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Testing Firm Makes Cheating Difficult

Fingerprints, Handwriting Analysis Used

By Christopher B. Wright

Crime fighters are not the only people using thumbprints, mug shots, computer lists and handwriting analysis these days. The Educational Testing Service (ETS), which administers the LSAT's, MCAT's and similar tests, now uses these techniques to catch cheaters.

The measures are both to "protect the integrity of the tests and to keep everyone's chances equal," ETS spokesman John Smith said yesterday.

Smith said ETS institutionalized the checks in the early 1970's when there was a great increase in cheating. He said student pressure to get into graduate schools may have caused the increase. But he adds that he thinks that pressure may be slacking off now.

Most investigations of possible cheating begin when a computer list shows that a student's score is far above a previous score or inconsistent with his scholastic record, Paul Williams, ETS director of test security, said yesterday.

Williams said he examines each case in which a student's LSAT score increases by 150 points or more. He said that there are few of these cases, far below the approximately 13,000 cases a year reported recently by The Washington Post.


Because of the increase in cheating on LSAT's, the ETS now takes the thumbprint of everyone who takes the test. This procedure was adopted in 1973 after 117 scores were cancelled the year before. Formerly, a driver's license or similar photographic identification was all that was required to be admitted to the examination.

Students taking the MCAT must send in a photograph when they apply for the test. Test proctors check the photograph with the person taking the examination.

The photographs are later sent to the successful applicant's medical school and checked when he enters.

Previously, a student could have an imposter take the test by sending in the "ringer's" photograph with his initial application to take the test. The photographs were not sent to the medical schools as they are now.

Before the thumbprint and photograph procedures were instituted, handwriting analysis was the primary technique used to investigate abnormal score increases shown up by the computer files. Williams said ETS employs three nationally-recognized handwriting experts to compare the writing on the different test sheets.

In 1971, before the use of thumbprints, these experts voted unanimously to void the LSAT score of Susan E. Johnson '71 who had taken the test three times, with scores of 317, 323 and 623.

The University of California Law School at Berkeley admitted Johnson with knowledge of ETS's suspicions and Johnson has since earned her law degree.

In 1972, Johnson sued the ETS for damages to her reputation. The suit is still pending in federal court in Boston.

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