Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Making the Grade at Moscow State

Crib notes are old-fashioned in Moscow. Students at Moscow State University have developed a high-tech system for cheating that they talk openly about and one professor even says shows initiative.

Cheating is considered widespread at many Russian universities, where in Soviet times ideology counted more than scholarship and where modern young Russians sometimes hope to get by through bribes and trickery.

The latest system is basically a new version of crib notes, but it relies on the cellular phones and pagers that affluent Russians are never without.

Here's how it works.

A week before an exam, Russian students are given a list of numbered test questions -- usually several dozen -- for which they are to prepare.

When they arrive in the exam hall on test day, students approach the teacher's desk one at a time and draw cards from a pile lying on the desk blank side up. The flip side of each card is marked with the number of one of the exam questions from the list they received a week earlier. The candidates then sit down at their desks to write out the answer to the question they have drawn.

Because the students draw their cards one at a time and in no predetermined order, those who wish to cheat linger behind. By the time the prospective cheater finally gets his cards, he can signal his question number to somebody who is finishing up the test and is about to leave the room.

As the students who have already finished their test exit the exam room, they pass the question number on to the cheater's helper, who stands in the hallway, armed with a cell phone and the list of questions. The helper will then find the question that corresponds to the number his friend has drawn, and quickly sends the correct answer to the cheater's pager.

The pager is set on the vibrating rather than the ringing mode to avoid attracting the attention of the teacher supervising the test.

"Usually the teachers don't notice, or perhaps they try not to notice, so everything goes smoothly," said Yulia Zaitseva, a journalism student at Moscow State University, the country's most prestigious university.

"Plus it's really a team effort. We are all in this together so everyone helps everyone else out," she added.

Zaitseva said she does not cheat but knows lots of people who do, and she suspects their chances of getting caught are next to nil.

At least one professor was neither surprised nor particularly perturbed when told of the scheme, suggesting it even showed initiative. "They use any possible technical innovation, and it's quite natural," said Irina Prokhorova, who teaches Russian literature. "It's clear they haven't just taken the simple way out, but have put some effort into the art ofcheating. "

Most students bent on cheating still rely on crib notes to smuggle in answers because cell phones and pagers are quite expensive for most Russians. It is the limited number of students whose families have done well in the new economy who have branched into high-tech cheating.

At Moscow's Vessolink pager service, operators say that during exam times they receive a large number of unusually lengthy messages.

While operators usually type out one- or two-line messages, testing periods bring on an avalanche long messages.

"Normally a message longer than 200 or 300 characters is very rare," said Vessolink's general director, Anatoly Kopylov. "But during exam period we have a lot of these messages and even longer ones of up to 1,000 characters."