I've been thinking how I proctor and design exams, and I suspect (from things I hear) that there is much more cheating than I find evidence of. What are the most common ways university students cheat, say in a large lecture math or science class? For instance, some possible ways are:

  • looking at other students exams
  • sneaking in a cheat sheet
  • using a phone/prohibited device in class
  • getting help on a bathroom break
  • having someone else take the exam for you
  • getting a copy of the exam in advance
  • modifying an exam after grading and asking for points back

But I don't know if any of these happen often enough that I should do more than I currently do.

Ideally, I'd like an answer with data from some studies on cheating, but I'd welcome extensive ancedotal evidence as well.

  • 5
    Female students writing on their thighs and moving their skirts up to see the info - had a female colleague sort that one - but you can see from the posture and how often they do funny movements.
    – Solar Mike
    Commented Feb 19, 2018 at 14:29
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    @SolarMike In fact: academia.stackexchange.com/a/45128/20058 Commented Feb 19, 2018 at 15:07
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    "... I should do more than I currently do." Whether or not you should do more than you currently do seems largely orthogonal to the question of which ways of cheating are the most common. Catching or detouring more cheaters is only one objective in something which is a multiobjective optimization problem. Proctoring which is too zealous risks creating an adversarial atmosphere which can degrade the performance of honest students who might already suffer from test anxiety. Commented Feb 20, 2018 at 14:38
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    Just in case @MassimoOrtolano's comment was overlooked: in the linked answer, stand the most precious advices in my opinion. 1) if students want to cheat, they will. 2) my suggested strategy against cheating, any kind of cheating, is: design the exam as to make cheating as ineffective as possible, and as detectable as possible during the grading phase.
    – Clément
    Commented Mar 28, 2018 at 4:07
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    I had a professor once who was proctoring an exam. One student would repeatedly dip his head into his jacket for a few seconds and then return to the exam. The prof stopped by his desk and glared at him once or twice before confronting him. "Mr., What do you have in there?" the prof asked. "Martini, sir" was the response. And so it was.
    – Buffy
    Commented Nov 17, 2018 at 21:54

2 Answers 2


The most common issue I observed is looking at other students' exams. A student who has a particularly good eyesight sits behind a second 1-alpha student and copies from the sheets of the latter student.

You forgot several variations on the topics you've mentioned, such as hacking to

  • obtain the exam in advance

  • modifying the exam in advance

  • modifying the student's answers a posteriori.

We see attempts of such actions, and we have no idea of how many such attempts have been successful. It can be anything between 0% and 99%. Another common thing we see are attempts to bribe the teaching assistants. It does happen, although rarely.


Another method described inadvertently by a student in a question that is probably going to be deleted soon:

Pen cheat method [...] The method is called like that because you take a small piece of [paper] and then you insert it in your pen.

More generally, smuggling notes inside stationery --- for instance a large pencil case.

Another variant I have personally witnessed is a student bringing in notes on a sheet of squared paper of the same kind as the one distributed as scratch paper. Of course it's tricky to introduce it, but then once it's in using it will not look suspicious.

  • About stationery: there is even a web page to produce labels resembling those of Tipp-Ex cartridges, so the original ones can be replaced by another with a customised text.
    – Pere
    Commented Jan 7, 2023 at 23:35

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