What to Do With Cheating Students?

(Photo: Alberto G.)

I’m nearly certain that a pair of students cheated on my final exam—the probability they had so many identical answers on the multiple-choice exam is infinitesimal.  If I pursue them, it takes me time, and there’s no assurance they will be found guilty.  If I don’t, I’ll feel badly about giving them an undeserved grade.  Even for fairly risk-averse students, cheating seems like a good idea.  I doubt that most cheating is caught; and unless the penalty is very severe (expulsion) and/or the students’ costs of contesting the accusation are high, and both are very well-publicized, the incentive to cheat for students with weak consciences seems overpowering. To salve my own conscience I’ll report them, although it’s probably a waste of my time; but I doubt that reporting them will deter their future cheating or deter others very much.

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COMMENTS: 94


  1. Brooks says:

    On behalf of students who don’t cheat, please do report them!

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  2. HH says:

    Two things:

    1. You’ll feel bad. You won’t feel badly. If you feel badly it implies that your mechanism for feeling is broken.

    2. The probability that these two students had identical answers is indeed small. But over the years, across all your students, isn’t it almost certain that two people in some class somewhere will have identical answers, by pure chance? That should lower your confidence in their cheating quite a bit.

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    • pawnman says:

      Exactly. Who can know if these two didn’t study together extensively prior to the exam, and thus had very similar answers? Likewise, if you have several students who score 100% on a multiple choice exam, by definition they must have identical answers. Does that mean they are also cheaters, or just hard workers?

      I’m not saying you should not report them if you have reason to believe they are cheating. I’m just saying some identical answers on a test isn’t a strong indicator of cheating.

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  3. Damn right report them says:

    Cheating students become cheating adults, and the risk is you wind up with Governors selling Senate Seats. We need to laud merit and achievement, and destroy curb cutters an cheaters if America is to survive.

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  4. Bree says:

    When I taught I always reported suspected cheating. I figured that if every teacher did that, that the students who are cheating would be reported enough for some sort of penalty. At the very least it may earn you a reputation as a teacher that doesn’t tolerate cheating–which may be a deterrent for future students in your classes.

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  5. Craig says:

    I turn in, on average, one student a semester. I only turn in those for which I have evidence that a third party would find sufficient without witnessing the cheating themselves. Just write multiple versions of the exam and when an answer (or variable letter!) from another version finds its way onto a student’s exam, it’s case closed. Furthermore, it doesn’t take but 10 minutes to contact the honor council and send them the proof. And if it’s not the final, then it actually saves you time as you won’t be grading anything more for that student for the rest of the semester assuming you fail the student outright as I do.

    So the student fails the entire course and I announce to the class that one of their peers has failed from cheating and read the letter from the honor council (excluding the student’s name of course). Unfortunately, I find that even when I publicly announce my record with catching cheaters and let them know the severity of being caught, the incidence of cheating does not decrease one bit.

    I would like to think that this can change cheaters to better themselves for the future. But it is likely that it only weeds them out of maintaining top grades at their university. Even for that, I think it is worth it.

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  6. Anthony says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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  7. Koufax says:

    Since I teach graduate courses, it’s a little different. Yes, they still cheat, but it’s more like a liberal use of Control C, Control V, sans citation. Only once have I encountered a paper completely lifted. The student found a paper with the same topic on-line and basically turned in 90% of it as his own, with a few word changes here and there. Turnitin picked it right up and the student admitted it right away. What surprised me was how he stressed that this act did NOT reflect on his integrity and character. He received a zero on the paper, which was worth 30% of his grade and he will have to retake the course, since it was a core class. First time offender, according to the university, and he had a previous master’s degree from the same institution. As a visiting professor, I was a little hesitant about reporting him, but I would not be able to sleep at night with a clear conscious and in my own grad program, I would have been dismissed if I had done something that egregious. But as Daniel states, it’s a lot of work and it cost me 4-5 hours of time during finals week to sort this out.

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    • SJS says:

      I taught a graduate-level evening course where I failed 10% of the class for blatant plagiarism on the final paper (they had copied huge chunks of text from online sources, and failed to perform even the most rudimentary rewrite). I was annoyed that they had ignored my instructions to avoid the appearance of plagiarism and insulted that they cheated so blatantly and poorly.

      Most of the tenured professors (the ones who weren’t depending on those students to be their TAs the following semester) congratulated me. Students who hadn’t cheated and learned that I had failed some of their classmates for cheating thanked me.

      I was informed that the students in question were put on academic probation, and required to attend training on avoiding plagiarism. The most shocking penalty, I suspect, was that the “F” was a permanent part of their transcript, as this was a graduate-level course.

      When I related this story to the NEXT class I taught, indicating that I take cheating very seriously, 20% of the class dropped that night. So by the second class, I could take ALL crashers — and nobody cheated that I could tell.

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  8. Douglas says:

    Have you considered public shaming, in a way that wasn’t directly accusatory (e.g., posting a surface plot of % correlation on the correct/incorrect answers) with names attached. Increasing the awareness among students without any other consequences may normalize the behavior, but it may also bring peer pressure and ostracization to bear on weeding them out. Good luck.

