Gaming the GRE test in China, with a little online help

Wed Jul 27, 2011 3:44am EDT
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BEIJING (Reuters) - When 21-year-old Zhang, an average student in college, got set for the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) in Beijing this year, she felt so unprepared that she skipped the exam entirely.

Forty days later, she flew to Vietnam and nailed a near-perfect score in the test, which is taken by candidates applying to graduate school in the United States.

The secret to her sudden stroke of brilliance?

Before the second exam, Zhang -- not her real name -- tapped into an online network of former test-takers who pool questions and answers to gain an edge in the computerized test, which is not offered in China.

"I heard from my friends that it is easier to get better grades in the computer-based exam," said Xu, another Chinese student who flew to the Philippines and came back with a score of 1420 out of 1600. "Now I think it was money well-spent."

The coordinated cheating on the computerized GRE poses a challenge for the Princeton, New Jersey-based Educational Testing Service, which develops and administers the exam.

The stakes are high. On August 6, the computerized GRE will return to China after a nine-year hiatus, after ETS launches a revised GRE worldwide. That will allow much greater numbers of Chinese students to tap into online cheating networks if the revised GRE fails to curb their methods.

For Chinese, post-graduate study at a U.S. school is the ticket to prestige, adventure, and possibly higher wages.

"ETS's Office of Testing Integrity closely monitors testing, investigates security issues and assures score validity worldwide for all ETS testing programs," Christine Betaneli, ETS spokeswomen for the GRE tests, wrote in an email to Reuters.   Continued...