I'm taking the last and hardest exams of my master degree. During the exams we aren't allowed to use anything else but our brain. Cheating is pretty easy though: one has the lecture notes and all the past exams with solutions on the phone and can easily consult them without being caught, therefore the majority of the students does it. I scored pretty good on the first exam but didn't get the best mark like some cheaters did. I feel at a disadvantage here with respect to the majority of my colleagues who will take better grades in these exams and I'll end up with the US equivalent of a C

My main problem here is my disadvantage towards everyone else, especially in PhD application where the transcript of records plays a role.

I also firmly believe that the cheaters will be be caught sooner or later by showing their own incompetence when they for example do research, but this isn't helpful since they may have been given the chance to do research instead of me.

So should I put morals aside and simply go there and cheat if I need to? Is there any justification for someone to do it?

I never did it so far but this time I've taken I've been very tempted.

I can't actually think of any way of justifying me cheating in the next exams. On the other hand I'm not having a fair competition at all here and even if I know some of them are better physicists than me and I'd finish behind them anyway I also know that some of them are worse than me.

I know I'm basically asking if cheating can be condoned, can it?

I don't want to report them, I probably don't have the guts to do it, especially because it's such a socially accepted practice.

Do I have any alternatives beside taking the exams while pretending other students don't exist, pass the exams and go on without looking back?

  • 164
    Don't cheat
    – user2768
    Commented Jul 1, 2019 at 9:00
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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – eykanal
    Commented Jul 2, 2019 at 14:34
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    Why are phones even allowed during an important exam? Commented Jul 3, 2019 at 6:10
  • The way the exams are marked might have a bearing on this. Do the top few get an A, the next bunch a B and so on, regardless of the actual marks? Or does A mean all marks above 80%, B above 60% etc. In the former case you're competing directly with the cheaters. In the latter case cheaters are irrelevant: it's just you and the exam paper and your grade directly reflects your ability. Commented Jul 4, 2019 at 9:35
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    @AaronF I'm sorry I never read your previous question: I looked now for someone asking me where I am and I found out was you in the chat. If somebody asks me if I'm in China I say that I'm not in China. If you ask me where I am I say that I'm Italy. Commented Jul 5, 2019 at 10:25

15 Answers 15


I don't want to report them, I probably don't have the guts to do it, especially because it's such a socially accepted practice.

A "Snitches get stitches" mentality will not solve your problem. Cheating is unethical. You know that you are "at a disadvantage" if you keep your ethical behavior and the others don't.

Cheating is pretty easy though: one has the lecture notes and all the past exams with solutions on the phone and can easily consult them without being caught

You seem to know how people are able to cheat at the exam. I would suggest that you report how people cheat (not who) to the professor in charge of your exam. He will either be able to implement counter measures to prevent cheating or change the exam format. This way you can avoid denouncing specific individuals while still preventing them from cheating.

  • 93
    I think the issue is that many professors already know that (and how) people cheat in their exams, but they still won't do anything about it because they don't really care.
    – Lorenzo Q
    Commented Jul 1, 2019 at 9:48
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    @Dirk That depends on the culture. I'm pretty sure, while I was at Uni, all the professors/TAs knew how students cheat (there were 2-3 widely popular ways for getting notes through, and much less frequently having somebody from the outside solve your exam). It was so widespread it was out of control; almost a social norm, and there was not enough resources to control it (or maybe they just didn't want to fail 2/3 of a single generation). But it was so common that I was used to most people around me preparing their "exam notes" while revising in the uni library before the exam.
    – penelope
    Commented Jul 1, 2019 at 14:17
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    @penelope Exactly. One doesn't bring a knife to a gunfight. The primary reason cheating is considered inappropriate is because it puts other people in an unfair disadvantage. In the environment where absolutely everyone cheats and the regulators (professors) don't care, cheating itself becomes a new de facto rule and by not abiding to this rule one puts themselves in an unfair disadvantage.
    – ayorgo
    Commented Jul 1, 2019 at 15:45
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    This is honestly a silly answer. I completed my masters at an ivy league and reported cheating methodologies. The teacher said he acknowledged it and did ABSOLUTELY nothing about it. I reported this to the administration and again, nothing happened. What are you going to do?
    – Lonidard
    Commented Jul 1, 2019 at 18:13
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    @Lonidard: I agree that it is a silly answer, but I put it to you that it's no sillier than the question. If this answer works, problem solved; if not, then the context makes the question nonsensical. You are then asking a "should" question in a context which might not be giving you any other choice, in which case the point is moot.
    – Will R
    Commented Jul 1, 2019 at 19:48

