On Monday, the Supreme Court declared the All India Pre-Medical Entrance Test held on May 3 invalid and ordered the Central Board for Secondary Education to conduct the test again for lakhs of students within four weeks. This came after an activist and AIPMT candidates filed a petition asking for the exam to be annulled.

The AIPMT, along with along with that of the All India Institute of Medical Science, is among the most prestigious medical entrance exams in the country. The AIPMT is the all-India gatekeeper to 15% of seats in almost all government medical colleges. (The rest of the seats are decided by state-level entrance exams, though some states have decided to secure all admission through the central tests.)

In its investigation, the Haryana police found at at least 44 students had used electronic devices to cheat in the highly competitive exam. They found that at least 72 mobile phones were used to make 358 calls to centres around the country. Seven hundred vests with listening devices sewn in were distributed to students. The going rate for the whole kit was Rs 15 lakhs-Rs 20 lakh, the police said.

“The possibility of leaning towards unfair means may also be the ultimate fall out,” the court said, noting the importance of keeping the examination process unblemished. “Even if, one undeserving candidate, a beneficiary of such illegal machination, though undetected is retained in the process it would be in denial of, the claim of more deserving candidates.”

The court asked all stakeholders, both students and the board, to rise to the challenge of maintaining the sanctity of the exams.

Yet sanctity is a dubious notion, when it comes to cheating in India, given how commonplace it is. According to the Times of India, 99.4% of all AIPMT candidates fail each year. Given the small number of seats, simply studying hard for the exam might not be enough. Competition for those few seats is fierce and it is no surprise that enough people cheated to be caught.

The scale exposed at the AIPMT exam is all that might seem out of the ordinary.

Going hi-tech

If you are rich, or the stakes are high enough – as indeed they are in entrance exams, with the promise of job security and an assured income – technology is one way to balance the almost non-existent odds of passing.

That is why everything from spy cameras to Whatsapp come into play. Some Bluetooth devices are available online from anywhere above Rs 1000, but that is not enough. Students need a network, often an established syndicate that approaches candidates directly.

One such network was exposed in Hyderabad in December. The all-India Railway Recruitment Exam, gateway to a lucrative government job with enticing perks, is traditionally the site of much scuffling for positions. In December, the police arrested 30 people including Mahender Kumar, a railway employee who is alleged to have been the leader of a cheating ring. The police also seized earpieces, Bluetooth devices, laptops and mobile phones. Students sent Kumar questions over Whatsapp and his team outside dictated answers to candidates. The going rate for this service, officials said, was Rs 5 lakh per head.

These networks often have analysts to solve the paper faster than students can and people to relay answers back to the students outside the hall. Dangers arise when the range of the Bluetooth devices is not wide enough for those relaying the answers back to students to evade police detection. And inside the hall, students need to retain enough of a poker face to avoid raising suspicions.

Clothing, once used to smuggle in chits to jog the memory, is used for more sophisticated devices, as it was with AIPMT. In December, the Rajiv Gandhi University of Health Sciences in Bengaluru decided to debar students wearing customised t-shirts for two exams, after college authorities found devices stitched in to a few students’ clothes.

Jackets were the culprit at a Staff Selection Commission exam, which recruits staff for government ministries, in Haryana a month before that. In November, police arrested 37 candidates wearing high-tech jackets and spectacles with cameras attached to them to transmit visuals of the question papers, the answers of which were soon relayed back.  Some candidates had even put their phones in their underwear, with Bluetooth chips inserted on their ears.

Male Sikh students also have an advantage in their turbans. In Ludhiana in March, a flying squad of inspectors used a mobile sensor to detect Bluetooth signals in a state-level 10th standard science exam. One sensor was tucked into a student’s turban, another in a handkerchief.

Old is gold

Traditional copying has not gone out of fashion either. In March, photographs of friends and relatives of young 10th standard examinees scaling a building in Bihar to pass them answer chits went viral.

With exam officials often complicit in helping students bypass rules, statistics is another way to detect cheating. On the heels of the AIPMT cheating scandal being exposed, Aligarh Muslim University announced that it would hold a re-test in August. This came after the university found a suspicious number of students in Kozhikode cleared their MBBS entrance exam in April.

China, as always, outdoes us all. Reports in June said that a city in Henan is considering deploying drones to detect radio interference within a kilometre radius of each test centre.