It takes more than fingerprint checks to beat cheaters in China’s biggest exam

Much at stake.
Much at stake.
Image: Reuters/Stringer
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This week, more than 9 million Chinese students will sit roughly nine hours over a period of two days for the gaokao, the high-stakes exam for admission to a Chinese college. Notoriously grueling, it can determine a student’s entire career path, and ultimately the kind of life one leads. At least 2 million of the test-takers won’t pass.

That’s why the gaokao, to be held on June 7-8, never falls short of cheaters. Exam halls have used metal detectors and drones to prevent cheating via high-tech gadgets. But what about hiring a surrogate to take the exam for you?

For this, verification via ID cards is a must, but hardly enough. Surrogates can use their own photos on forged IDs, and admission tickets with the real test-takers’ information on them. Fingerprint checks have become common in many test centers, but surrogates have responded by wearing special fingerprint films of the candidates.

It’s a constant game of cat-and-mouse. Now authorities are embracing more sophisticated biometric technology. Since last year, Guangzhou officials have used facial-recognition programs (link in Chinese) to match students to their ID photos, admission-ticket photos, and headshots from high school (taken at graduation and uploaded to a database). This year the northeastern city of Qingdao is following suit, rolling out (link in Chinese) the same program to check some 35,000 gaokao candidates.

For the past few years, authorities in Sichuan and Liaoning provinces have also used iris-recognition technology.

Another method that’s proven useful is finger-vein recognition. Authorities in the northern part of Inner Mongolia have used it since 2015. Unlike fingerprints, images of blood-vessel patterns are under the skin and almost impossible to counterfeit.

Meanwhile, the government has increased the punishment for exam cheaters. Students who intend to cheat their way to the top could now face up to seven years in jail, according to a national law enacted last year.

Visen Liu contributed reporting.