If I were you and my primary concern was the PhD application (but also not being bugged for the rest of my life if I cheat), I'd ask myself the following questions:

  1. How limited is the number of available PhD positions in my university?
  2. Are all those cheaters going to sign up for such a commitment as PhD[1]?
  3. Where on that imaginary unbiased leader-board do I belong? I.e. what are my odds of getting high enough grades to be able to do my PhD elsewhere without cheating?

Answering these questions will help you to be more honest with yourself and distinguish between the two possible dilemmas here:

  • I am good enough as a physicist but I'm being robbed of my future by the cheaters. Should I give them a taste of their own medicine?
  • I am not that good after all and I want an unfair advantage on the international arena because everyone in my class does it. Is it OK if I just go with the flow?

[1] My personal anecdotal experience suggests that a cheater's mindset is often to cheat their way out of the situation as quickly and with as least trouble as possible and forget about all of it the next morning. If this is the case you may not face that much competition in the end.

  • 14
    This actually reads like an answer from somebody who experienced such a culture where it looks like cheating is the norm.
    – penelope
    Commented Jul 1, 2019 at 14:20
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    This the best answer so far and really made me think. While the second dilemma is almost rethorical I've thought a lot about the first one but my institution and the "policy of high grades" never helped me. Taking the best marks was never a sign that I could make it in the end because it was relatively easy to take them and especially in the master degree I've taken sometimes the same marks of some really outstanding guys and at the same time the only difference between me and some people that can't compete with me has been the difference between best mark with laude and best mark. Commented Jul 1, 2019 at 14:42
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    @Runlikehell Since I intentionally worded the second one to sound like that I wouldn't call it rhetorical necessarily especially if we exaggerate a little bit and think of it from the perspective of a mega rich vs dirt poor person being robbed at the street corner. It's a horrible experience for both, but for the former being parted of a couple of notes isn't that much of a big deal whereas the latter may end up in a death fight for what could be their last mean of survival.
    – ayorgo
    Commented Jul 1, 2019 at 18:05
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    @ayorgo but still getting that "unfair advantage on the international arena because everyone in my class does it" is not acceptable in any situation, I think. The Phd is something I want, not getting it would be a first world problem, it's not my last mean of survival. I mean If I am so bad that I need that advantage I should simply fail to get a PhD and give up. Commented Jul 1, 2019 at 18:42
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    @Runlikehell When I select a PhD student (and I am very selective, as we do not have many positions and need to fill them well), I look at the grades last. Secondly, try to be far better than your competition and be as good or better without cheating as the ones with the cheating tools. Take it as a challenge for yourself, it will pay off, if not on the short, then on the long run. Commented Jul 1, 2019 at 20:34

If you have to ask, you know the answer. Don't do it. Cheating now puts you on the same level as the other cheaters. Pass the exam on the strength of your knowledge of the material, not on the basis that you cheated better than your compatriots.

Tell your professor about the cheating. If you are scared, it's OK to do this anonymously. You'll feel much better about yourself.

