Calculators on Standard Tests


I was wondering if the hang up of getting certain calculators into specific tests is the ability to pre-program them or store text in them if it would be possible for a manufacturer to include a toggle switch on a calculator that wipes the memory with a corresponding message to the screen.

It might give the testing boards peace of mind (is that possible) that the memory is wiped and the manufacturers more freedom to design calculators as they see fit and not to a 3rd party requirement for use on a standardized test?

But I guess this isn't always the case as with the 35s on the NCEES exam?


A lot of calculators do that, but honestly, if you wanted to circumvent it you could. For instance, on the TI-83 it's pretty easy for a test proctor to ask students to reset memory and show the "Mem Cleared" message. But you could just type it in (Although it'd be in all uppercase, lots of proctors would be too lazy to notice), write an assembly language program to display it in the correct case, or even go one step farther and write an assembly program that traps the key sequence and then displays the fake message.

Honestly, cheaters will always find a way to cheat, and stupid restrictions on what tools you may/may not use aren't the end-all answer.


"Honestly, cheaters will always find a way to cheat, and stupid restrictions on what tools you may/may not use aren't the end-all answer. "

Oh Really? You don't think you can't catch a cheat? And that it isn't worthwhile? What is so "stupid" about restricting cheat prone devices? The license isn't worth the paper it is printed on if cheats are getting through. There is a LOT riding on this.

Good test methods prevent cheating. Unfortunately good test methods also take more time and money. But it is absolutely possible to prevent cheating.


Do you think you can catch ALL cheaters?

I'm sure somebody like the CIA could come up with a device that's externally indistinguishable from a Casio fx-115ES or an HP 12c Platinum, for example, but with a fast processor and a couple of gig of RAM and the entire contents of a college textbook in ROM.

Would it be worthwhile? For something like a standard test, no. But if someone did this, could you catch it? I don't think so.

I don't mean to say that it's not worthwhile implementing some protocols to deter the vast majority of potential cheaters. But the only way to prevent the use of the above-mentioned device would be to ban all calculators from the test. Then you'd have to ban all wristwatches... and hearing aids... and maybe even eyeglasses... and buttons on clothes...


If it comes to that, so be it. No big deal. Heck, you could have to put on a smock to take the test. Like I said, it is time, effort and money. Bad tests are standardized and easily figured out. Good tests require longhand answers and work to be shown and are not repeated year to year. But that costs money.

I can assure you, my professors in graduate school knew exactly where every student stood, in actual understanding and capability, at the end of each course. The problem with these tests is, on a fundamental level, their anonymity. And now that many states' will only allow those with ABET accredited degrees to sit, it begs the question: what's the point? Why not make the degree process the proof of capability? And for the Principles and Practice exam, it was always open-book. The problems were difficult real-world problems. You can't cheat on them, if they are fresh each year...even if you have all the resources you could want...

So, yes, you can catch Every Single Cheater, if you care to.

Edited: 13 Feb 2012, 6:29 p.m.


Actually, I agree with Bill on the "good tests" remark. I don't think standardized tests are an effective measure of anything other than how good you are at taking standardized tests (or cheating on them, as the case may be.)

While many people here probably finished primary school long enough ago to escape this atrocity, when I was in high school we had to take state-sanctioned standardized tests and pass them to graduate. Honestly, most of the tests were a joke, and just diluted the value of the education. Particular points of interest:

* Algebra II, where the last 1/3 of the class was spent studying standardized test taking strategies and taking multiple-choice practice tests, rather than learning real math. Why? The school district and the math teacher would get in trouble with the state if too many people failed the machine-graded multiple choice test.

* Chemistry. Every year, the vast majority of students failed this test (The class was mandatory, passing the test was optional because you had to take 4 sciences and only had to pass 2 or 3 of the tests depending on whether you were going for the standard or advanced diploma). When I took chemistry, I was one of only three people in my school to pass it. However, the teacher told us of an interesting trend (and also gave us some old practice tests to prove his point): Did the large number of people failing this test convince the state that chemistry education needed to be improved? No. It convinced them that they needed to make the test easier, so every year the test got progressively easier.

Even those problems aside, the tests were poorly written, often contained typos, had ludicrous issues such as two multiple choice letters having the same answer, so on so forth. But that didn't matter. The point wasn't to prove that the state's public education was adequate - it was to produce a cookie-cutter test to let the state continue believing their education was adequate.


If you've never seen this video (Changing Education Paradigms) or heard the talk, you should watch this. One of my favorites:

Edited: 14 Feb 2012, 12:21 p.m.


That's a good video Tim, thanks.


Very interesting video. Thanks for the link Tim.

My wife is a teacher and says right now the system seems set up to beat the kids over the head with their weaknesses.


That was a really interesting video that seems to have a lot of things right. I agree, especially on the ADHD thing. There's not something wrong with children because they find a video game more entertaining than a math lecture, and loading them up on medicine isn't going to do anything except turn them into drones.


The nSpire has a "Press to test" feature that not only disables some functions (don't ask me which but likely those that access previously stored information) but lights an LED on the device which cannot easily be faked.


This explains the NSpire press-to-test thing. It blocks access to existing user files and, optionally, certain geometry things. But you don't want to do it accidentally (especially at home) because to get out of press-to-test mode requires a second NSpire.


I don't want a calculator with a stupid made-up misspelled name such as "nspire." That's more embarrassing than a pocket protector.

Edited: 13 Feb 2012, 5:54 p.m.


I don't want a calculator with a stupid made-up misspelled name such as "nspire."

You're not inspired by the nspire? ;-)



I don't want a calculator with a stupid made-up misspelled name such as "nspire."

How about an HP Xpander?



touchee. don't like that one, neither ;-0


They could keep a stock of calculators handy, and give each student, for the duration of the test, the same model he/she's used to... this way they would be sure it isn't a "cheat unit"! And it would increase sales :)



For the NCEES exams, the focus is on preventing a test taker from copying questions.

All phones, cameras, recording device, and other electronic devices are prohibited in the exam room. They check all calculators to make sure they are approved for use on the exam. Also, pencils, pens, paper, etc. are prohibited. They provide the (really crappy) pencil (with an even crappier eraser). All scratchwork is to be done in the test booklet only. They give you a final warning at the start of the exam. If you accidentally bring a prohibited item into the exam room, you can turn it over to a proctor. If you are caught with a prohibited item after the grace period, you will be ejected from the exam, your test will be ruled invalid, and depending on the circumstances, you may be sanctioned by the NCEES.

You also sign a non-disclosure agreement at the start of the exam.

You can use a fully programmed 33s or 35s. The concern isn't what you might bring in, it's what you may be able to get out.


"The concern isn't what you might bring in, it's what you may be able to get out. "

And that is the fundamental flaw with the system. A well-designed test can go home with the test-taker and it won't compromise the next test.

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