Thirty-one students taking a Master of Business Administration programme jointly offered by the Singapore Management University (SMU) and an elite Spanish business school may have their grades for two particular courses revised.
This comes after it was brought up that some students in the IE Business School-SMU MBA programme might have had an unfair advantage during the online examinations for the two courses - corporate finance and operations management.
The IE-SMU MBA is a 13-month programme which combines face-to-face periods, held on the campuses of SMU in Singapore and IE in Madrid, with online study.
Some students had earlier raised concerns to The Straits Times (ST) that their peers could easily buy test banks of questions and answers - which are not normally accessible, except to instructors - and some questions were used identically in the final exams.
One student, who declined to be named, had found it odd that a few coursemates did exceptionally well in the final exam for corporate finance, while the rest "trailed far behind".
He later discovered that a test bank for the course was selling on a used-book website. One of the sellers stated that "during my semester, the professor set many questions in the exams exactly the same as those from the test bank".
Curious, the student bought the test bank online for $8 and found, to his shock, that the questions "matched word for word" those in the exam he had taken.
What are test banks?
Test banks come with sample questions and answers for a particular course. They are not normally accessible, except to instructors. Many textbook publishers produce such test banks. These testing resources can be customised by lecturers for their teaching requirements, and may be used as guides in setting exam questions.
Some students, however, may get access to these test banks and use them as revision tools. Test banks for various courses can sometimes be found for sale online.
"This was not an easy subject... and most of us took a week to prepare for the exam; to be beaten by someone who had spent $8 to purchase the answers, that's a huge blow to our efforts," he said, though he added that he did not know who had started circulating the answers online.
SMU told ST on Thursday that it was notified of the "possible unfair advantage" in April this year, and launched an investigation to establish if this was an extraordinary case or had wider implications.
The investigation found that there was "no conclusive proof of any student in particular having taken unfair advantage". However, it noted that these two exams "were not designed in such a way that unfair advantage can be ruled out".
For the corporate finance course, both IE and SMU will consider the final exam invalid. The SMU professor in question will also no longer teach in this programme.
Students can choose to sit a new exam, said SMU, adding that a make-up class on the subject will be offered prior to it. Those who decide not to take the new exam will have their final grade calculated using only their scores for other components, namely projects and class participation.
For the operations management course, one particular question in the final exam was found to have been extracted from a test bank.
Therefore, both institutions "have decided to invalidate this question for the same reasons". It added that the exam grade would be recalculated to omit the invalidated question.
Noting that the decision was not an easy one, an SMU spokesman said: "We understand the inconvenience it may cause the affected students. However, the steps are necessary to preserve the validity of SMU's academic standards and the quality of students' postgraduate education."
SMU has since reminded all faculty members that "test-bank questions are not to be used - not just for online and other open-book exams, but for all assessment types".
Measures are also being put in place to invigilate online activities when online exams are being conducted in future.