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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  1. 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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  2. 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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  3. 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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  4. Alfonso says:

    I have at least one student or pair of students that cheat every semester. Most of the time it goes unreported because, unfortunately, our administrators rarely agree with the “evidence” presented and it becomes a huge waste of time. Unless the students are caught in the act, it’s nearly impossible to prove to our administrators that cheating has occurred.

    This is how I rest easy at night: most students who cheat are clueless to begin with, so when they cheat off of one another, they both fail. In the rare case when an intelligent student helps a clueless student cheat, that’s when I confront them, if for no other reason than to make them shake in their boots. A smart student is always terrified of marring their educational record with a cheating violation, so simply calling them out is usually enough to prevent them from doing so again in the future. That still leaves the issue of the assessment in question, for which I simply assign a zero.

    To those who state that cheating students become cheating adults (and I agree): What else are we to expect from a culture that breeds lying/cheating? Why else would we need whistleblower laws? This is one of many issues with our current society and I only foresee things getting worse, much worse before the proverbial crap hits the fan and the people decide that enough is enough with our lying politicians, executives, and other “leaders.”

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