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Reported someone I suspected of cheating during an exam.

  1. Dec 18, 2009 #1
    While writing my intro physics exam, I looked at the person next to me, he had his hand stretched across the length of his desk and threw a piece of paper on the ground as soon as I looked at him. He appeared startled.

    note: we were sitting in the last seat in the corner rows of the gymnasium away from the TA's/Profs.

    note: The paper in question is still on the floor angled 45 degrees from the upper right corner of his desk.

    I raised my hand, and reported my suspicion to the TA. He went to consult the head prof.

    When he left, the student looked at me and said "I wasn't cheating, it was a Life Saver, blah blah blah". I just shrugged. I don't know why he felt the need to explain to me what he was doing.

    When the prof came and asked him about it he said "I can explain, it was a lifesaver". The prof. said "well don't let it happen again". Does this not sound like an admission that he and his friend were passing something amongst themselves? Furthermore, if he wasn't cheating, then why didn't he pick up the paper and present it to the prof?

    note: the paper in question is still in the position I described earlier.

    Towards the end of the exam the TA did come and pick up the paper.

    Did I do the right thing, or should I have kept my mouth shut?
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 18, 2009 #2


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    Yes you did the right thing. The Honor Code means something in school exams, and in life.
  4. Dec 19, 2009 #3
    I personally wouldn't have said anything. People who cheat get caught eventually. If they don't then the cheating wasn't really necessary because as far as the community is concerned that person is competent enough.

    Now if he was cheating and he's smart he will find a better way to do it. You alerted him to his flaws. Personally I think it just breeds better cheaters.

    I think if you have a strong moral it hard to let that go. I have to venture too that telling on someone is done more for selfish reason rather than for the sake of morality. If it were the case or mindset of someone who is altruistic they would trust in the systems set up to deter cheating. They wouldn't pass judgment so quickly without proof.

    You didn't have definitive proof, but you told the professor anyway right? To you he was cheating. It could of been a life saver. How certain is it that you say something peculiar and made a judgment before all evidence was in. Is that fair? Isn't your objection against cheating because it is unfair?

    Personally I think you have a right to be bothered by it. People put hard work into doing something legitimate, but that's of your concern and relevant to you conscience. You do it the right way because you feel achievement should be granted based on your own abilities.

    I wouldn't say you were wrong for what you did, I think it just doesn't do anything for you from a moral perspective. Fairness through and through. After the test you have a suspicion, let the staff know, but don't make it personal. "You might want to be observant, I witness some strange behaviour, I just wanted to give the heads up"

    I think from that perspective you got everything covered for that particular instance.
  5. Dec 19, 2009 #4
    What on earth is a life saver?
  6. Dec 19, 2009 #5


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    Of course you did the right thing.

    Cheaters are violators of the basic principle of testing for individual competence, and SHOULD be punished, regardless of whether they happen to possess individual competence or not.
  7. Dec 19, 2009 #6


    I believe you did the right thing, it may have been better to just go up after the exam and alert the prof/T.A. as to what was going on. This is may even have been why they didn't make a 'scene' during the exam. They are probably talking to him about what happened and as you said they picked up the paper after the exam. There are other people still writing the exam with you guys so it would be unfair to disrupt them.
  8. Dec 19, 2009 #7
    Generally I say worry about yourself. Cheaters will get what they have coming sooner or later.
    Last edited: Dec 19, 2009
  9. Dec 19, 2009 #8


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    And what's wrong with that?

    Hope springs eternal..
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 19, 2009
  10. Dec 19, 2009 #9

    Also, how much of your exam time did you end up wasting wondering at first what he was doing, then if you should tattle, then calling a TA over, then wondering what the prof would do, if this guy would get caught, etc etc etc... and how did that impact your score?

    You should focus on yourself and your work and not worry about what Joe Lifesaver is doing or not doing.

    Also, consider this. If he really wasn't cheating, I think he would have a legitimate gripe against you for accusing him in the middle of an exam, and breaking his concentration. The point is you're opening yourself up to action by him against you, if you're wrong, and this is a good lesson for the real world later on.