    As a TA, I had a student once turn in a photocopy of someone else’s assignment. I’m not sure if he got away with it in his country of origin, but it was just too blatant for even our lenient supervisor to overlook. Most other cheating brought to his attention was ignored, which frustrated most TAs to no end.

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    • Enter your name... says:

      Your method has the effect of stigmatizing good students, whose answers should not only correlate highly with each other, but also with the answer key.

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    • Sbard says:

      Public shaming (or non shaming, really any disclosure or grades or grading information) of the sort you suggest would be a FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) violation. As a TA, I wasn’t even allowed to acknowledge that a student was in my class were a parent to call about them.

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  9. Mike B says:

    Perhaps you shouldn’t give multiple-choice exams that are easy for people to cheat on? Don’t complain that your house gets robbed if you leave your front door open. Free response questions that require students to show their work or significant amounts of writing are much much harder for students to cheat on. Moreover it is completely possible to design exams that allow students to come prepared with “cheat sheets” or open books. After all, classes should be teaching critical thinking skills, not rote memorization. I had one professor who would give “open everything” tests (although no internet and no collaboration) . He said that he conducted an analysis of that method with traditional ones and determined that he could achieve equivalent assessment while offering more challenging questions and generating less student stress.

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    • Patrick says:

      Your answer: blame the professor.

      1. Multiple choice questions can differentiate people who know material from those that don’t. They are standard on all types of exams, from the SAT to the GRE to professional licensure exams.

      2. One foundation of “critical thinking skills” is “rote memorization.” One cannot answer any question, say, whether New Deal policies lessened the depth of the Great Depression, without thorough factual knowledge AND a lot of critical thought.

      3. Many things can be “looked up.” As a physical therapist, at times I will reference a text to decide how to conduct a special test to determine a diagnosis, and determine what weight to put to a positive or negative test. But I cannot reference a text for every part of a physical exam.

      And even if a professor wants to give a True-False exam, a student should not cheat, and should be penalized for cheating.

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  10. rick says:

    Infinitesimal does not mean not possible. Wouldn’t the number of identical answers go up the better the grade? Were the wrong answers identical?

    Don’t give multiple choice tests.

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    • Neil (SM) says:

      It goes without saying that the correct answers were identical.

      Well, at least for some of us that goes without saying…

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  11. concernedstudent says:

    Report them.
    Yes, it may take time, might not work, and may result in some damaged teacher-student relationships – but if they DID cheat, they need to face the consequences of their actions. I’ve seen too many students escape unscathed from these kinds of behaviours – other students don’t want to ‘rat’ them out, professors turn a blind eye. What happens as a result? Undeserving students receive top marks while students who actually put effort into studying and worked honestly for their grades get knocked down. Furthermore, cheating students who don’t get caught will probably repeat it again – on their next exam or later on once they enter the workforce. Even if the students aren’t “convicted”, the accusation and defending process alone may be enough to deter them from making similar ill judgements in the future.

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  12. MRB says:

    Are the odds so odd if the distribution of answers is not random? IE, if the possibility of any given answer to a question is a uniform 20% (5 questions), then the odds of identical answers may indeed be low…

    but if the correct answer is chose 75% of the time, and a second answers is selected 15% of the time.. how likely are these two answer sheets are identical.

    Furthermore – if a student gets 100% (say through diligent learning), they will be identical to any other student who also got 100%…

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    • anon1001 says:

      I’d really like to hear the response to this. This issue of non-independence is always the first thing I think of when I hear about cheating allegations based on the probability of getting the same answers. Do you turn on every student that gets 100%?

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  13. mcw says:

    it takes two to lie. one to do it and one to accept it. take the strongest possible line you can with them.

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  14. Laura says:

    I teach English at a large state university. The process for reporting plagiarism is incredibly onerous and adds a significant burden of time to the faculty’s grading load. The incentive to such a process results in ignoring the cheaters (although I can’t stomach doing so; I always report plagiarism). I know of people who ignore plagiarism cases because reporting it takes so long, and often does not result in serious punishment for the student.

    As with other policies of universities today, it makes me wonder what we’re teaching students.

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  15. Karen White says:

    Well, I assume you mean that the two students a higher percentage than normal of “incorrect” answers that were identical, which would probably be a good clue that they were cheating somehow. All students who get high scores get a large percentage of correct answers in common. Did you have good evidence they were cooperating in the cheating–I usually assume that one is copying from the other) ? I know how hard it is for professors to call students on something like this. There are many ways that professors attempt to prevent it, but most of them come up short. One of my old professors somehow arranged for his questions to print out in random order on an exam, but the old style ones that were graded by hand, not multiple choice of course!

    I guess it all comes down to a problem in how students value their education. Too many employers are assuming that a degree is a kind of pre-screening for employees, even though a lot of those jobs wouldn’t really require a degree. Students go to college just to be employable and they know, deep down, that most of the courses they are taking don’t matter to them. For fields where it DOES matter, those students are disadvantage when they are taking courses with the students that don’t care. I would love to see a system where “grades” as such are eliminated since I don’t feel those do a really good job of distinguishing performance (and this is from someone who made straight A’s and high scores on standardized tests).