  • 28
    You give very direct instructions while knowing nothing about the culture OP is from, or of their university. These instructions may carry extremely negative consequences for OP while achieving nothing that's positive. What's appropriate in a US university isn't appropriate in every university, even if you can (probably succesfully) argue that it should be.
    – sgf
    Commented Jul 1, 2019 at 17:18
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    @sgf, I take your point that these standards are country and culture-specific, and as a US, privileged, white, cis-gendered, non-poor, somewhat-educated man I should not project my standards on the other. What shall I do where the other and I intersect to compare numbers? If I were on an admissions committee, how should I view the grades from the OPs institution? How do I map those measures of talent and competency onto the standards of my institution?
    – cmm
    Commented Jul 1, 2019 at 22:14
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    @cmm I don't see how this is about privilege. This is about the fact that your standards aren't everybody's standards. If cheating is endemic at the university, one person's not cheating won't affect the view others have of that university, nor will it change the culture of that university. If that's the case, OP gains nothing from not cheating. (Not even, I would argue, moral superiority, though perhaps a nice feeling of moral superiority.)
    – sgf
    Commented Jul 2, 2019 at 8:44
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    @JMac I don't see how cheating prevents OP from gaining an actual education. The most likely outcome is that OP learns just as much, but performs better at the exam. I agree that it's preferable that OP gets the best grade on the strength of their knowledge, but OP already proclaimed that they'll get a C based on the strength of their knowledge. I took that to be true.
    – sgf
    Commented Jul 2, 2019 at 16:23
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    @sgf I think it's a symptom of a deeper problem. Cheating cultures arise when everyone thinks the thing that matters is the letters and certifications, not the knowledge and skills. Schools cater to that, selling them a useless degree that covers nothing in useful depth but touches on a lot of hot topics to pad their resume with. The lack of a feedback mechanism (like a strong economy that only values the skilled workers and rejects cheaters who learned nothing) to induce the school to actually teach properly, leads to all of it in my opinion. At least in developing countries. Commented Jul 3, 2019 at 4:49

Have you considered what happens if you get caught during the exam?

Unless I've missed something you haven't talked about what actually happens if a cheater gets caught (during the exam I mean).

If it's a bigger deal than a slap on the wrist, consider that if you go ahead, cheat, and get caught, you'll probably be treated like any other cheater, and saying "I cheated because everyone else does it, but I still studied and did my work and I wanted to secure my place [...]" will put you in a very awkward position, perhaps even more awkward than an "actual" cheater.

Yes, eventually most of the "true" cheaters will appear to be frauds when they reach the research field, but getting caught cheating in an exam? In some countries (mine included), that gets you a five-year interdiction to pass any other exam, may it be school stuff or driver's license.

Don't cheat.

It may appear that cheaters won't get caught, because if they've been watching their phones all this time without being afraid, the supervisors likely don't mind. True, but what if this year is the one they wake up and get stricter? Or, another student warned them/the dean/higher-ups of the situation? You're probably not the only non-cheater facing that situation.

Don't cheat.


Complain about cheating. You don't have to report any person if you don't want to. But complain about having a disadvantage because of playing fair.

When you feel like "everyone cheats", it could be that the professor also feels like "everyone cheats". The professor might need to see that not everyone cheats. To see that not everyone is on board with that.

Receiving complaints should encourage professor to fight cheating. It will equip professor with something more than "cheating is bad" when arguing with cheaters or superiors who want everyone to pass. These will become available and the prof will be able to say it with confidence knowing it's true.

No, not everyone is cheating. You are cheating. There are others who are not cheating.

No, it's not harmless, there are honest students screwed over by this.

As for yourself - don't cheat, of course. The cheating mentality is idiotic. You are taking the test to test your knowledge. If you cheat, you just waste your and the professor's time. That might be desirable for some of those other people, but not for me or you. For us it's unacceptable, as you have already stated in the question.

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    "The cheating mentality is idiotic" - no, those exams where you "aren't allowed to use anything else but your brain" are idiotic practice, based on nothing but barbaric traditions. Unless you are in a mnemonic school, but that doesn't seem to be the case.
    – Headcrab
    Commented Jul 3, 2019 at 2:21
  • @Headcrab That's as strawman. Who does that? For instance, in engineering exams, sophisticated calculators may be used. It is not uncommon to be permitted to bring a sheet with useful formulas. An exam has to delimit what is allowed into the exam room and what isn't. There have to be rules. Those who break the rules are cheating.
    – Kaz
    Commented Jul 5, 2019 at 17:44
  • @Kaz Who does what? Did you actually read the question, particularly the "we aren't allowed to use anything else but our brain" part?
    – Headcrab
    Commented Jul 6, 2019 at 2:35

I would argue that the real problem here is deeper, provided that it actually exists.

