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The Business of University Exams

icon clock 29/11/2022

Mohammad Al-Mayyas and Abdullah Al-Muammari

Mohammad, a Saudi student in the Medical Laboratories department at the public University of Tabuk, recruited the help of Yemeni students to sit some exams on his behalf for 3000 Saudi Riyals ($800). Mohammad blames the difficult tests for his action and that some of the questions do not align with the curriculum. Mohammad also blames remote learning introduced during the Covid pandemic, and the fact that his peers have been doing the same thing.

At the other end, dozens of Yemeni students considered this an opportunity to earn some money during the war, and the harsh living and economic conditions in their country, so they resorted to providing paid assistance to the Saudi students.

Amjad is a Yemeni student in the Media Department at Taiz University. He was repeatedly invited by his friends to sign into Telegram, the social media app, to take exams on behalf of Saudi students, but he would refuse. Later, due to his worsening financial circumstances, he decided to give it a try and took an English exam on behalf of a Saudi student. He passed the exam scoring a high grade, which made him popular among many Saudi students who started to contact him offering him more work. At times, it got to a point where he would take ten exams per day in the hours allotted, with the help of a professor at Taiz University. He said, “I took exams in translation into English, chemistry and applied sciences. I would make between 1500 to 2000 Saudi Riyals per day ($400 to $540). Sometimes I would make 3000 Saudi Riyals ($800), but I became exhausted, and anxious.”


Paying to pass

This investigation has followed an elaborate cheating ring sitting exams remotely for students at four Saudi universities, Najran, Taibah, Tabuk, and Al-Jouf, between November 2020 and December 2021. The investigation has also tracked the cheating methods used and the money transfer process. The investigation monitored more than 30 Telegram groups belonging to Saudi students at various universities tabling requests for others to sit exams in return for money.


Khalid, a twenty-five-year-old student of mechatronics in the Faculty of Engineering at Taiz University, confirms Amjad’s story about how the coordination with Saudi students takes place, “students sign into a Telegram group, and when Saudi students in the group ask for help, we send them private messages to enquire about the material they need help with, so we can start the process.”

Khalid explains that the process was not well organized at the beginning, but over time, it became more like an E-exam sitting market. He adds, “time shows how proficiently you completed the process, which makes you famous and students start to share your name and number, and they seek you out for help.”

Khalid undertook around one hundred assignments ranging between sitting exams, preparing projects, and writing papers. He said, “80% of the courses that I took tests in on behalf of Saudi students aligned with my major at university, and only 20% of the courses I was not familiar with.” And despite that Khalid says that he obtained grades above 90%.


Students say that Saudis resort to recruit Yemeni students because both nations curricula are similar.

Emad, a Yemeni student, said, “Whether we are in Yemen or in Saudi Arabia, the programming language has fixed codes, just like Arabic is unified and has fixed letters. The difference comes about through achievement, performance and depends on the student’s intelligence.”

Other Yemeni students believe that Saudi curricula are organized, simplified and comprehensible compared to the more intensive Yemeni curricula. “This difference benefits both parties,” says Rafiq, a Yemeni studying medicine.

Cross-border cheating

Sitting exams for money is done in two different ways, the first is when Saudi students coordinate with Yemeni students through messaging on Telegram and WhatsApp, and they agree a specific amount of money in return for the Yemeni students to take the exams on their behalf. Upon agreeing the terms, both students sign into one of the apps at the time of the exam. The questions are then photographed for the Yemeni student who sends the answers back.

The second method is when a Saudi student sends his exam platform login details, such as his university number and password to the Yemeni student who takes the exam directly on the platform instead of the Saudi student.

Khalid, who is from Yemen explained that some students snap photos of the questions and send them in a conversation on WhatsApp or Telegram, “and we give them the answer. They upload the answers we send to the university’s website. Some even share their username, password, the exam start time, and the link to the exam site, and then we log onto the site at the exact time, look at the questions and answer them as stated by the university regulations.”

Khalid confirmed that he sat exams on the platform on behalf of four Saudi students in different majors.

To verify the possibility of doing this, this investigation obtained documented conversations that confirm all of the above, cross checking login information of Saudi students sent to Yemeni students in order to sign into the exam platform. The investigators verified the validity of the information by signing onto two remote exam platforms at the universities of Najran and Al-Jouf by using the login details obtained for this investigation.