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    • Enter your name... says:

      The possibility that one student was being unknowingly victimized by the other had occurred to me, too.

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  16. Jimbo says:

    And just think, you are senior tenured faculty. If you are not tenured, or -even worse- an adjunct, your incentive to report is even lower, because you don’t know if you will be supported or not. On my last final, I’m rather sure that two sets of students shared answers on at least one question for each group, but I don’t know what question, and I have no way of proving it.

    It seems there are only two options – give a test with a finite set of answers – like multiple choice – and you increase the possibility of cheating. Or you can give essay questions which students hate and which are impossible to grade in a large undergraduate course where cheating is more likely to occur. I’ve tried giving multiple versions of the test with the question orders rotated and the answers varied as well, but it does not stop it. I can’t find a practical solution.

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  17. fraac says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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    • Amanda says:

      While I appreciate your honesty here, you do not have “very high moral standards” according to the rest of that sentence.

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  18. Bill says:

    The similarity of answers is insufficient. Do you have other evidence that they were either cooperating (both cheating) or that one cheated off of the other? In the latter case, only the one should be reported.

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  19. kerry says:

    What would Joe Paterno do?

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  20. Eric M. Jones. says:

    Gee! I seem to have lost your exams. You two will have to take the test again or take an incomplete.

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  21. Hauke says:

    If you can’t catch them red-handed you can’t do anything. Yes, the probability is infinitesimal but it exists. I don’t know about your specific examination regulations but don’t you have any chance for an oral examination or do you have to let them pass when they reach a specific score?

    Reporting them is still a good idea as it will rise awareness to the issue even if these students will come out lucky this time.

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  22. right and wrong says:

    It’s your moral obligation to turn in both of the cheaters, no matter what it may cost you in terms of time or effort. Good luck! All of us who DIDN’T cheat in college are behind you, and we thank you!

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  23. Colin Fredericks says:

    As a fellow teacher, I urge you to report them.

    Most cheating is not caught.

    Most cheating that is caught is not reported.

    Because of this, someone who cheats in your class is almost certainly cheating in every other course they’re taking. The few times I’ve caught someone cheating, they’ve been doing it elsewhere too.

    This isn’t just about your conscience, this is about your integrity as an instructor. Students who cheat through a course don’t learn; I’ve seen substantial evidence for this in educational research. Beyond the ethical issue of cheating is the need to have what we say about our students mean something. Please, don’t be the professor who gives a pass to students who don’t know the material.

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  24. Cdub says:

    “the probability they had so many identical answers on the multiple-choice exam is infinitesimal”

    Infintesimal? Unless you were giving out individualized tests (this was common in my high school, but I don’t see it much at my college), I’d expect students who have sat in the same class and been taught the same material by the same person to have identical test answers more often than one would expect by chance. I don’t have my stats textbook in front of me, can someone describe the calculation you’d need to determine probability of this? Would this be a binomial distribution problem?

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    • thomas says:

      Student responses on each question are not randomly selected and should gravitate towards the correct answer (assuming the questions are not too hard). In addition, incorrect responses tend to be close to, but not as correct, as the correct response option, hence student choice may gravitate towards specific response patterns (frequency distributions for student responses would likely show a non-random distribution of responses from your students).

      Probability of identical scores would be increased if two people studied for the test together, but more importantly the probability increases as students get more questions correct (as there is less scope for distinct patterns of response).

      This means that overall, multi-choice questionairres lend themselves to identical patterns of response. And identical response sets are not a good measure of whether or not someone is cheating, especially when the students are performing well.

      Getting identical response sets is a numbers game, and you stack the odds if you only look at high performing students.

      If you do still suspect cheating If consider examining how well their “cheating” test scores correlate with previous measures of performance and whether they had previously obtained identical results.

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      • Sam Prince says:

        Presumably if you are going to go down the route of using multi-choice questions (I guess it’s seen as a necessary evil in US universities; it’s much more rare in the UK) software could come to the rescue to identify possible cheats.

        Given a large enough group of students taking an exam, you could find the distribution of answers for each question and from that work out the likelihood of each of the incorrect answers being given. From there it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to find pairs of students with improbably well-correlated wrong answers. Assuming the cheating must be over-the-shoulder or side-by-side peeking, you could test its reliability quite thoroughly before going live with it by checking how often alarm bells rang with students sat in close proximity vs. students sat at a distance.

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  25. jynx says:

    I am reminded of a fantastic quote “It is impossible to cheat an honest man”. Perhaps the problem is that the students are provided a poor example of what is acceptable. The student-teacher relationship is based on the fundamental belief on behalf of the student the that person lecturing provides benefit and can be trusted. Instructors choose to pawn their duties off to machines and helpers, current trends point to students effectively learning from their instructors but perhaps not the lessons being lectured. Students see instructors pass off their work and in turn, do the same; how can the instructor then get upset when the student is obviously following the example shown to them? We see trends of increased plagiarism and cheating, but isn’t it possible to trace those trends directly to the increased usage of multiple choice exams graded by machines and other students. If honesty is what you want perhaps you should start doing your own work as well?

