Sunday, 16 June 2013



The title is a bit of a misnomer really. This blog doesn’t provide a bunch of EFL games you can play – you can pick those up on Dave’s ESL Café and dozens of other websites. Instead, I’m going to describe some of the sneaky little tricks your EFL students can play on an unsuspecting teacher.

First, the lazy-minded student who’s worked out an ingenious ploy to convince the teacher that his or her (usually his) mind is hard at work. “So, Jeremy,” you say, “what’s the answer for number five? A, B, or C?” Jeremy’s brow furrows with deep concentration. “Um… B.” He pauses a second or two. “No, hang on… it’s A.” There’s no response from the teacher, so Jeremy deals his final card. “No, not A – C.” If the teacher still doesn’t respond, Jeremy runs through the options again in a different order, until the teacher finally blurts out “Yes, B. You’re right. Well done.” Jeremy, sly little sod that he is, breathes a sigh of relief. He hasn’t lost face, and he’s given the impression that he’s thought deeply about each answer. In fact he’s played the role of the perfect student to a tee.
Look at Jeremy’s written answer sheet and you’ll see the same pattern. For each question he’s written five or six answer options, some crossed out, some half-crossed out, some with a faint question mark after them. Well done Jeremy. Ten out of ten for effort.

Here’s another favorite ploy. In a conversation class you hold up a handout and enquire if they’ve studied it before. There’s a chorus of “noes”. You issue the handouts, then notice there’s a lot of rummaging in bags as students retrieve the self-same handout, with answers written in, that you’d given them a month previously. Uh oh, nice one. That’ll teach me for not keeping more detailed records.

Test time is when a whole range of tricky maneuvers comes into play. Especially test time in a class in Korea. Korean students have, over the years, developed a whole plethora of cheating strategies. Cheat- sheets rolled up inside a ball-point pen’s outer casing. Cheat-sheets folded inside an eraser sleeve. Answer sheets exchanged with the slickness of an espionage agent’s brush-past.  And Korean students aren’t in the least abashed when caught cheating. “Oh well, I’ll just have to try the old ‘answers scratched onto a Perspex ruler’ strategy next time round.”

Japanese students, to give them their due, don’t cheat. The Chinese do it in spades. Vietnamese do it. Indonesians do it.  Some students don’t bother with any subterfuge when doing it. They’ll simply lean over to look at a neighboring student’s answers, or even reach out and borrow someone’s answer sheet for a minute or two. They’re quite surprised and indignant if the teacher objects to this. I challenged one blatant Chinese cheat, and he replied “But we’re Chinese!” Oh well, that’s alright then.

I’ve experimented with ‘prescribed seating’ arrangements in an attempt to combat cheating. Row One contains only the clever students, Row Two comprises only the floundering students, and so on. Thus if floundering Student X leans over to look at Student Y’s answers, he’ll be none the wiser because Student Y has as little clue about what’s what as he has.

Nowadays, if I see widespread cheating during a test, I just saunter over and put a red dot on the top right corner of the cheater’s answer sheet. Then I write on the whiteboard “3 dots = zero points”.

In the face of the growing cheating problem, TOEFL, IELTS and TOEIC test centers have been forced to adopt a whole battery of strictly enforced rules. Stringent identity checks, to ensure that a test-taker hasn’t sent in his bright cousin to take the test on his behalf. No personal belongings allowed – they are to be left outside the test room. No ball-point pens – pencils only. No cell phones – (students have been caught phoning a friend to check answers). No electronic devices of any description. No unmonitored visits to the toilets. In spite of these rules, every year a new method of cheating is uncovered by test-center invigilators.

In Indonesia, you might come across another ‘easy-way-out’ form of cheating. The student offers a bribe to the test marker in return for a healthy pass mark.

Written assignments are another instance when you’ll encounter more cheating – in the form of plagiarism. Now you’ll know, seconds after picking up a student’s essay, that he or she has copied it from a book, or, more likely, from the internet. Of course you’ll know. Perfectly formed complex sentence structures. Vocabulary far beyond the student’s range. Cleverly constructed arguments. All from a student who’s hard-pressed to utter one grammatically correct sentence. Four identically worded assignments, even down to the same punctuation mistakes.
What do you do when you’re marking an assignment that has quite obviously been plagiarized? Refuse to mark it? Give the student a little lecture on the evils of plagiarism? Give the assignment a zero score? Award the student’s efforts with 99%? Frankly, I dunno the answer to that question. We teachers can’t expect to change the traditional mind-set of a nation overnight.


Here’s a customer’s review of EFL minus the B.S.: “So, you have checked it all out and decided to go teaching overseas. Now listen you fool… don’t even think about it until you have read this book! I have been an ESL teacher for close on a decade and this book is about as good as it gets. Read it… then do it. See you over here.” – Sensai.

1 comment:

  1. Yeah, you're absolutely right about cheating in Korea. I've reached the stage of not even marking their test sheets. I just award marks on the basis of their classroom performances. So, let them cheat their little hearts out.