Security Features for the GATEWAY English Test

English3 is based in Phoenix with remote staff across six continents. Our main focus in language testing is Admissions. All of our tests were designed for online usage, which allowed us to select item types that are valid, reliable, authentic and secure in an online environment. We have been administering tests online since 2015, which has helped us to identify security issues. Through many attempts at cheating by test takers we have been able to readily identify gaps in our security. The new GATEWAY test has profited from our expertise gained when delivering other online testing products including the J1 Interview and E3PT. We have also consulted with our Technical Advisory Group that consists of language testing experts as well as our stakeholders in the admissions process. 

Nonetheless, we are fully aware of the need to enact both technology- and human-driven security methods to ensure the integrity of our products.

It is well known that online testing allows for a far more dynamic view of test taker ability. It is almost like moving from 2D to 3D, or black and white to color. We are able to ask better questions in more effective and efficient ways. We are able to put the test taker into an environment that is very similar to the environment in which they will be expected to communicate. For university admissions, for example, we are able to simulate a lecture, or a group discussion. It also allows for a more personalized experience as tests can be taken anywhere at any time. Most importantly, however, online testing provides test takers with easier and less expensive access to tests that give them the opportunities to fulfill their aspirations. 

The primary challenges in the testing industry of validity, reliability, and security are still there, just evolved. At English3 we are layering security measures. In general, these layers include computer-based security flagging systems coupled with human evaluation at differing levels. In particular, we utilize asynchronous video monitoring, confirmation of ID, facial recognition, plagiarism recognition software, etc.

As a test provider English3 must be confident that the score report is an accurate representation of the test taker’s proficiency in English. The test security focus is on preventing test takers from gaining an unfair advantage. Our security measures focus on deterrents or preventative measures for each threat. Content theft, pre-knowledge, proxy test takers are among the top threats to test security.

Test takers are asked to sign an Academic Integrity Agreement in which they declare to follow the rules of honest test taking. For GATEWAY, we utilize, for example, facial recognition software to compare the likeness of the ID photo and the test taker. Test takers are being recorded throughout the test. They may take on-screen notes which can be reviewed by proctors. Any unusual behavior, for example, looking away from the screen for longer than a natural glance; a second person appearing or attempts at copying the screen is automatically flagged and in certain cases the test taker is prevented from continuing with the test. Once a test is submitted data forensics are used to detect any issues such as large score discrepancy between extended and closed responses which could indicate that items have potentially been exposed and need replacing.

As GATEWAY has been developed as an online test, we also ensured that the item types are fit for purpose. Most tasks require a real-time extended response. English3’s proprietary technology assesses real-time ability to produce language reducing security concerns including gaming and content theft.

The GATEWAY test is graded partly by computer (dichotomously scored responses) and partly by trained raters (extended responses). As tests are looked at by human raters, security increases as any concerns will be investigated. We have minimized multiple-choice or gap-fill tasks not only to increase the security of GATEWAY but also to achieve a more accurate assessment of test takers’ abilities to utilize the language at university.

We also work with remote proctors asynchronously. Proctors are long-term contractors who have been vetted before employment. Their contract explains their ethical obligations and consequences if found in breach of any contractual obligations. Each test is reviewed by at least one remote proctor, who is able to see the responses as well as review the video of the test taker while responding to each question.

Lastly, we must not forget the benefits of online testing including increased test accessibility, reduced travel costs, reduced test anxiety, reduced environmental impact, fast turn-around of results, and so on. For these reasons, online testing is here to stay and it is our responsibility as a testing company to ensure that security measures will continue to evolve.

Test Security

When test takers are caught cheating their test is voided, they lose the funds they used to register for the test, and they have a mandatory waiting period imposed. To avoid such negative consequences, great effort has been taken in establishing and maintaining proper test security. This is reflected in the course of actions outlined below. 

  1. Mitigating the risks of cheating
    1. By providing a secure testing environment
      1. Outlining clear expectations of the test taker by having test takers review and agree to testing policies prior to beginning their test.
      2. Displaying their webcam video on all test pages.
      3. Including a timer on all pages.
      4. Implementing a restricted user interface with standard navigation tools removed.
      5. Requiring test takers to download and activate the English3 Chrome browser extension, which monitors test taker activity.
    2. Through test design and delivery
      1. Integrated item types
      2. Item banking
        1. Test items are selected by stratified random sampling at the beginning of the test. 
      3. Item types requiring spontaneous open responses with limited preparation time given.
  2. Addressing common forms of cheating:
    1. Test administrator / test taker collusion
      1. Not possible with the online delivery format of GATEWAY.
    2. Counterfeit score reports
      1. Every institution will access Score Reports on the English3 website through their institution’s online portal.
    3. Proxy test takers
      1. It will require that test takers upload an approved government-issued photo ID. Their photo ID will be compared with their test video. 
    4. In-room cheating
      1. It will have a one-to-one test taker to proctor ratio. The entirety of the test video is reviewed by trained proctors and AI-based software.
    5. Content harvesting, leaks, or theft
      1. Our Chrome extension prevents screenshots, copy/paste, and many other tactics used to save material. Web crawlers scan the internet for leaked content. 
  3. Proctoring supported by technology
    1. Data forensics technology identifies unusual test-taker behavior. Suspicious activities are flagged and  then reviewed by proctors. 
    2. Checking test-taker equipment:
      1. Webcam video
      2. Audio
      3. The screen of the test taker
    3. Chrome browser functionality
      1. Offers continuous screen monitoring.
      2. Disables copy/paste.
      3. Ensures no other screen recording programs are running.
      4. Disables ability to continue if a second monitor is attached
      5. Disables ability to open new tabs.
      6. Disables ability to leave the test window.

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