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  26. Dre says:

    I had a similar issue as a teaching assistant. Two students raised the flag of a program designed to check for cheating (it was a computer programming course)

    The students were told they needed to speak to the teacher and given advanced notice. Together they came up with a story that I had helped them and that was why there answer was so similar (I had not helped them so this was news to me) and I actually had a control case where three students had come to my office hours and we had spent an hour whiteboarding an answer. The cheaters had a similarity score of 95% the students that asked for help? 70% So Clearly they were lying.

    However, that was the issue. The school gave them time to know they were in trouble. It was easy for them to collude on a story. Every possible teacher involved had to spend time to prove the students wrong and in the event of escalation it was an “our word against theirs” problem.

    In the end they didn’t get penalized at all. The truth is cheating pays off if you are willing to fight any claims as the amount of work against the teacher(s) is so much that they will likely give up unless you were blatantly caught.

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  27. Matt says:

    I always make 2 versions of the test. Each have the exact same questions, but the 4 responses are in a different order. After they are scanned it is VERY easy to pick out the cheachers

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  28. mickey says:

    Your asking for it. Multiple-choice exam above a 6th grade level are just ridiculous. At the college level they are just plain lazy and ask the students to cheat. Its about on par with giving the same final each year.

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  29. Cheat sheets says:

    I had a professor who allowed students to create a “cheat sheet” prior to every exam. It could be no larger than an 8-1/2 X 11 sheet of paper but could be covered with as much information as we might fit, front and back, hand-written only. We could bring the sheet to the exam and refer to it as needed.

    What I found, and suspect the professor knew, was that the act of preparing the cheat sheet became an effective, efficient study method. I diligently prepared my cheat sheets and then didn’t need to use them. By knowing the cheat sheet was available during the exam, I made sure to include as much material a possible. I imagine it cut down on real cheating and I know it increased my knowledge.

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    • Mr. G says:

      I teach AP Language and Comp at a public high school in Florida. I have a similar policy. For my semester exams – students are allowed one 5×7 card filled with whatever they can manage to get on it, front and back. Not surprisingly, my students who take advantage of this tend to perform substantially better on the exams than those who do not. But they also tend to do better on subsequent essays and the AP exam, in part because the process of prepping the “cheat card” has allowed them to learn the rhetorical strategies that so many students struggle with on the exam.

      Most of my cheating comes in the form of plagiarism. It is usually sections of a paper that has been copied and pasted from some other analysis available on the web. I am not sure how much of this I catch. Typically – what tips me off is writing that just “doesn’t fit” the author. So I google a sentence in the paper, and it almost always shows up verbatim. All I have to do is print the page of the source material, copy the essay in question, and submit both to the administration. That results in 2 days of in school suspension. Not the greatest deterrent in world – but it creates a real consequence that it easy to implement when cheating is discovered.

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    • Ann H. says:

      ARE YOU ONE OF MY FORMER STUDENTS? That’s what I just commented!

      ~ Miss Ann from Virginia

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  30. RGJ says:

    Definitely present your suspicions to your superiors. If not, you are complicit, an accessory after the fact.

    A moral layup, here.

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  31. Harrison Brookie says:

    I say you post their names (and link their Facebook profiles) to the Freakonomics blog. Publicly shamed is probably the thing they fear the most (and future employers will see it when they are Googled). Worst case scenario is you would be forced to take it down. But would probably only bring more attention to their actions. And I bet you have tenure anyways.

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  32. Dave says:

    I would like to see a better description of the math on this. “the probability they had so many identical answers on the multiple-choice exam is infinitesimal” is not at all convincing. Remember, these are NOT random answers. Each question has one right answer, and an average student will get that right about 70% of the time. (I am guessing at that 70.) Then there are one or two “good looking” answers that will take up 70% of the rest. So, of 5 multiple choice answers, only 2 or 3 will be chosen by 90%+.

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  33. Nathan Stockstill says:

    I think students knowing they’re being investigated will, in fact, deter their future cheating

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  34. Michelle says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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    • Michelle says:

      Have you ever cheated on school work ?

      Better idea lets take everybody on the planet that has ever cheated or even though of cheating and burn then at the stake. That sounds so much more reasonable.
      REMINDER: We are talking about children here, not cheating CEO’s. OH !!! Children get scared for life, CEO’s get more money and praise. Hummm?

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  35. George says:

    A lot depends on your school infrastructure. My tests contain text answers and problems, so identities are easier to establish. Then I just scan the exams into a pdf file and email it to the dean. He takes over from there.

    Tolerating cheating is unfair to students who dont cheat. It also trashes a schools reputation.

    Our school has a special grade on transcripts that indicates failure due to cheating. That grade also usually comes with a one or more semester suspension. I caught two student cheating today and another two yesterday. That is a small percentage of my students.

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  36. Justin Stults says:

    As I fellow teacher I feel your pain. Every year during mid-terms and especially during finals I have a handful of students who I suspect cheat. It’s very difficult to prove and as you said, a waste of time. I think that even if we don’t catch them now, they will be caught later on in a much more serious situation. Call it karma. But if they could get away with it in school just imagine what they will do later on in the workplace or in their personal lives. They will let their guard down and then it will be much easier to be caught.

