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Question Sharing Meets Its Match with GMAC’s ItemFind Software

In the ongoing battle to prevent cheating on the GMAT exam, the Graduate Management Admission Council has a patented weapon in its arsenal: ItemFind.

The software, developed by Lawrence M. Rudner, GMAC vice president for research and development, compares written text with GMAT questions and other copyrighted GMAT material. If ItemFind concludes that the questionable material infringes on the copyright associated with the original text, it prompts the user to investigate further. By systematically identifying GMAT questions on websites and in other study materials, the software helps GMAC crack down on companies that sell access to purportedly live GMAT questions to test takers before they take the exam. Because GMAT questions are copyrighted, GMAC can enforce its intellectual property rights around the world to stop companies and individuals from sharing questions.

ItemFind, which was patented in 2009, has helped GMAC identify and contact numerous violators, urging them to “cease and desist” publishing copyrighted GMAT material to avoid prosecution. The software also was a key component behind two recent high-profile cases involving GM AT content:

  • In 2008, GMAC won a default judgment against Scoretop.com, shutting down the website that encouraged test takers to share questions after taking the test and charging “VIP” members for access to them. GMAC gained access to Scoretop’s hard drive with subscriber information and ultimately canceled the scores of 84 test takers.
  • In late 2009, GMAC reached a settlement with Passion Consultancy in which the China-based test prep company agreed to remove copyrighted GMAT material from its website and study materials. The mediated settlement was one of the first lawsuits in China to confront internet-based copyright infringement, and the first such lawsuit against a test-preparation program.

Ironically, there is little if any advantage to sharing test questions on the GMAT exam because of its computer adaptive format, which adjusts in difficulty to the individual test taker. Each test taker gets just 37 quantitative questions and 41 verbal reasoning questions out of a very large bank of questions, so the likelihood that any test taker gets questions accessed in advance on the actual exam is quite small.

Nonetheless, GMAC employs ItemFind and numerous other security measures to not only maintain the integrity of the exam but also discourage cheating.

Since the Scoretop case was made public, GMAC has responded to requests to make ItemFind available free of charge to other standardized testing organizations. Licenses have been issued to most major testing programs.

“Any posting of real questions, or even questions claimed to be real, impinges on the integrity of an exam and makes test users question whether a test is indeed reliable and valid,” Rudner says. “We at GMAC believe all test companies have a responsibility to assure the quality of their product and are glad to to see ItemFind beginning to be used by other companies in the industry.”

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