Tamper-proofing Question Papers With Digital Technologies

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Question paper leakages and the subsequent rescheduling of examinations are now the burning issue in the education sector. Many such instances have grabbed the media headlines recently. Let us look at how digital technology can address this challenge. 

For any examination there are certain procedures to be followed by the university/ board. This includes sourcing, selecting, setting, printing, segregating and distributing the question papers to the examination centres from where it reaches the intended audience. 
Each of these steps involves human intervention, thereby making it prone to malpractices at different stages. It is here that digital technology can play a prominent role. A solution with a well-defined workflow, granular access controls, encryption, leakage monitoring and real-time tracking is the need of the hour.

The Device: In this age of mobility revolution, affordable ink readers have become prevalent. If it is affordable and serves the purpose of confidentiality of question paper setting, it is high time to rethink and redefine our existing traditional methods of examinations with better alternatives like this. On a higher level, we can draw a similarity to electronic voting machines that is used in the elections.

The reader with a chargeable battery pack, minimum RAM and memory card interface with/without the built-in memory card is fair enough for the purpose of question paper transferring and reading in an efficient manner. The simpler the device, the lesser the BOM (Bill of Material) cost. 

We can use the standard interface like USB to transfer data (question paper) into this offline reader. The question paper will be encrypted and can be read only on the reader at a pre-programmed specific time. All the e-readers will be RFID tagged for proper asset management and tracking and can be reused further.

Work flow design

Crowdsourcing of the questions. The first step involves drafting of the questions for setting the question paper. Crowdsourcing can be done for each category of subjects from certified and recognised colleges or universities. The process includes appointing a certified question paper source (professors, readers and lecturers) signed up with a non-disclosure agreement. Questions prepared would be water marked/encrypted. Typically, a web portal is set up to source questions with login credentials. 

Updating the question bank in a Data Centre: The second step is to update the crowd sourced questions on to a centralised question bank server in a secure data centre. The bank should typically have enough questions (the required times the number of questions) required for drafting required number of sets of question papers. A software application that will analyse the questions will make sure that there are no duplicate questions in the bank and maintain the uniqueness. 

The smart software algorithms ensure questions are not similar, predictive model of outcome for an average performer, comparisons of the paper complexity from previous years etc. The questions are encrypted in the data centre and the access is restricted to authorised persons only. All the login sessions are monitored for the audit trails.

Software application to create the question paper: The system will have a software application that can choose questions using a random function and create a question paper for the given duration, format and complexity. The system will create required number of sets of such question papers. These question papers will have the option to be viewed by authorised person who is the responsible authority for each of the exams (subjects) to approve. However, if we want to avoid human intervention as much as possible, the above option can be avoided by incorporating a software model. 

Encryption of the question paper: The system is now ready with the selected question sets that are encrypted and the final set will be determined and transferred to the readers only at the appropriate time. The system will thus ensure that the question set that is chosen for the examination is not known to anyone and will become open on the readers at the exact start time of the examination.

Loading the question paper in e-reader: The next step is to factory fuse the question from a source to the target (readers). There are bulk memory card (SD cards) writers available in the market and this can be a de-centralised process based on the scale and other logistics of the examination.  

The major highlight and USP of the approach is that the entire list of questions can be transferred into the reader at one time and each question paper is tagged with the time stamp so that it is readable only at the given time that is programmed, and this makes the process tamper-proof. There can be a few back up/fall back mechanisms to provide extra readers in case some of them turn faulty or damaged. Improvisation can be done in this process based on trial runs. One of the options to explore is that entire process can be outsourced as a service model (Pay-Per-Reader). 

Major Advantages through this approach include: Complete transparency and tracking at each stage; No wastage of paper; Reuse of infrastructure for other examinations; and, Scope for add-on and refinements. The digital and mobile revolution has addressed many of the existing challenges that we face in our daily life. In a similar way, rethinking and redesigning the existing methods of the education system with well-thought, well-designed and well-implemented digital technology can largely address challenges like question paper leakages in an efficient way.

As examinations are considered to be the key for choosing the most competent and deserving candidates in any field, addressing the pain points in those areas by effectively utilising digital technology is highly relevant.

Published In : Deccan Herald

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