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  37. Matt says:

    Have the two students come in and take the same test over again. With you watching them it will be almost impossible to cheat again. Their answers might reveal some interesting results. Even if you don’t change their grade they will know they were caught and will likely think twice about doing it again. You have an obligation to do something. If you don’t then you are reinforcing the behavior you so dispise.

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  38. Moz says:

    I was tutoring in stats at uni and marked two identical assigments. Mind you they were handed in at the same time so I marked one after the other…

    It was a minor assignment, say 15% of the final grade. Instead of reporting, fearing the same waste of time as described, I graded the assigment and then split the mark between the offenders, so that their maximum mark would have been 50%. I figured if they did half the work they should only be entitled to half the marks.

    They approached me in class querying their grade and I gave my reasons and their options – plead innocent and proceed to some sort of tribunal, or suck it up knowing that they need to improve on the remaining assessment to lift their grade.

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  39. Ed Kay says:

    Dear Mr. HAMERMESH

    I’m surprised that someone your age, in your profession, has never seen “Stand and Deliver”.

    Ed Kay

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  40. TJM says:

    The factors that you have given for your decision (time, probability of success, your feelings, your conscience, deterrence) are all irrelevant. While those factors may be relevant to the formulation of a policy for your school, they are irrelevant to your professional responsibility. Unless your school is silent on cheating and has no policy whatsoever, you have a responsibility to report cheating if you are substantially certain that it has occurred.

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  41. Bob says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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  42. Kevin says:

    To play the devils advocate, friends tend to study together and sit together on tests. They may have the same answers because they misunderstood/understood the same concepts because they studied and worked together the nights before. My suggestion is 2 copies of the test or avoid scantrons and while I know that can get tedious I would say most cheating can be avoided by teacher attentiveness during an exam.

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  43. Mosel says:

    If it was in Maastricht you probably witnessed the business students :)

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  44. Max says:

    On behalf of students who cheat, please don’t report them!

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  45. Luis says:

    This is why I like the ability of giving test on the computer, since it allows me to give each student a random set of questions from the question pool, or randomize the order the questions are presented if there is a fixed set of questions I want to give.

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  46. Jasper says:

    I’m nearly certain that a pair of students cheated…

    A pair? Assuming there was cheating, how do you know it was on both their parts?

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  47. jp says:

    I’m sure multiple choice tests are quicker and easier to grade, but it would be much harder for your students to cheat on essay or short answer based exams.

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  48. Neil (SM) says:

    I think the simple act of reporting them, if it indeed gets back to the students, might go a long way towards deterring them from future cheating.

    Perhaps they wouldn’t get in any trouble this time, but they might see such a close call as a wake-up — they’ll know they’re on someone’s radar and next time might face expulsion.

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  49. Gary says:

    Yes, reporting them is a waste of time, but if you have evidence, it’s the right thing to do.

    Better, however, is to stop the cheating by: 1) giving tests that make cheating harder (ie, not multiple-choice; or multiple-choice with a twist — ask the students to indicate why they chose a particular answer in a short sentence. Identical wording is a sure giveaway and the extra information will tell you if they know or guessed the answer); 2) proctor the exam with eagle-eyed teaching assistants who are instructed to scold those with roving eyes.

    In both solutions your costs go up but not as much as in pursuing a judicial case.

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  50. Melissa says:

    There are multiple long discussion threads on the Chronicle of Higher Education site about this topic, and its sister, plagiarism. Profs make two critical points about policing academic dishonesty: having to play that role taints the trust relationship that many of them need to establish with students, and it takes up an inordinate amount of time that could be better spent giving students more detailed feedback about their writing, or working on research.
    I have a suggested solution: institutions should implement separate offices for handling cases of suspected academic dishonesty. Whether it be a term paper or exam, if the prof has any doubts, they turn the material over to the staff of this new office, and let that staff do all of the followup. The only further involvement the prof would have is the very last step, to adjust the student’s grade if dishonesty is determined to have happened. There are lots of underemployed MAs and PhDs in the humanities who could do this job well, and far more cheaply than the per hour cost of tenured full time profs.

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  51. Maggie says:

    I won’t pretend to understand the current generation of students — my first freshman year was 1964-5 when cheating was discussed in person and the internet did not exist to pass current-culture memes around in seconds across the globe.

    But I am reminded of the time I was (inaccurately, if not unfairly) accused of cheating.

    I’d been a straight-A student since returning to college at 22 (after a total failure when I was 18-19). In a zoology class I met an old friend from another part of the country who was adding science courses to his illustrious BA in Classics so he could pursue a career in biomedicine. We became lab partners and happened to share a 4-person desk with two other over-age students. By Thanksgiving the four of us had begun to study together and eventually became lifelong friends.

    Fast-forward to the midterm, which was given in the auditorium with 50 or so students spread around throughout the room to minimize the chance of looking at one another’s papers. Cellphones did not exist, so forbidding them was unnecessary.

    When the prof returned our papers, all four of us received F’s even though each of us had answered over 90% of the questions correctly.

    I went to the prof. He said, “You cheated.” I said we hadn’t and asked why he concluded we had.