Grading of exams should not be competitive

On any exam, the grade given should depend only on how the individual student does, not on what others do.

A system in which the only way that one student can do better is for another to do worse is deeply immoral. It also provides a serious inducement to cheating.

Sometimes "grading on the curve" has an aspect like that. The grade distribution is assumed to be normal with C as the median. That is a foolish assumption. First, the sample is too small to assume that the sample distribution is close to the population distribution. Second there is little reason to assume that the sample is randomly drawn from the entire population. If I happen to teach the 30 best qualified students in the world on an exam, why should anyone get less than a perfect mark.

But, perhaps you are only assuming that this is what is going on. If the system is such that everyone can get perfect marks and the grades are determined only by your own performance (objective grading), then it doesn't really matter that other people cheat. You get the grade you deserve - good or bad.

If, however, that is the situation (competitive grading) then that is a valid basis of complaint to the administration. Other people cheating should have no affect on your grade.

  • 1
    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – eykanal
    Commented Jul 2, 2019 at 16:58
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    This answer is a good commentary but doesn't help OP at all
    – IEatBagels
    Commented Jul 2, 2019 at 17:08
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    In reality though, there may be limited places in the next stage (in this case, a PhD application) and even if you're not graded on a curve you're still in competition with the others. So while you might rightly get a well-earned A2, all the cheaters got an A1 and while you passed with flying colours, you fail in the sense that you didn't get a place on the PhD course.
    – komodosp
    Commented Jul 3, 2019 at 8:24

Ask your university to change its policy on mobile phones in exams.

My university has a university-wide policy that all mobile phones and similar devices are to be turned off and removed from your person during all exams (typically being placed in your backpacks at the front of the examination room). This should help minimize cheating since if they don't have mobile phones, they can't use them to cheat - and if they do have a mobile phone, they're violating university policy and can be punished as cheaters.

  • They can already be punished as cheaters. But no one does. And I suspect no one will after the mobile phone ban.
    – Alexander
    Commented Jul 3, 2019 at 14:52
  • 1
    @Alexander proving the student has a phone is much easier than proving they were cheating. Someone still has to care, but not as much.
    – Davidmh
    Commented Jul 3, 2019 at 21:12

Actually don't pay attention to what majority do. It's vital you know that cheating makes you weaker and weaker over the time. And you get more stress and torment instead of self confidence and pride. Be the strong C , not a weak A . :)


This is truly a dilemma. But let's analyse your options:

  1. Do not cheat. Cheaters will outperform you and you might get compared with their grades and considered to be among the worse ones.
  2. Cheat. If successful, you will catch up with cheaters and get a good grade. If caught, you get the worst case scenario.
  3. Do not cheat and anonymously expose the cheating issue without calling names. If there was a leak, that should fix the issue entirely.

Now let's evaluate each option (with scores, highest being best) (see "Moral" as a broader term mixed with consciousness, and "Result" as your grade with context):

  1. Result: 2/4, Moral: 3/3. This is the passive option. But you came hear to seek for alternatives. You will get the worse grade and compared to others you'll be among the worse ones.
  2. Result: 4/4 or 1/4, Moral: 1/3. You cheat, you are lucky, everything is fine. You may betray yourself, however be reminded - it's only grades. Real skill and competence does not only come from the amount of knowledge you can sponge together for a short time, and then forget most of it anyway. It's quite possible that the cheaters will perform well in normal job domains because they possess other characteristics will are good as well. Also it does not mean they are incompetent in the matter either, just may have just skipped a bad educational procedure. Regardless, you still need to compare it in regards to those who don't cheat - it's unfair to them. But many/most are willing to do it already. However, if you get caught, you'll get the worst outcome. Be reminded that it also takes some skill to cheat, and perpetual cheaters may be less likely to get caught unlike you.
  3. Result: 3/4, Moral: 2/3. Sabotage your colleagues and friends, flatten the ground and force them to be measured based on true test-writing performance. You may inflict 1-2 semesters of additional study time or even cause an even greater consequence. Maybe it's good, maybe it's bad, maybe the people affected deserve it. Compared to cheaters you should come out ahead or equal, however you'll still get the worse grade.

