Lame Excuses and Weak Defenses

Written by: Dennis Maynes, Chief Scientist, Caveon Test Security

Occasionally, I review responses from test takers whose test results were anomalous. The test taker is usually asked to explain the reason for the anomaly like this: “After forensics analysis, your test results have been found indeterminate for being overly similar with that of another. Will you please reply with an explanation?” Most of the explanations do not convince me. Let me provide a few examples with comments why I remain unconvinced.

Character defense – “I am a Christian.” “I am an instructor and I have helped many students pass the test.”

Comments: It is well known that cheating occurs in all groups, whether religious or professional. The testing organization should not allow the test taker to imply that character is being questioned. Nor, should it allow an appeal to character as a sufficient reason to discount the anomalous result. Simply put, the anomalous result cannot be explained or overturned by examining the reputation of the individual involved.

Too much knowledge – “I’m sure the person next to me cheated off me. It was odd. That person kept looking at me. I have asked around. Everyone says that person is a cheater.”

Comments: If the statement is true, why was it not reported until AFTER an explanation was requested? This situation is quite interesting. Most test takers are unaware of those around them. When a test taker provides details that only the cheater would know, the reviewer must ask how the test taker learned so much.

Weak alibi – “I couldn’t use my cell phone, because they didn’t let us and we were separated by some distance.” “The proctor was watching me the entire time.”

Comments: The first statement tacitly admits that the test taker brought a cell phone into the testing session. The second statement presupposes that the proctor would detect and prevent ALL cheating. This is not possible. Some cheating cannot be observed directly. For example, if the test taker had prior access to the actual test questions there is no way a non-mindreading proctor would know.

Word weight defense – “I didn’t cheat because I don’t do that… AND … AND … AND… [Ten pages later]… I’m sure you will agree that I didn’t cheat.”

Comments: This appears to be a smokescreen. Perhaps, the reviewer will be convinced if the explanation rambles for several pages. Lengthy explanations work against the test taker, because they allow inconsistencies to creep into the story.

Feigning ignorance – “[silence].”

Comments: Failure to respond to the request for information or to abide by agreements does not help a test taker. As an example, a test taker had been licensed to practice in his chosen profession, had agreed to retest, and had failed to retake the test, even though failure to retest would result in score invalidation. Why would a test taker do that? Unless prevented by illness or emergency, there seems to be only one explanation: The test taker was not confident that the test could be passed.

The best defense, whether the test taker actually cheated or was accused falsely, is a short and concise presentation of the actual facts. In other words, tell the truth. If asked to retest, take the test and pass it. That should put all questions to rest.


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