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Russian Students Turn the Page on Cheating

Ethics: Collegians at Moscow State University use cellular phones and beepers to get answers to exam questions. One professor even praises their initiative.


MOSCOW — Crib notes are old-fashioned in Moscow.

Students at Moscow State University have developed a high-tech system for cheating that they talk openly about and one professor even says shows initiative.

Cheating is considered widespread at many Russian universities, where in Soviet times ideology counted for more than scholarship and where modern young Russians sometimes hope to get by through bribes and trickery.

The latest system is basically a new version of crib notes, but it relies on the cellular phones and pagers that Russian yuppies are never without.

Here's how it works.

A week before an exam, Russian students are given a list of numbered test questions--usually several dozen--for which they are to prepare.

When they arrive on test day, students approach the teacher's desk one at a time and draw cards from a pile lying on the desk blank side up. The flip side of each card is marked with the number of one exam question.

Because the students draw their cards one at a time and in no predetermined order, those who wish to cheat linger behind. By the time they get their cards, they can signal their question number to somebody who is finishing the test and is about to leave the room.

As the first students exit the exam room, they pass the numbers on to the cheaters' helper, who stands in the hallway, armed with a cell phone and short answers to all the possible questions.

The helper then quickly sends the correct answer to a cheater's pager, which is set on the vibrating, rather than the beeping, mode.

"Usually the teachers don't notice, or perhaps they try not to notice so everything goes smoothly," said Julia Zaitseva, a journalism student at Moscow State University, the country's most prestigious. "Plus, it's really a team effort. We are all in this together so everyone helps everyone else out."

Zaitseva said she does not cheat but knows lots of people who do, and she suspects their chances of getting caught are next to nil.

At least one professor was neither surprised nor particularly perturbed when told of the scheme, suggesting it even showed initiative. "They use any possible technical innovation, and it's quite natural," said Irina Prokhorova, who teaches Russian literature. "It's clear they haven't just taken the simple way out but have put some effort into the art of cheating."

Most students bent on cheating still rely on crib notes to smuggle in answers because cell phones and pagers are quite expensive. It is the limited number of students whose families have done well in the new economy who have branched into high-tech cheating.

At Moscow's Vessolink pager service, operators say that during exam times they receive a large number of unusually lengthy messages.

While on a regular day operators type out one- or two-line messages, university testing periods bring on an avalanche of 6-, 7- and even 10-line messages.

"Normally a message longer than 200 or 300 characters is very rare," said Vessolink's general director, Anatoly Kopylov. "But during exam period we have a lot of these messages and even longer ones of up to 1,000 characters."

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