Personally I'd advise you to option 3. Let the bomb lose, even the playfield, play fairly, and let your colleagues feel the consequences of cheating, by being unable to do so when they relied on it. You are in a vague competition after all, and this is the compromise which yields the best outcome for you, each with the second best outcome by result and moral. I'd rated it 3/3 for "Moral", but I assumed you care about your friends being sabotaged who intend to cheat. If not, you bring justice and fairness to a place which was devoid of it. Still, depends on if you consider these barricades as reasonable in the first place.

  • 3
    Isn't "snitching" a pretty strong term for reporting the cheating but no names?
    – sgf
    Commented Jul 2, 2019 at 10:53
  • @sgf - I think I misunderstood the word, I rephrased it.
    – Battle
    Commented Jul 2, 2019 at 11:59

Don't Cheat.

As you have stated, there are students in your class who have cheated, and others who have not cheated. You have noted that cheating is pervasive and accepted. You observe that the majority of students cheat. It is not clear whether this has been the case for previous courses, and whether grades are already final for other courses. Are there any students who have not cheated on any courses, projects or exams? Have you or the other students learned the material, and how well?

  • Cheating Harms Everyone

As you have noted, students who cheat have harmed you and other students who have not cheated, and they have harmed the reputation of the school. The sad part is that because cheating behavior is accepted, you will finish your Master's and find it has diminished value because of the cheating.

  • Report Cheating

Report the cheating to the professor(s), the dean, the office of student integrity. Report the cheaters, inform the school both that they cheat and how they cheat, and request that the exams be monitored to prevent cheating. Document everything. And do not cheat. Should the Uni do nothing, then you may get lesser grades, but you will have earned them.

  • Caution

Do not study for a PhD at a Uni that accepts cheating, that would further waste your time. Find (another) Uni where you can study and succeed. Have you learned and prepared well, and are you ready to succeed at the PhD level (without cheating)? Then find a Uni which aligns with your principles.

  • Excuse: "I'm taking the last and hardest exams of my [M]aster degree."

PhD study, research, and work do not get easier. Whether the exams are hard or easy, do not cheat. Learn and master the knowledge. Find your own place. Earn what you can; accept what you earn.

  • Constraints: "During the exams we aren't allowed to use anything else but our brain."

Irrelevant. Learn the knowledge.
This is one of the more asinine practices at Uni. Especially at graduate level. You should learn to think, synthesize knowledge, and seek deeper understanding. Exams should not be the only measurement.
Rote memorization is for elementary school.

  • Cheating is Easy, Pervasive

"Cheating is pretty easy ... one has the lecture notes ... past exams with solutions on the phone and can easily consult them without being caught, therefore the majority of the students does it."

You stated that the Professor and Uni do not allow anything but brains. The Professor and Uni should not allow these materials, and the Uni should have policies and procedures to enforce the integrity of exams.

  • Fairness: "I feel at a disadvantage ... [cheaters] will take better grades in these exams [in comparison]"

Which is exactly why the Uni (and Professor) must express and enforce clear integrity policies. It keeps the playing field level.

Read about the Prisoner's Dilemma. Suppose you cheat, how does that affect those who do not cheat?

Your PhD application may already be impaired by your Uni's reputation, which may be known and have been damaged by tacit acceptance of cheating.

  • Consequences: "[C]heaters will be be caught sooner or later by showing their own incompetence ..."

No guarantee here.

Sadly, some cheaters are not caught because they have learned the material, and cheat to make the exam easier. They harm their own preparation, but may still have learned enough to perform well. This may be a consequence of the weak exam format.

  • Morals: "[S]hould I put morals aside ... and cheat if I need to?"

Your integrity is important. Earn the grades you deserve on your own.

  • Justification: "Is there any justification for someone to do it [cheat]?"

