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A Turkish student holds his head during the nation's university entrance exam. IBRAHIM USTA/AP

How to (maybe) cheat in the Turkish Leaving Cert

Prosecutors in Turkey claim a ‘secret formula’ may have helped pro-government students to score higher on the exam.

PROSECUTORS IN TURKEY are looking into allegations of possible cheating and favouritism in a rite of passage for young people across the country: the annual university entrance exam.

The allegations were raised this week after a lawyer discovered a formula to reach the correct answers for multiple-choice maths questions on one exam.

In a country rife with conspiracy theories, the discovery fueled suspicions by some media, students and teacher unions that the state agency which sets the exams devised the alleged code so that students deemed to be pro-government could score more points.

The government vigorously denied such a scheme, but the prosecutor’s office in the capital Ankara today launched a probe into the allegations.

The scandal feeds into mistrust between supporters of Turkey’s ruling Islamic-rooted party, which has a strong electoral mandate, and those who fear the government seeks to expand its power so as to undermine secular ideals protected by the constitution.

Some 1.7 million students took the first exam on March 27, and those who pass will take another exam in June.

Secret formula

Ali Demir, head of the examination institution, insisted that the formula for reaching the correct answer was only valid for a copy of the exam questions that was made available to the media after the test.

The formula would not have worked for students taking the exam, Demir said, though he did not explain why the copy circulated to the media was coded differently to that given to students.

Ayla Varan, the lawyer who discovered the formula, rearranged the five responses to a series of multiple choice questions, sorting them into ascending order – and discovered that the position of the correct answer never changed.

Varan said she decided to look into the questions after some students who took the exam said the numbers in the multiple-choice answer options were printed in a seemingly random order, instead of the usual ascending or descending order.

It was not clear how many, if any, students benefited from the alleged scam. The exam encompasses several subjects in its 160 questions — 25 percent of them are maths-related.

Small groups of high schools students have staged demonstrations in several cities against the state-supervised examination board, of which the former head was forced to resign last year over another cheating scandal.

A 2010 exam to select employees for the civil service had to be cancelled after an unusually high number of people scored the highest possible mark in a preliminary test. Inspectors concluded that the questions were stolen and distributed to some contestants before the exam.


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