    This is why, when you accuse someone of something, you really ought to be sure.

    I'm suprised the professor or TA didn't ask you what you were doing looking at another student's desk/paper during an exam?
  11. Dec 19, 2009 #10


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    Of course. Same thing with charity.

    But, SO WHAT?

    The trick is not to banish selfishness as a powerful human motivation (that is impossible, except in the eyes of deluded leftists), but to make selfish aims coincide with moral aims.
  12. Dec 19, 2009 #11
    Of course it impossible. I don't see how that would make it acceptable not to note. There was a time I gave to charity for selfish reasons. I reflected on it, I checked my morals, and I changed that perspective of myself. Now I don't care what people think. I place money where I feel it's needed. It's now an objective call on my part. I don't get satisfaction from giving to charity anymore.

    I don't get the saying no one is perfect so don't worry. reaching for perfection while still gaining head way does not give me the impression of wasted effort. I don't see physicists giving up trying to reach up to the speed of light, because it's "impossible". I don't think I have to fit something to a current limitation.

    That's all I am suggesting, I am laying out a possible position for General Sax to make his own conclusion. I don't know his particular moral set, don't really care either. All I know is he has a moral dilemma and is asking for opinions. and that's my particular opinion.
    Last edited: Dec 19, 2009
  13. Dec 19, 2009 #12

    He was making quite a bit of noise, moaning, spinning his mechanical pencil, ect.

    I thought if I looked at him meanly he would catch on to how disruptive he was being, and stop. I can't remember what he did specifically that disrupted me, but it must have been sufficient for me to give him the 'look', which I'd done several times already. I don't feel bad for breaking his concentration in the least, because he was breaking mine solidly for about two hours.

    I just like to point out three things.

    1) He never denied passing/receiving things from from his friend. He only claimed that it was not a note, but a lifesaver. How can one expect to pass things to other people during an exam, and not raise the suspicion of others?

    2) If he wasn't cheating, then why didn't he just produce the paper in question from off the floor to absolve himself of wrongdoing?

    3) As soon as I raised my hand, he let out an audible sigh. To me this confirmed that he knew why I raised my hand. If he was totally innocent, then how would he know why I was raising my hand?

    I admit I took a risk in accusing him, but I weighed the options, and decided that I should report him.

    I figured that if he totally innocent, then he could prove it very easily, just by picking the up the paper and presenting it to the prof/TA, and I would look like a total idiot.

    When accusing someone of wrongdoing, when is the accuser ever 100% certain that the accused is guilty, barring the case when the accuser is the victim? People are falsely accused of wrongdoings far more serious than this, and far too often.

    Also, I never accused him directly of cheating. I only accused him of receiving notes from his friend. Something which he never denied.

    Basically my point is this:

    1) He never denied passing/receiving things from from his friend. He only claimed that it was not a note, but a lifesaver. How can one expect to pass things to other people during an exam, and not raise the suspicion of others?

    My apologies if this seems like rambling.
  14. Dec 19, 2009 #13


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    Do they physically search and remove cell phones from students in the class room now? I saw a tv show where kids had all of the answers on their phones, they would lay them in their lap then silently read the answers during tests.
  15. Dec 19, 2009 #14

    No, they don't. A cellphone was called during the exam. The ringer was very loud. One could hear it throughout the gymnasium.
  16. Dec 19, 2009 #15


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    If the person giving the exam has a clue, they will implement security measures to prevent students from having anything but their exam paper and pencil and eraser. All my students have to leave their bags, papers, purses, cell phones (OFF), jackets, caps, etc., on tables set up in the front of the room. No food or beverages (I allow them to bring a few cough drops if they have a cold...if they can figure out a way to write a significant amount of material on a cough drop wrapper, they deserve to have that information). Before the exam is handed out, I walk through the room and look for any papers, cups, cans, etc., on the floors, in their laps, under chairs, etc. With regard to baseball caps, they have a choice to take it off and leave it off, or keep it on with the bill turned to the back (so I can see their eyes). If they take it off during the exam, I hold it until the end of the exam (so answers aren't inside the cap).