    Turned out we had answered three questions with the same wrong answers, misidentifying the anatomical structures of a nematode and two more complex creatures. Seeing no alternative, he assumed we had cheated. The actual situation was much simpler: when the four of us met for a pre-test review session, Marty had been so certain about the nematode that the rest of us had deferred to her, while Sandy had done the A+ dissection of the frog so we took his description as correct. We had studied together, we had accepted each other’s knowledge instead of looking to the textbook for everything, we had reinforced one another’s mistakes.

    But we hadn’t cheated.

    Dunno, of course, what your students would say if asked.

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  52. Mary says:

    If you teach at a prestigious university, then you should feel compelled to report the cheating. The cheating student took another seat at the university away from someone else — who probably didn’t cheat. For all you know, the cheating student got in over the other student because his grades were higher, because he cheated.

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    • Melissa says:

      Some studies show as many as 70% of high school students admit to cheating, so, sadly, the odds aren’t good that the replacement student would be a non-cheater. Your “probably didn’t cheat” assumes that most students who are eligible to be admitted to a prestigious university don’t cheat, but the empirical data does not support that assumption.

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  53. jb says:

    What is the likelihood that they are in a study group together, share notes, reasoned the same, and answered similarly? It IS multiple choice.

    I think the same as the likelihood of cheating–without evidence to validate your intuition.

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  54. Shrek says:

    Daniel Hamermesh, I would love to hear you opinion about the below statements.

    If you are a student, and don’t take the competetive advantage of cheating you are just not as smart as the rest of the students in your class. It has nothing to do with morals or feeling badly. It has to do with grades, and no matter how much you study and how much you prepare for a test, there will still always be an advantage to cheat.

    However you also lose the competetive advantage if you get caught, so think of it this way:

    The smartest kids in the class work hard and study
    They also cheat on their tests and homework
    They don’t get caught becuase they are too smart for that
    Their reputation as good students protect them from being considered cheaters
    They maintain themselves as the smartest kids in the class

    The above thought processes show why if you are a good student and you cheat all the time to keep your grade up high, you will not be caught for cheating. It is only the bad students who cheat out of desperation to get at least one good grade who ever get suspected of cheating. Relating to the story above I bet the two people he is going to report, are not the two students who have the highest grades in the class.

    The truth is that:

    This is why all student should cheat or none should
    And being that you will never sit in a class where NO ONE is cheating
    And if you wait to start cheating till you desperately need a good grade
    You will have a higher risk of getting caught
    So all student should cheat, otherwise you are just waiting to get caught (or in the case above accused of cheating becuase your test looks like someone elses).

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  55. Willitts says:

    Daniel, do not report them. Unless they confess under pressure, there is little chance the Dean will catch them outright. And if they are innocent, you do them an injustice.

    If you know that they sat side by side or one behind another or are best friends, then maybe there is a circumstantial case.

    The “odds” are not as ‘infinitesimal’ as you think. Students don’t answer questions randomly. Every student who knows the answer will select the correct answer with a probability near 1.

    If the question contains a plausible wrong answer and two nonsense answers, there is a high probability that students with a mediocre grasp of the topic will gravitate toward the “distractor,” also known as the “trick wrong answer.”

    Students who are clueless might follow “when in doubt, Charlie out.” So there is yet another coordinator of responses.

    If your questions have an “A and B”, “All of the above”, or “None of the above”, the questions not only get harder, they are more likely to coordinate answers.

    Answers are NOT random, and you should know this.

    There was an Accounting professor who accused 150 students of cheating on a take home assignment because not only were the answers identical, the spreadsheet formatting was identical. She could hold them up to the light and see they were identical. The matter was dropped when a student pointed out that the formatting was the standard default settings, and that all students who made the same plausible error on one financial statement item would get exactly the same answers wrong on other statement items because of systematic errors – they got one thing wrong, and everything else done correctly produced a lot of errors solved the same way.

    If you’re worried about cheating, then give students next to one another two versions of the test with questions or answers in a different order. Use different colors of paper for the two versions. Color alone might prevent cheating.

    If you’ve used the exact same test in previous semesters, understand that fraternities have file cabinets filled with old tests. The students may have studied from the same old exam, wrong answers and all. That’s YOUR fault, not theirs. You need to change your exams every semester!

    Bad test writing is a serious problem in universities because writing good tests takes a lot of time.

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  56. Melissa says:

    Several people have suggested the old trick of having alternate versions so that two people next to each other don’t get the same format of test. This is a pre-cell-phone way of thinking; today’s students are masters at texting to each other silently and with minimal looking at the phone, which they can hold under the desk and “type” with one hand. In a very large lecture hall, it’s incredibly difficult to catch this, and the two students cheating with each other could be on complete opposite sides of the room.
    Personally, I think all large lecture halls need to have Faraday cages added to their walls to block cell phone use during exams.

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  57. Beth says:

    Report the students. It’ll help you sleep better in the long run, and it just might help your students.

    I agonized once after reporting a student for cheating and losing the battle because I didn’t include the word “original” in the assignment. The university lawyer reviewing the case told me that despite the ruling, I could do whatever I liked. However, she warned me the student would likely dispute any action other than getting full credit for the assignment, which would involve more hearings and time.

