Online Dictionary Posts Fake Definitions to Foil Exam Cheaters

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Every year, students in Romania take a national exam to determine whether they will continue their education in high school or—if they fail to score high enough—in a trade school. In 2016, online Romanian dictionary DEX noticed a spike in certain word lookups during the practice exam, which takes place in the spring as prep for the main event in June.

It turned out that the spikes were for words that appeared in test questions. No devices or phones are allowed in the exam, and students are not supposed to be consulting the dictionary, but apparently, quite a few of them were doing just that.

In March, as reported by the BBC, DEX decided to teach the would-be cheaters a lesson (or, some would say, pull a dastardly trick on them) by changing the definitions in the dictionary as soon as they noticed the lookup spikes. They changed the definition of pretutindeni from the correct "everywhere" to the incorrect "forever" and zări from "to catch sight" to "to rush."

These words were indeed on the exam, but another word that they changed the definition for, felonie ("treachery," changed to "arrogance"), was not on the exam. It had a spike in lookups because it had been used in a blog post by an influential author. Anyone inconvenienced by learning the wrong definition in this case was, according to DEX, simply the victim of an unlucky coincidence.

The tricky move was criticized for being unprofessional and undermining the credibility of the dictionary, and for promoting a joke at the expense of stressed-out students. Others supported the joke, saying that cheaters should get what they deserve. It’s not clear whether DEX will try it again during the actual exam in June, but surely, any students whose backup plan was a secret peek at the phone will think twice before trusting what it might tell them.