Online brokerage market

Rafiq, a student in the Department of Human Medicine at Taiz University started taking exams on behalf of Saudi students through Telegram and established a network of relationships with many Yemeni and Saudi students for which he created and managed an online coordination room that offers “remote exam services.”

Each group of Saudi universities on Telegram includes about 20000 subscribers. Yemeni students communicate with those who ask for help and work to send them reassuring evidence that they are able to help, and later the conversation moves to other messaging applications. Rafiq claims that “we reach an agreement with the Saudi student, and we inquire whether they have peers who also need help, or whether they had similar communications with other Yemeni students, for example.”

Regarding the coordination with Yemeni students, Rafiq explains that it is done directly with trusted peers who are given the required courses after agreeing the terms. The Saudi student is informed about the “trusted student” found to sit the exam on their behalf. In other instances, the Saudi student is directly connected with the Yemeni student to agree on the details of doing the exam.

The money

This investigation also managed to track down how the money change hands, specially that direct money transfers between Yemen and Saudi Arabia are not operational. Most transactions are made internally from Saudi students to Yemeni expatriates residing in Saudi Arabia who usually have accounts in the same Al-Rajhi bank.


Khalid and others had difficulties receiving money because they did not have ties to expatriates in Saudi Arabia, instead they resorted to their friends in Yemen who had friends or relatives who possess a Saudi bank accounts, and this takes time and costs approximately 20% as commission deducted from the total sum for the intermediary.

Through this investigation we managed to obtain around seventy copies of notifications of completed money transfers sent by Saudi students to Yemeni students who sat exams on their behalf.

The fees charged for sitting an exam vary between 30 to 230 Saudi Riyals, ($8 to $60) per exam subject. Khalid said, “There is no set cost for exam sitting, each student is charged a different price.” .

Various motives and unclear outcomes

Saudi and Yemeni students have different reasons for engaging in this process. Some Saudi students say that the challenge of studying remotely and the poor method of executing the exam prompted many to seek paid help.

For example, Salah, a student in the English department at Al-Jouf University, says that the time dedicated to the exam was very short, and the course material has been covered very quickly. At the same time, students cannot find time to learn unlike the case when they attend face-to-face classes. He disclosed that 20% of his peers rely on others to sit their university exams.

On the other hand, Yemeni students find that taking exams for their Saudi counterparts is a good source of income that helps them face the difficult living conditions caused by the war.

Emad said, “Some take tests on behalf of 15 to 20 students a day during exam periods, and make between 5000 and 6000 Saudi Riyals ($1500 - $1600) per day, which is an amazing amount.”

By taking exams remotely, Amjad was able to pay off his mother’s debts. In the first half of the month of Ramadan in 2021, he earned about 18000 Saudi Riyals ($4800). He had dedicated that period to taking English language exams with the help of his friend who is a university professor. In addition to paying his mother’s debts he was able to refurbish a room in his house and announced his engagement.

We have sent letters to the administrations of the Sa udi universities mentioned in this investigation and to the Ministry of Higher Education in the Kingdom seeking their reaction and their right to reply to our findings. But we have not received any reply after three month from sending the letters.

The head of scientific research at King Abdulaziz Centre for World Culture, affiliated with Saudi Aramco, Mohammad Al-Mulhim, believes that the cheating issue also exists in face-to-face education. The fact that it occurs more frequently in remote learning does not undermine the outcomes dramatically.

He added, “I believe that the educational procedures resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic were improvised due to unprecedented circumstances. We should not rush in evaluating them, and we should take into account the context of the situation and the recent experience of educational institutions in applying these methods.”

Al-Mulhim explained that the poor outcomes are not the result of cheating; rather, they are due to poor teaching and an unrealistic curricula. Additionally, there is a shortage in practical applications in the fields of engineering and science, or the applied course modules are there in theory in cooperative and summer training programs.

The Coronavirus pandemic enabled the emergence of sitting exam “business” between Saudi Arabia and Yemen. Coronavirus’ decline also caused the phenomenon to stop. The Saudi Ministry of Higher Education and the universities did not take any measures to curb organized cheating in the future if remote learning should be needed again.

Note: All the names mentioned in the investigation are pseudonyms documented in our records, which were withheld at the request of the persons for fear of being pursued legally.