When I was a lecturer I only remember one specific case where I caught a student red-handed cheating - she had a cheat sheet filled with small and crammed notes on the topic (World Religions 101). No doubt there were some I missed, but generally I don't think it happens an awful lot (at least in the type of place I taught). Copying/passing answers probably happens relatively often, but what I'm talking about is the preplanned full-scale operation.
I remember trying it once, in physics or chemistry: I was scared that I wouldn't remember certain formulas so I copied them onto a small piece of paper and was able to consult it during the test. The thing was, because I had spent the time copying them down so carefully, I actually didn't need the cheat sheet in the test!
Anyway - today's musing is inspired by an article on BBC - China hi-tech exam cheats jailed. Basically, they either got hold of the exam papers from a teacher (who faxed them once the exam started), or scanned them in the exam hall and transmitted them to people outside - then the answers were told to the students using "tiny earpieces"
Invigilating in exams is an extremely boring thing to do, so I would sometimes amuse myself by thinking of different strategies for cheating, and the key thing that stood out was obviously the phone and other wireless devices. The current way of dealing with that is to ban all handphones, PDSs, etc. from the exam halls, but as time goes on - it will become easier and easier to have hidden cameras, transmitter/receivers, etc. (as has been used in China). Looking even further ahead, there will come a time when people can have chips wired in to their brain to 'hear' calls and so on.
Therefore, ultimately, the solution will have to be either use some form of wireless phone jammer, or just go straight ahead and build customised exam halls that are designed like a secure room where no signals can come in or out - i.e. copper in the walls and stuff like that.
The other solution is just to do away with exams - the principle of an exam is that it proves that you have a certain level of knowledge, and you can deliver it in a useful manner while under pressure. This is a very good skill for a doctor, for example, or a lawyer perhaps; but most of us will work with easy access to lots of information, and our key skill has to be able to locate the proper information and use it appropriately. With that in mind, maybe there should be less remember-and-regurgitate exams, and more of the problem-solving type - i.e. you're given a problem, resources (books, certain websites on a restricted intranet) and you have to come up with a solution in a relatively short time.