    However, if I do see someone I suspect of cheating, I do NOT do anything very conspicuous during the exam other than look at that student more often or go spend more time walking down their row. Usually this is enough to stop it.

    One student seemed to be spending a lot of time trying to look at the exam of the student next to her (not sure how much it would help, since I use different exam forms and make it as hard as possible to find matching questions and answers...I shuffle both the order of questions and the order of answers, and often swap similar length answers so you can't figure it out by looking at length of the answer). It was clear that this was not pre-arranged, as the student next to her was doing all she could to crouch over her exam and cover her answers from the adjacent student. That made it easy to fix...I just walked to the "victim" and commented that she looked a bit overcrowded and there was an open seat with more room if she wanted to move (some other students already left the exam) and she jumped at the chance.

    I gave a few other students the same opportunity as the room thinned out, so it never looked like anything other than letting them spread out and be more comfortable as the room emptied, but effectively removed all neighbors from the suspected cheater without having to accuse anyone of anything. It's really hard to prove cheating most times, so better to just prevent it. The suspected cheater ended up failing the exam anyway, so action was taken in time.

    I've had others that I've called into my office and shown them their responses on a quiz after they sat next to each other. It was only a small quiz, so not worth the hassle of pursuing disciplinary action anyway. I just pointed out to them that their wrong answers were suspiciously similar and pretty uncommon ways of answering that particular question, let them know that I couldn't really prove anything dishonest had happened, and it could be innocent because they were friends and studied together, but if it wasn't, they needed to work it out amongst themselves if they hadn't both been aware that one of them was borrowing answers. I then told them that they should just voluntarily choose never to sit next to each other during another exam or quiz so there was no reason for me to ever suspect they were sharing answers again.

    My suggestion if a student thinks someone else is cheating is NOT to bring it up during the exam (there's a chance the proctors are already aware of it and letting them have enough rope to hang themselves, which is the other approach to accumulating enough evidence if it is something they will bring to an honor council or similar level) but instead tell them privately after the exam.

    The other reason for this is that sometimes there are innocuous reasons someone may be appearing suspicious, and as others have pointed out, you don't want to be the one stressing them out and causing them to do poorly on an exam by making them nervous they're being accused of cheating when they are not doing anything wrong. Just as an example, when I've needed to make accommodations for a student with a learning disability, there are some aspects of that which may be misinterpreted by another student observing. I can't divulge that the student has a learning disability or that the accommodations are permitted for that reason, so often all I can say if another student points out that they think something suspicious is going on is that I'll keep an eye on it. They may walk out thinking they've caught a cheater, when nothing of the sort was really going on.
  17. Dec 19, 2009 #16


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    Its not worth disrupting the entire exam for this. Nor is it worth making others uneasy. You end up breaking your own concentration. You also have to think about your safety. Could whatever gripe that student has against you escalate to something further? Just worry about taking the test, let the TAs/profs worry about making it fair. Reporting after the exam would have probably been the best thing. With all that said, I have never ever witnessed students accusing another of cheating during an exam......but I still don't know what a lifesaver is :confused:
  18. Dec 19, 2009 #17
    avoid conflicts if possible ...
  19. Dec 19, 2009 #18


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    Not during an exam, but I have had students come up after. I think that's the best method, because when other students reported it, it really just confirmed what I already knew.

    Me neither. Is that another name for a cheat sheet nowadays?
  20. Dec 19, 2009 #19
    I would assume a "lifesaver" would be a sheet with formulas on it? Maybe specific distances/constants?

    So in their mind it isn't really cheating since they doesn't have the exact answers, but in case this person gets stuck on a formula, they have a "lifesaver" to remind them which forumlas to use.

    I've never heard of the term until now though.
  21. Dec 19, 2009 #20
    It's a freaking candy I posted a picture of in the first page. You guys have never had LifeSavers before? Wow.
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