How failure has become the F-word in exams

One GCSE candidate referred to drugs and made obscene comments on the marker

Growing numbers of exam candidates are writing obscenities or inappropriate comments on their exam papers instead of answering the questions.

Figures published for this year's GCSE and A-level exams show the numbers have more than doubled in the past five years – from 193 to 422.

Offences include racist or lewd remarks or drawings, which would warrant a student being refused the qualification. Other less serious offences leading to a loss of marks could include frequent mild obscenities throughout the paper – or one isolated case of a lewd obscenity aimed at an examiner or member of staff.

In one case, in a GCSE design and technology exam, a candidate made reference to drugs and obscene comments about the marker.

In addition, the number of centre staff – teachers or invigilators – disciplined for helping pupils has reached its highest level four years. In all, 87 faced sanctions – eight of whom were suspended from taking any further part in examinations or assessments.

The figures are contained in a report published yesterday by Ofqual, the exams watchdog, into malpractice in this year's exams. In all, there were 3,678 offences – 1,864 candidates were given a warning, 1,120 lost marks and 694 were refused their qualification.

The most common offence was still taking a mobile telephone into the exam room, which accounted for 1,251 cases. These included pupils who simply took a phone into the exam room, possibly by accident, and candidates who accessed texts or the internet to help with their answers. Penalties for the latter two offences were likely to be stiffer including the loss of certificates.

Glenys Stacey, chief executive of Ofqual, said: "Our message to candidates is simple: do not take your phones into the exam hall. Even if you accidentally leave it in a coat pocket, you could face penalties. It's not worth the risk."

The second most common offence was plagiarism, mainly involving copying from other candidates or colluding with them during the examination. In all, 638 students were penalised for this.

Overall, though, the number of candidates disciplined this year fell by 11 per cent compared with last year. One of the reasons for this is that fewer exams were sat – the total, at just over 15 million, was four per cent lower than the previous year.

On disciplining exam centre staff, 87 faced penalties this year compared with 79 in 2010.

The majority were issued as a result giving inappropriate assistance to candidates.Other reasons included entering the exam room to coach or prompt candidates and allowing pupils to carry on working after the time limit.

Exam offences: Charge sheets

* The most common form of malpractice was taking unauthorised material into an exam room (1,525 cases). The bulk of these involved mobile phones although there was one case of taking a sound stereo system into an exam room.

* The second most common kind of offence involved plagiarism (638 cases). This included collusion with other candidates, copying work or misuse of technology (i.e accessing the internet during the examination).

* Writing offensive or obscene. comments on the exam paper came third (422 cases).

* Disruptive behaviour in the exam room accounted for 384 complaints. This ranged from using offensive language to just talking.

* The fifth most common form of cheating was obtaining, receiving or attempting to pass on information related to the exam (198 cases).