Business school applicants who use Chinese Web sites to get a sneak peek at GMAT questions are having their scores revoked and being banned from retaking the test
Students who have tried to get a leg up on the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) by visiting Web sites carrying illegally obtained test-preparation material may soon come to regret their actions. The Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) is aggressively pursuing more and more Web sites that illegally provide copyrighted GMAT materials to test-takers, as well as using high-tech gadgets to catch "proxy" test-takers who are hired to take the exam in place of applicants, the organization says. A key focus of GMAC's efforts is China. Already in 2009, 32 scores from China have been revoked by GMAC, while 24 Chinese test-takers have been blocked by GMAC from retaking the GMAT exam for five years, GMAC says. One of the Chinese cases that ended in disciplinary action involved a woman who took the GMAT on seven different occasions for seven different people, says Dave Wilson, president of GMAC. The crackdown comes on the heels of an important court victory for GMAC in China, with a Chinese court ruling on Nov. 23 that a test-preparation Web site, www.passion.org.cn, had infringed GMAC's copyright by providing exclusive GMAT materials to test-takers for a fee, including reconstructed "live" questions from actual GMAT exams, GMAT prep materials, and PDFs of actual test books. The legal action by GMAC is just one of a number of steps the organization is taking to make sure that students can't cheat on the exam, says Wilson. These include heightened security measures at testing centers such as palm vein readers, which use infrared light to capture each test-taker's unique palm vein pattern, as well as digital photographs and passport scanners, he says. The organization also has Web crawling software that scans 15 million Web sites every evening, looking for sites that illegally compile "live" GMAT questions. User Names Withheld
"This speaks to every test-taker and I think it tells them that when you take the GMAT, you are going to be observed, palm veined, and scanned," Wilson says. "It will be the fairest test and it will not be corrupted." With the recent court ruling in China, there do not appear to be any immediate consequences for students who used the highly trafficked Web site, run by Beijing Passion Consultancy, one of China's largest GMAT preparation companies. GMAC was unable to obtain the names of the students who used the site to study for the exam, so was unable to pursue any immediate action against them, GMAC says. However, the court ruled that Beijing Passion must remove any copyrighted material from its Web site, pay GMAC $76,000 in compensation, and post a notice on its site from GMAC about the consequences of cheating. A lawyer representing Beijing Passion, Zhou Junwu, of the Beijing-based law firm Jingcheng, Tongda & Neal, could not be reached. The GMAC warning, already posted on Passion's test-prep site, states: "GMAC takes cheating very seriously, especially attempts to obtain access to live questions in advance of an exam." It goes on to describe the consequences for students who are found to be improperly "disclosing, accessing, or using" GMAT materials, which include cancellation of test scores, a ban on retaking the exam, and informing business schools that received the scores that they have been revoked. Anti-Cheating Campaign
The case is just the latest in GMAC's campaign to safeguard the integrity of the exam. The organization has recently filed about 10 administrative complaints with the Chinese copyright office against Web sites illegally carrying GMAT preparation material, says Robert Burgoyne, an attorney representing GMAC from the Washington (D.C.)-based law firm Fulbright & Jaworski. This is the second time that GMAC has successfully pursued legal action against a Chinese test-preparation company for copyright violations, Burgoyne says. Back in 2003, GMAC won a case against the New Oriental School for illegally distributing GMAT preparation material in its classes. But the courts have never before made a ruling on a case exclusively involving test-preparation materials distributed via the Web, he says.
"This is certainly one of the first cases involving Internet-based infringement in China and I think that's really its principal significance," Burgoyne says. "The Chinese courts, like the U.S. courts, are going to have to come to terms with the challenges posed by the Internet in terms of protecting intellectual-property rights." This ruling comes on the heels of another high-profile case that GMAC won in 2008 against a now-defunct U.S.Web site, Scoretop.com, which allowed students to get a look at live questions from the GMAT exam.The site was run by Chinese native Lei Shi from a base in Aurora, Ohio, before he returned to his native country.In that case, GMAC won a $2.3 million copyright-infringement judgment against the Scoretop site, was able to seize the site's domain name, and shut down the operation.It was also able to obtain a hard drive that contained data on 6,000 users who paid $30 to access the VIP section of the Web site.Of those 6,000, 84 had their test scores revoked by GMAC. Twelve posted live GMAT questions on the site and 72 wrote messages on Scoretop confirming they saw questions from the Web site on their GMAT exams, according to GMAC. "Extra Edge"
The steps that GMAC is taking to prevent cheating on the GMAT exam in China are commendable, says Donald McCabe, a professor of management and global business at Rutgers Business School (Rutgers Full-Time MBA Profile). McCabe has conducted surveys that show B-school students tend to cheat more often than their counterparts in other graduate school programs. This tendency can become heightened in connection with standardized admissions testing, where the stakes are considerably higher, McCabe says. Students will often try to take steps that will give them an "extra edge" during the exam, he added. "It's a good first step, in my opinion," McCabe says of the Chinese court ruling. "I think this ruling will scare some people from cheating in the short term now that they realize they could be affected by this and have their GMAT score canceled. But I worry that students, if they want to cheat, will find another way around it if they are so anxious to do so."