheat. It is during the excuse of bringing in the mathematical instruments that chips find their way into the exam venue with relative ease.
Ojijeogu, the WAEC spokesperson, agrees this method is commonplace. He said during the 2014 November/December exams, the council introduced its official math sets for candidates.
Candidates are not allowed to bring in their personal math sets and calculators. As they register for the exams, part of the payment is for the purchase of the instruments, which they are allowed to take away after the exams. The calculators are used in place of four-figure tables. These instruments are all transparent and candidates cannot hide papers in them,” he said.
- Writing on clothing
This technique appears to be gaining popularity. It involves writing on socks, boxers, brassieres, handkerchiefs, belts, singlets, berets, wristwatches, rubber bracelets, and a host of others. A more advanced form of this technique involves sewing chips into the collars and hems of clothes. The contrabands often go unnoticed as invigilators frisk candidates prior to their papers.
Akinyemi Lawani, a Mass Communications student who completed his secondary education in 2014, narrates his experience regarding this method: “A number of candidates at my centre wrote answers on their uniforms. A particular girl wrote on her socks and on the inside of her skirt. She kept turning it over to copy answers and she was never caught.”
Also, an invigilator of 18 years at a government-owned school in Lagos State who asked not to be named said writing on clothing items had become a norm over the years. She further added that she had lost count of the number of candidates caught hiding chips in their shoes or socks.
- Writing on body parts, plasters
This is one form of exam malpractice that has transcended time and generation. It is one of the most popular methods of cheating in exam halls in Nigeria.
A civil servant with a 23-year in the education sector, Raymond Cyril (not real name), told SUNDAY PUNCH that the act of writing answers on body parts ranged from the basic (palms and thighs) to the bizarre (soles of the feet).
He said, “I caught a girl once who had written half of her textbook on her laps and the portion of her arms covered by her sleeves.”
- Taping chips to inner thighs
Related to writing on body parts is the fastening of chips onto inner thighs by some desperate candidates. Cyril explains it better: “As a supervisor in Ikirun, Osun State, I saw some girls who prepared the answers and then attached it to their inner thighs using cello tape. In another instance, a piece of plaster was used to appear as if the lady had an injury. It was later discovered that she had written answers underneath the plaster.”
- Sexual favours
Offering and demanding sexual favours in the examination hall also appears to be a new way of soliciting and receiving answers.
A 2014 WAEC candidate, who gave her name simply as Kate, gave an account of what transpired in her centre: “In my school last year, there were two external candidates sitting together — a boy and a girl. During a paper, the boy had chips and the girl asked for it, but he refused to give her unless she rubbed his private part, which she did.”
One punishable offence during examinations is sitting for another candidate. It is often called ‘mercenary.’ During major papers such as English and Mathematics, WAEC has noted a high rate of impersonation. The solution to the increasing rate of impersonation, WAEC posits, lies in biometric technology.
Ojijeogu said, “We are always on the lookout for impersonators. Lately, during English and Mathematics papers, there have been more vacant seats. The reason is that the people who may have planned to sit examinations on behalf of the true candidates cannot come into the hall.
“We achieved this using biometrics. We have laptops for taking attendance before the candidates enter the examination hall. The fingerprint must correspond with that of the candidate that was registered. If it doesn’t match, the candidate will be asked to go out. The biometric technology was introduced during the May/June 2013 WAEC Senior Secondary Certificate Examinations.
Even now, our certificates bear a feature called Quick Response Code. If someone succeeded in impersonating another person and he wrote the exam, that certificate would bear the features of the person who registered for it, not the impersonator. We have laptops, handheld devices and photo books to prevent impersonation.”
- Illegal websites
With the advancement of technology, candidates and illegal benefactors have found new ways to indulge in exam malpractices. One of such means is the creation and patronising of websites that offer answers to unreleased exam questions.
Akinyede said, “There are sites where people pay to get the answers during the exam too. Candidates are made to pay a stipulated amount into a bank account. In some cases, the sites collect recharge cards. Some websites release questions and answers prior to the exam, especially national and international exams, at no cost. For others, you are required to send them airtime of between N750 and N1000.”
But Ojijeogu denied that the WAEC’s questions are leaked from within the council.
The WAEC spokesperson added, “Ordinarily, the bags (containing the exam questions) carried by the supervisors are locked. The key is with the principal or vice-principal of that school, except he or she is incompetent enough to open the bag before getting to the exam hall. For that reason, there is usually a WAEC invigilator there to supervise the exams also. The invigilator would watch the process of opening and closing of the bag. A lot of that effort by WAEC has nipped the problem in the bud in many cases.
