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thedrifter
08-29-06, 03:40 PM
September 04, 2006
Catching the cheaters
Open books? Closed. Answer keys? Locked out. How the new MCI testing methods will keep you honest

By John Hoellwarth
Staff writer

It happens all the time. You’re sitting in the barracks looking in the book for the answers to your Marine Corps Institute exam. Then, a fellow Marine notices you’re laboring over a course he’s already completed. Naturally, he offers you the answer sheet he photocopied before his training chief rubber-stamped it and mailed it in.

While both methods are common for leathernecks — copying the answers from the book or simply using the answer key — they’re still cheating. And MCI officials are getting set to unveil a series of measures to put “exam integrity” back into MCIs.

“The bottom line is, cheaters beware,” said Terry Franus, director of the institute headquartered at Marine Corps Barracks in Washington, D.C., where all your exams are graded.


The idea is simple. Photocopied answer sheets are worthless if there is no telling what questions will be on the test. On Oct. 1, all online MCI exams will feature randomized questions. And the institute is working toward randomizing its paper tests, too.

So the days of looking up each answer and finishing all your MCIs in one night are numbered.

At the same time, the institute is giving commanders access to a Web site that lets them track every facet of their Marines’ off-duty education and identify suspicious activity within their unit. By registering with MCI for access to this information, commanders agree to take responsibility for making sure their Marines are taking the test legitimately.

For the Corps’ junior enlisted, this means they’ll have to actually read the “Math for Marines” booklet, or at least the parts leathernecks didn’t get in high school. But as far as passing the “Reverse Osmosis Water Purification” test, leathernecks will likely require the cover-to-cover approach.

Based on interviews with a half-dozen Marines, from corporal to gunny, this means many Marines will have to rethink the way they do their MCIs.

Trained to cheat?

Marines who were interviewed — all asked to remain anonymous since giving their names would likely get them in trouble — said that open-book testing is so widespread throughout the Corps that many were surprised to learn that the course exams are supposed to be administered under the watchful eye of a proctor whose signature certifies that the Marine did the test from memory within the allotted time. These Marines say, historically, that’s just not how the Corps does it.

“You know how you do them — look up the answers while you take the test and never bother to read the whole thing. You can actually learn a little bit that way, but you dump the data pretty quick after that,” said a sergeant in the general’s building at Camp Butler on Okinawa, Japan.

An admin corporal with Manpower and Reserve Affairs at Quantico, Va., said, “In my seven years in the Corps, I have never seen anyone do an MCI straight up legit.”

“It’s not that cheating is overlooked, it’s that cheating is actually taught and encouraged,” said a Reserve infantry sergeant who regularly monitored exams while serving at Twentynine Palms, Calif. “If a Marine is sitting there using his book on the exam, he can pretty much do it anywhere he wants with impunity. As a training NCO, I would actually teach my younger Marines how to zoom through the MCIs and then pass the tests. I’d then just recommend they hold onto the book for future reference.”

A staff sergeant with Marine Corps headquarters in the Pentagon said that retaining the information isn’t as important as retaining the MCI textbook.

“MCIs are meant to teach Marines what we use as Marines,” the staff sergeant said, “but the day they would ever need me as a trumpet player to do an ‘Op order’ is the day the war has gone to hell in a handbasket. If the time ever comes, you better believe I know to go get the MCI and look it up instead of trying to wing [it] off the top of my head.”

The corporal at Quantico said the Corps overlooks open-book testing because Marines who take the time to look up the answers are still putting in a lot more effort than the ones who get answers from a friend.

“I don’t have the answer sheets, but if I wanted them, I’d know who to ask,” said an admin corporal with II Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Lejeune, N.C.

While pursuing this story, a reporter with Marine Corps Times was able to obtain a complete collection of answer sheets for every course offered by MCI with relative ease. Franus acknowledged that “we know answers are out there,” which is why he’s focused on “exam integrity.”

Commanders in control

The first prong of the new test-taking security measures was introduced in January. The online unit verification report allows commanders to track every facet of their Marines’ off-duty education.

By logging onto the Web site, commanders can enroll their Marines in courses, track their progress and maintain a big-picture view of which courses are being completed by which Marines and when, Franus said.

One of the command UVR’s biggest innovations is that commanders can call up MCI tests online so their Marines can submit course exams and receive their grade within 15 minutes. Those grades are then sent electronically to Marines in Kansas City, Mo., who post the course credit to a devil dog’s personnel record as early as the next business day. It’s perfect for deployed Marines looking to expedite their exams before the next month’s cutting scores are published, especially since those MCIs count toward college credit and are worth up to 100 points toward promotion.

The online exams are exactly the same as the paper mail-order versions for now, meaning the answers shared throughout the lance corporal underground will suffice for the Web-based test.

That will change Oct. 1, when the institute introduces randomized exams online.

“The randomized exam will be pulled from a bank of questions so no two exams for that course will be the same,” Franus said.

“Each Marine would have an individualized examination, so the possibility of sharing the answers is reduced greatly,” said Mike Lambert, director of accreditation at the Distance Education Training Council, which has vouched that MCI courses are worthy of college credit since 1977. “It’s just one more precautionary technique used by institutions to protect the integrity of their exams.”

“Eventually, our goal is that this is going to be the only way to take an exam,” Franus said. “But that’s downrange.”

Though the institute is moving more toward online education, Franus said paper exams aren’t going away soon. After studying their textbooks, Marines can choose whether to take a test online or bubble in their answer sheet and mail it back. But the online exams are more attractive, especially for deployed Marines, because the scores come back faster.

Nearly 700,000 MCIs have been ordered from the institute this year, up from 616,000 last year, but it is unclear how many of these courses were completed on paper or online. And with plans to randomize paper exams still distant, the institute has placed the onus for maintaining the integrity of paper exams on the proctors who administer the tests and the commanders who track their Marines’ progress online.

Every one of the 2,521 Marines who have been granted a command UVR account has signed “a pledge that they are going to abide by the integrity, rules and regulations,” Franus said. This means keeping an eye out for signs of cheating within the unit.

“One of the things that the command UVR does is give the account holders the ability to generate account histories and identify suspicious activity, like a Marine completing four courses in one day. That’s a red flag,” he said.

Additionally, the institute has begun looking over the commanders’ shoulders, policing suspicious activity Corps-wide “on a continuous basis,” Franus said.

“We’ve seen cases where a Marine took 40 classes in three days,” he added.

The II MEF corporal said these new measures will make it hard to cheat, but not impossible.

“The lance corporal underground is going to try to find another way around the system. But if the exams are all going to be randomized, that’s going to be hard,” the corporal said. “They might have to actually retain the knowledge.”

If the institute spots suspicious activity, such as a group of Marines in one command who’ve submitted the same answers to the same MCIs, it freezes the unit’s account and shoots an e-mail to the commander about the issue.

How often does MCI send these e-mails out?

“It is daily,” Franus said.

Ellie

STA0311
08-29-06, 04:29 PM
LOL that sucks!!! Getting answers from your buddy is almost as much a tradition as getting your "Blood Stripes"! I am all for honesty, but I bet the number of MCI's that are being done as of that date DROP Drastically...almost to a point where they are required to have a certain number done per month...hell they already make you PT a required number of hours per week since no one was doing it properly years ago!

outlaw3179
08-29-06, 05:04 PM
lol..I would have never picked up CPl. if it hadnt been for my buddies :)

STA0311
08-30-06, 10:24 AM
My buddy had his wife do all of his...she was a teacher and probably understood them better than he did!