Universities revamp exam system to curb cheating

Several Egyptian universities have changed their examination systems in an attempt to curb mass cheating, a shift that has triggered mixed reactions.

Academic institutions in the country have in recent years complained about widespread cheating, blaming it on a test system based on rote learning and the large numbers of students admitted into universities each year.

In a bid to improve the situation, higher education authorities have recently announced the replacement of the traditional exam system with another based on multiple-choice questions or MCQ.

“Universities’ shift to the multiple-choice questions will help eliminate the cheating phenomenon,” Minister of Higher Education Ashraf el-Shihy told the media.

Several ‘models’ of the MCQ examinations are printed, with placement of the same questions and their potential answers differing from one model to another in an effort to limit cheating opportunities.


“This system ensures fairness towards students as their answers are checked and marked through computerisation, not by their teachers, as is the case in the traditional system,” he said.

“Thus, each student gets the marks he deserves according to his answers.”

The minister said the move was part of Egyptian education authorities' efforts to enhance the quality of university education which is blamed for churning out low quality graduates.

“The application of this system marks the start of learning based on assimilation not memorisation,” he said.

Advocates of the MCQ system cite another benefit in cash-strapped Egypt.

"This system cuts spending on exam sheets,” said Mohamed Kamal, a lecturer at the state-run University of Beni Suef in southern Egypt.

He said in the MCQ system, the notebook on which the student encircles his or her chosen answers contains only five pages, down from 20 in the traditional system where answers often take the form of long essays.


“This saves a lot of money in view of increases in paper prices,” Kamal told the Egyptian private newspaper Al Watan.

In recent months, Egypt has experienced a spate of price hikes after the government floated the local pound and cut the state fuel subsidy as part of tough measures aimed at healing the ailing economy.

University students have reacted variously to the MCQ system.

“This system benefits the student who studies well,” said Nour Talaat, a student in the faculty of arts at Ain Shams University, a state-run institution in Cairo.

“Students have to study thoroughly in advance to [achieve] the right answer. I hope this system will be applied in other stages of education beginning at the primary school,” she said.

“Moreover, the computerised marking process eliminates human errors. In the traditional system… [human] marking results in mistakes and complaints from students who think they have not got the marks they deserve.”

Abdullah Gaber, a law student at the same university, disagreed.

No essays

“The MCQ system deprives the student of expressing himself in the answer sheet because it is based on… choices, not essay writing,” Gaber said.

“And contrary to the claim that this system fights cheating, I think it helps students attending faculties with large numbers to cheat. This is the case when students sitting next to each other get similar exam models," he said.

In Egypt, some state-run academic institutions, particularly those offering law and commerce, admit thousands of new students each year. Those enrolled pay low fees compared to those charged at private universities.