“Posing as a candidate, I once called the phone number on one of those websites that claim they get the questions before the question papers are out. I was asked to send airtime. After sending the airtime, they didn’t send me the questions before the exam date.
“Even at the point of printing the questions, it is only senior officials of WAEC that are allowed to go in and monitor the process. Staff members are not allowed to see what is being printed. Despite all of that, no one is allowed to enter with any phone, paper, shoes, wallet, belt, etc. The loophole usually occurs on the part of our custodians, the banks, when carrying the questions to the exam hall on the morning of the paper.”
According to the WAEC official, it is impossible to detail a security operative to every exam centre in the country to secure the exam papers.
- Programmable calculators, wristwatches
Another technique employed by candidates to cheat in the exam hall is the use of programmable calculators and wristwatches. Candidates are known to use scientific calculators to input answers prior to the respective paper. Of late, some computer-savvy candidates seem to be taking advantage of new wearable computing devices, such as smart watches, especially since most invigilators are not as savvy.
But Ojijeogu said the council had put measures in place to arrest the trend.
He added that in addition to its transparent calculators, the council had introduced custom-made, non-programmable calculators during its November/December exams in 2014.
- Confronting the exam board
Another method candidates employ to cheat is by confronting the exam body to ask for question papers or corresponding answers to them. One of such persons, Oke Senior, exhibited this audacity when he sent a direct message to the WAEC Facebook portal, saying, “Can you help me with WAEC Chemistry runs?”
Another, Chikalaghi Chinkata, sent a message to the council on the same platform, saying, “Please, help me with WAEC questions,” while Musa Adamu wrote, “I need chemistry (sic) questions and answers easy (sic) and objective.”
- Writing and sticking chips underneath table
In the course of an examination, candidates are often assigned seats based on their exam numbers. This notably gives room for candidates to ‘plant’ chips in the hall in between papers, usually after school hours before the start of the exam.
Candidates typically use chewing gum to stick the chips to the bottom of their desks and chairs. As a result, when the paper begins and the candidates are frisked routinely, there would be no chance of being caught with any contraband.
- Drugging/threatening supervisors
In many rural communities, drugging and threatening invigilators or supervisors is not a rarity during exams.
Narrating his experience, a supervisor who craved anonymity said, “When I was posted to a government-owned school in Ijanikin, Lagos State, I was warned sternly not to interfere with the exam practice. They told me that the candidates were the ones who would ferry me back and that if I wanted to cross the river safely, I should cooperate.”
It is also common for strict supervisors to be offered food and drinks, which could be infused with sedatives, giving the candidates freedom to indulge in exam malpratices.
Responding to such method of cheating, Ojijeogu emphasised the importance of discretion. He noted that in cases where the lives of WAEC officials are threatened, it is important to comply and then make a formal report about the incident after the exams.
- Bribing invigilators
Bribing incompetent invigilators is one of the common ways of cheating, as it allows the candidate freedom of access to answers more than any other method. In this case, the higher the bribe, the more reckless the cheating because the compromised invigilator would have sold the capability to urge caution.
- Writing on ceilings and fans
Writing on ceiling fans and ceilings is one form of cheating during an examination that is gradually becoming a pastime among candidates. It is usually accomplished long before the commencement of the exams. The concept is to pass off the written expoas graffiti scribbled by errant pupils.
- Key points
The use of pamphlets with the condensed curriculum for a subject, popularly known as key points, is a common way to cheat in the exam hall. Like mobile phones, key points are smuggled underneath the clothing of candidates, underneath berets, in underwear, etc. Often, it is ripped to bits and carried in by several people at once and exchanged clandestinely during an examination. Some of the other more common ways of smuggling the key points pamphlets, invigilators have noted, include in math sets, four-figure tables and during breaks to use the toilet. In some cases, it is rolled up and hidden underneath watches and bracelets.
- Stuffing chips in private parts
This is probably one of the most bizarre methods of cheating during an examination. Though it involves the extreme act of inserting chips into the private part, the most desperate and daring female candidates are not deterred from exploring this method.
- Money in answer sheets
It is not unusual for indolent candidates to become helpless even after attempting all of the aforementioned acts. In such instances, markers and invigilators reveal that some candidates resort to submitting their virtually empty answer sheets with some money tucked in between the pages.
A marker, who preferred anonymity because she had not reported her findings after marking, told SUNDAY PUNCH, “There are cases where some, in absolute desperation, would submit wads of cash inside their scripts for markers to augment their score. Often, the candidate would write a note in the script saying that the marker should have mercy. I have seen one that wrote that he had a spiritual problem and that I should show mercy in grading.
“Another one said she had written the exam about five times and that her father said if she fails, it would be her last chance. Students are just desperate and they feel money is the only way out. The money could range from a few hundreds of naira to several thousands.”