Thursday, May 15, 2008

Pakistan: Where Not Cheating On Exams Makes The Papers

From Dawn a couple of days ago:
He said that all those candidates who took their examination at the RLAK College of Home Economics were, however, given extra time to compensate for the loss of time. Explaining the reason for this delay, he said that the vehicle which was supposed to deliver the papers to the centre, had developed some fault that caused the delay.

When asked about the number of cases pertaining to the use of unfair means reported during Tuesday’s examinations, he said that not a single such case was reported because it was Islamiat’s paper. “In fact, most of the unfair means cases are normally detected on those days when papers of English, Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics subjects are held”, he said.

I have three reactions to this. First, cheating on exams in Pakistan is sort of like violence against women in Pakistan - just because something isn't reported doesn't mean it doesn't happen. Second, from my recollections of high school, students in Pakistan don't really play favorites vis-a-vis which subjects to cheat on - they're equal-opportunity bastards.

Third, if this is true ("this" being less cheating in Islamiat than other subjects), it would count as pretty compelling evidence for a theory posited in Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely. In the book, Ariely talked about an experiment he conducted on honesty and cheating. Three groups of people were asked to take a simple math test consisting of twenty problems. The control group simply handed in their response sheets to the experimenter. These people averaged 3.1 correct problems.

The second group was given the opportunity to cheat. They were given the solutions at the end of the test, told to score themselves, and then tell the experimenter how many problems they got correct. This group claimed to answer 4.1 problems, a fully 33% higher than the control group (so they obviously cheated).

The third group was also given an opportunity to cheat, in the exact same way as the second group. Except there was one twist. While the second group was asked to name ten books they read in high school before they entered the testing room, this group was asked to recall the Ten Commandments before they entered, and wrote them down on a piece of paper. Note that they didn't have to correctly identify the Ten Commandments, they just had to write down what they thought the Ten Commandments were (indeed, almost none actually got all ten right). This group - given an opportunity to cheat, remember - averaged 3 correct problems. In other words, there was no statistically significant difference between those who were not allowed to cheat, and those who were allowed to cheat but were forced to think about religious texts/moral guidelines.

That may be what's going on in the case of the missing cheaters in the Islamiat exam: when they were confronted in a very tangible way with the notion of God or religion (the exam was on Islamiat, after all), they were more honest.

But I wouldn't bet on it: I've been a student in Pakistan and I've seen some, I don't even know where to start. So I won't.


zeyd said...

Read an article a few weeks ago in the Dawn which talked about cheating in exams. Apparently, when caught, the student(s) involved would make a phone call to someone of 'influence', hand the phone over to the invigilator who'd be threatened into letting the cheat go. Lovely world ain't it?

Ahsan said...

By the way, this brings to mind a question I've thought about for a long time: why do schools in Pakistan bother with tests? Everyone cheats, and more importantly, the teachers/administration KNOW everyone cheats. What possible information other than students' aptitude for getting around rules is revealed by this nonsense? I just think they should forget the whole's pointless.