    In the end the student got a zero on the assignment, didn’t dispute, and I’ve slept well ever since. But I now have added “write an original” to all my assignments in a writing class. Some students are pretty savvy in cheating today, so closing as many doors as you can is much better for you and for those who do their own work.

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  58. Patrick says:

    At probably my fourth week of teaching high school, I caught a couple seniors cheating on an AP biology test. They were sitting right next to each other, frequently looking at each other’s papers. When I compared their papers on the mostly multiple-choice exam, which score at around 50%, virtually all the incorrect answers were identical.

    In accusing someone of cheating, you must have a high specificity (a low number of false positives). But you also owe it to yourself, to the other students not cheating, and to the cheating students themselves to confront them. It’s not fun, you may have accusing parents come in to talk to you, you might have an angry student or two, but at least by addressing the issue you can help solve the problem. Either the student begins to work harder or they drop the course.

    And if your administrator does not stand up for their teachers, it is very hard to address the issue. Mine did, and everyone benefits from that.

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    • Ike says:

      As a teacher confronting cheaters is my least favorite part of the job. Even with definitive proof I’ve had people fight with me.

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  59. artemis says:

    Nearly certain? You’d take the chance of destroying someone’s academic standing because you’re almost sure?

    Interesting.

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  60. Luda M. says:

    For many students, cheating is a kind of sport. And as with any sport, the stronger the chase of the cheaters, the more fun the cheaters have perfecting their skill. The worst kind of cheating I witnessed through my student experience was a cheater buying out a smart student to take an exam for the cheater or supplying answers via electronic device. What to do? To eliminate the worst, there should be a reliable way of identification of a student and disallowing any , and I mean it ANY, electronics in at the exam entrance. To eliminate other ways… well, why bother? Encourage it instead – will kill the competitive nature of the activity and, if the reference material is prepared by the student him/herself, will actually promote better learning.
    Just a thought…

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  61. Adam says:

    Your post leaves the reader to make an assumption, but just to be clear and the devil’s advocate, what were the scores on the tests? My only point in the question being, if both students scored a 100% it would only be logical that they have so many identical answers.

    The assumption to be made is that they had correctly and incorrectly answered 90%+ of the same questions on the exam. I hate to assume anything, regardless of the topic, so I would appreciate some clarification.

    If the assumption left to be made is in fact what happened I agree with the others that, as an educator, it is your responsibility not just to yourself, your institution, and your students — but to all of us. The old saying, “Cheaters never prosper,” is only accurate if someone calls them on it and holds them accountable. The inaction of someone in your position would make that old saying absolutely false.

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    • Ike says:

      Yes but I doubt both made a 100. And when two students copy like this the easiest way to prove they did is compare their wrong answers. Let’s say both missed 3, 10, 15, 17, and 29. That is rare. And if those answers are the same and that’s definitive proof that they copied. Most people who copy answers are not smart enough to intentionally change a few answers. Although since these are college kids maybe they did.

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  62. steve walsh says:

    Let it go, they are only cheating themselves. In any case, you can’t prove the cheating: correlation is not causation.

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    • melissa says:

      No, they aren’t only cheating themselves. Grades aren’t for the student you know. They are a marker to the rest of society representing what portion of the material of this course that the students have learned. Cheating on assessment is fraud – it makes the final grade a lie. In the short term, it waters down the value of the rest of the students’ grades in that same course. In the longer term, repeated by thousands of students over many cohorts, it degrades the reputation of the institution, as society (mostly employers) start to notice that the graduates of that univ don’t seem to know what their degree would indicate they should know, and they will shy away from hiring grads from that univ, and then future students learn of that and shy away from going there.

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  63. Ike says:

    One of my favorite stories about cheating happened in college and involved a friend. She (like I) was a math major and we both had to take this basic 200 level stats class. This is one of the few times we did not take the class together. Being a large class at a small college students had to share a table. During the exam the student next to her was smart enough to realize my friend was a math whiz and copied all her answers. When my friend told the professor he just laughed and explained the other student had a different version and all her answers were now wrong.

    As a teacher most kids who cheat are dumb cheaters and can be caught easily. The above is a prime example. In the future create two tests (all you have to do is switch the order of questions).

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  64. Fg says:

    The schools should report with the grades and gpa if the student has cheated or not. It should become public and available during the application process for the universities, community colleges and even if the guy apply for a job at mc donalds if requires to show his gpa or anything like it. If it hurts their chances to go to a good college or apply for a scholarship they will think twice.

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  65. Neha says:

    This is basis similar answers on a “multiple choice” exam?! If it were a subjective exam, similar answers are understandable but multiple choice – the answers will always be similar among a group!

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  66. Ken Arromdee says:

    ”I graded the assigment and then split the mark between the offenders, so that their maximum mark would have been 50%.”

    That sounds tempting and like poetic justice, but it doesn’t actually make any sense when you think about it. For instance, imagine a test which is severely curved, such that 50% was only a B (while 100% was still an A). By this reasoning, if students cheated on that test and got all the answers right, you would have to give them B’s.

    More realistically, imagine a situation where some of the questions require more work to solve than the other questions. On such a test, a student who actually did 50% of the work would get more than 50% of the answers correct and receive a grade of more than 50%.

