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Cambridge English (and in the case of IELTS, together with British Council and IDP Education Ltd) has a responsibility to candidates, test centres and other stakeholders to ensure the integrity of our examinations by putting in place robust measures to identify and deal with instances of candidate or test centre malpractice, including the use of statistical checks based on sound research.
The Cambridge English Malpractice Procedure deals with cases of suspected irregular conduct.
Irregular conduct is any action which gives or aims to give unfair advantage to a candidate or causes disadvantage to other candidates. The Notice to Candidates, which is displayed outside all examination rooms, warns candidates of the consequences of such actions, as do the Summary Regulations which is given to all candidates by their centre. In the case of IELTS, candidates are warned of the consequences of such actions in the Application Form (Notice to Candidates and Declaration).
Cambridge English, British Council and IDP Education Ltd have rigorous procedures in place to detect instances of malpractice.
Examples of malpractice include:
Once reported, potential malpractice cases follow a process of investigation by Cambridge English staff, , which may lead to results being permanently withheld. In the case of IELTS, potential malpractice cases are also investigated by the Investigation Teams of British Council, IDP Education Ltd, and IELTS USA.
In line with best practice, we investigate potential malpractice by carrying out a range of statistical analyses on individual candidate results, pairs and groups of candidates in test venues and the overall results of all the candidates from one test administration or across administrations.
These analyses may include, but are not limited to:
In each case the analysis assesses the likelihood of any given pattern of results or scores being found by chance, given the typical pattern observed in the rest of the test population (based on historical candidate data). In other words we identify instances where the candidates’ results are substantially different from those observed in the overall population.
Any cases which are identified as being unusual may then be further scrutinised by the malpractice team. All available evidence is checked before a decision is made on whether to withhold results.
If we have reasonable grounds to suspect that a result is not a reliable indicator of a candidate’s ability, or if we have reasonable grounds to suspect that exam regulations have not been complied with, then we believe it is in the interests of all candidates that we withhold it. It is important to understand that decisions are made using the evidence available, and that decisions are made based on levels of confidence in a result and/or compliance with regulations; it is not about proving malpractice has happened, instead it is about ensuring that only results we are confident in are released.
Cambridge English has trained malpractice team which looks at cases, taking into account all relevant information. After carefully considering the case, the team will decide whether the candidate's result should be released or permanently withheld. The centre is then asked to inform the candidate.
If it is decided that a candidate's results can be released, the original results will be issued, unchanged. If it is decided that the results should be permanently withheld, the candidate will not receive a result. In the case of IELTS, candidates found to have engaged in malpractice may also be banned from taking the test in future.
This procedure is designed to ensure that all decisions are consistent, fair and based on the fullest information available. We aim to complete the investigation of suspected malpractice cases within eight weeks of the test date. In the case of IELTS, some investigations may take longer to complete.
There is an appeals procedure for candidates who wish to appeal against a decision to permanently withhold their result. Information about the appeals procedure can be found on the enquiries and appeals page.
The malpractice procedure will usually start on the exam day through to the results release, up until the case is resolved. In some instances where new evidence of malpractice is discovered, for computer based testing where results windows are shorter, or where evidence is not provided on time, the malpractice procedure may run after results release.
As stated in section 3.4 of the Cambridge English Regulations, , the malpractice procedure may dictate that affected candidates do not receive results, or their result may be cancelled after it is issued.
A candidate is identified for suspected malpractice by sources such as (but not limited to):
We create a case for each individual
Cambridge English analyses the malpractice case using our established criteria to decide whether the case should be submitted for further investigation by the malpractice team. These criteria are designed to filter out cases that do not merit further review.
We review and investigate the case. We then either release the result if there is not sufficient cause for concern, or we contact the centre to request a candidate statement from each candidate involved. The statement asks them about the circumstances that raised the suspected malpractice case.
The statement gives the candidate a chance to represent their view of events. Cambridge English will inform the centre that a malpractice case has been raised and the centre then informs the candidate.
What should a candidate include in their statement?
Once we receive the candidate’s statement, all available evidence for the case is reviewed by our trained staff.
If we do not receive the candidate’s statement, within two weeks of our request, we will proceed with the malpractice review without it. The candidate can provide a statement at any later appeal stage. The malpractice team reviews the case and make a decision to permanently withhold or to release the candidate’s result.
We provide a confirmation of the final decision to the centre.
If the decision is to release the result, the candidate will receive their result via the normal channel.
If the decision is to permanently withhold the result, the candidate will not receive a result.
The candidate can appeal against a decision by requesting an appeal via their exam centre. Further information can be found here.
All decisions are made on the information that is supplied to the malpractice team during the timescale set out above. The team will seek to make a reasonable assessment using the facts provided. The team follows a defined process implement this in an impartial manner. The processes in place are designed to allow for robust protections of qualifications. The candidate is deemed to have accepted and understood the regulations by sitting the exam and it will be for the candidate to prove that any discretion sought is appropriate or; that a decision made via the above process is not in itself a reasonable outcome for the malpractice team to have reached.
For further information or advice please contact the Cambridge English Helpdesk team.