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  67. Tori says:

    It’s hard to do on a final exam, but if you catch cheating on a test in the middle of the semester, just say that you know X amount of students cheated on the exam (I normally round this up a bit), and if they don’t come forward to tell you that they cheated, they will be given a failing grade at the end of the semester. If they do come forward to tell you, they will only receive a 0 for that particular test. This method is very effective and I’ve even caught some cheaters I didn’t know existed.

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  68. Imaginativeone says:

    I SO should have cheated in college:
    - Less work/More time for myself
    - A Competitive GPA in the WORK marketplace
    - I was competing (and STILL DO) with cheaters; foolishly putting myself at a disadvantage

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  69. kd iver says:

    I don’t disagree with you about reporting the incident. The most likely answer is as you described the low likelihood that you will invest your time in reporting the incident… beyond that, I think you should be less concerned with making a “big impressive punitive statement” on cheating. I’d rather see you reach out to those kids with corrective action that is constructive rather than destructive. There are all kinds of reasons that the incident occurred, none of them probably very good. Kids can be stupid and stupidity is only overcome through experience which is usually earned through stupidity.

    The best example I remember from my college days was a professor who randomly issued invitations for “Sunday” lunch at his home…. table talk invariably was about the topics in his class or other classes that the group had in common. He was a pretty clever guy and you always left with a better understanding of the subject than when you arrived…. Right before I graduated, I asked him why he went to the trouble (and expense) of those Sunday lunches. He told me he had made a habit of listening to the other faculty talk about which kids they thought were hopeless and made it his mission to do what he could to find out why, bring them along and encourage them. Since I was a pretty smart and popular college student, I’ve always wondered which teacher thought I wasn’t worth their time to teach.

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  70. David says:

    Multiple choice and a final exam — I would start there with giving students the opprtunity to cheat. Keep the multple choice for a section of an exam or better yet banished to the quizes.

    As for after the fact dealing with potential cheaters — it is truly not worth the effort. Prevention and supervision during the exam are far more effective. As for prevention — If you insist on giving multiple choice exams, hand out several versions with the questions and answers shuffled.

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  71. Aristotle says:

    Simple: follow the procedures in the General Information Handbook, Appendix C, Section 11-505. Either raise it with the students first and, if necessary, then send it to the Dean or skip out the first step.

    Too many teachers at whatever level of education in all countries don’t use the procedures that are in place to save them time and worry. If the procedures are too time consuming to be worth following, then they need changing so send that to the Dean too!

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  72. dave parnell says:

    Seems that we need to look at how we teach and how we measure success in learning. From my admittedly very limited experience on the subject of cheating my hypothesis is this. People cheat because they feel they have too. When I’ve cheated (and I have) and when I’ve talked to friends who’ve cheated it was never a default plan for them to cheat. They didn’t start out the semester with the intention to cheat the final and spend all semester planning how they were gonna commit the perfect cheat. They worked, the went to class, and studied but life got in the way of their final preparations (they had to work more to pay rent, they took too many classes that semester, hell they were down right lazy sometimes sure). Then, out of feelings of desperation and despair at having a failing grade which they would be powerless to “fix” later they cheated.

    My suggestion is twofold. One, we stop making learning a competition. We stop assigning class rank and focus on the object of imparting information to the student. Two, we make everything, every final, every midterm, every paper pass/fail. Mind you I wish for the passing mark to be somewhere around 95/100 however, students should not be punished for failure like they are now. They should be allowed to take and retake UNTIL THEY GET IT. Until they’ve learned.

    Also it doesn’t seem you have enough evidence to accuse them.

    -Dave

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  73. Ann H. says:

    I teach college, and allow my students to cheat on exams. Each of them can bring a page, front and back, with any notes they like on it, to the midterm and final.

    When I announce this on the first day of class, I always get excited whispers and titters and students glorying in the wondrous gift they have been given.

    After the midterm (though sometimes it takes until the final), they’ll figure it out.

    “Miss Ann, by the time I finished making my cheat sheet, I didn’t need it anymore!”

    “Gee, really? Well isn’t that just dandy!”

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  74. Bharat says:

    “If I don’t, I’ll feel badly about giving them an undeserved grade.”
    ‘Feel’ is a linking verb here and not an action verb. It is wrong to modify it with an adverb like ‘badly.’ Use an adjective. You feel bad, not badly. When the nerve endings in your fingers are damaged and you can’t tell the difference between cotton and velvet, you are ‘feeling badly.’
    As for cheating students, it probably happens a lot. I have seen identical wrong answers in different exam papers. And you’re right—often, the matter is not worth pursuing.

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  75. Emery says:

    First, complaining about the time and effort of turning in cheaters reveals that you institution has bad integrity procedures or that you don’t view integrity as worth protection.

    Second, the likelihood of punishment for the wicked is a crappy justification for doing the right thing. We report cheating because it is a violation of the idea of education, not because we want to see little Jimmy swing from a yardarm.

    Third, please remind your students that most world religions view lying and cheating as a violation of God’s law and an offense serious enough to exclude one from the afterlife. According to Arieli, such a reminder is a good deterrent.

    Finally, you might look for assignments and assessments that make cheating harder.

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