You have already answered this question. Don't let others or even your own struggles diminish yourself. You have done your best.

  • Temptation: "I've been very tempted."

Learn and grow.
Studying an advanced topic in depth is hard. It challenges our ability and forces us to think (hard), learn, and grow (when we can).

  • "Even if I know some of them are better physicists ... anyway ..."

This is an interesting observation that some students (and cheaters?) are better than you. Which implies that students have learned the material, and there is a disconnect between the exams and the material. Clarify with the professor that students are not allowed to lookup answers. It appears that the problem is the exam format.

  • Cheating should not and cannot be condoned.

You will face decisions in your life where you will need to choose between right and wrong. Make the right choice and stand by that choice. You will become a better person.

You are about to earn a Master's degree. You are an adult. Act like an adult. Accept responsibility.


Here's a relevant story about how someone in a very similar situation resolved the problem:

Getting into medical school is pretty competitive, and the desire to do well and be successful puts a great deal of pressure on the new incoming freshmen. My husband had worked hard on his studies and went to attend his first examination. The honor system was expected behavior at the medical school. The professor passed out the examination and left the room. Within a short time, students started to pull little cheat papers out from under their papers or from their pockets. My husband recalled his heart beginning to pound as he realized it is pretty hard to compete against cheaters. About that time a tall, lanky student stood up in the back of the room and stated: ‘I left my hometown and put my wife and three little babies in an upstairs apartment and worked very hard to get into medical school. And I’ll turn in the first one of you who cheats, and you better believe it!’ They believed it. There were many sheepish expressions, and those cheat papers started to disappear as fast as they had appeared. He set a standard for the class which eventually graduated the largest group in the school’s history.

  • An amazing story that illustrates a excellent way to prevent cheating. Commented Jul 4, 2019 at 4:47

If everyone cheats, and the professeors tolerate it, you might as well do it too.

In every modern society, there are things that are formally forbidden but informally everyone expects everyone to do them anyways. If that's the case, you're not doing yourself any favours by trying to stick to honor codes from US universities - your university is not in the US, and neither their written rules nor their unwritten rules apply to you.

For what it's worth, in my European university, especially in the undergrad, it would have been unthinkable for me to report a cheater. That was something between the cheater and their own conscience - there are no honor codes here, and I would have felt like an horrible person, since the mindset is generally "If the professor doesn't care enough to prevent it, go ahead and do it."

If it was clear that a professor didn't care, I wouldn't have felt bad for cheating myself - the idea was that preventing that behavior isn't on the students but on the teachers.

If it was clear that a professor did care, I would have hesitated to devise some elaborate scheme for cheating anyways -- if the teacher cares, then going around it would have felt like doing something morally wrong.

If everybody else cheated, repeatedly, and the department did nothing about it, I wouldn't have cared. The idea behind honor codes is precisely that you can't expect students to report cheaters, or not to cheat themselves if it is made too easy for them, unless you respond to it with draconian measures.

The goal of preventing cheating is of course to keep test grades meaningful, which is only possible if there is a large amount of non-cheaters. However, I don't see how any moral claim follows from that at a university where everybody cheats -- if you personally don't do it, you can have a nice superior feeling, but it won't help to make the grades meaningful.

That's a bad situation, to be sure, but it's really on the university to improve it. You don't have to throw your grades away to make a statement that no-one but you will know about.

Note that I'm assuming here that cheating is actually wide-spread, and that professors know about it but don't really care. If you think that reporting the ways of cheating would make a big difference, you probably should.

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    If everyone cheats, and the professor tolerates it, I'd be either escalating to the head of department or looking for a transfer.
    – Allure
    Commented Jul 1, 2019 at 10:45
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    If everyone cheats, a degree from the university is not worth the paper it is printed on and employers will dismiss candidates with it.
    – zero298
    Commented Jul 1, 2019 at 18:54
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    @Allure : Not everyone is studying at a very prestigious institution. Unfortunately, there are places where cheating is an established practice, and the leadership is supporting it. Escalating it might lead to them releasing your name to other students in order to get you being bullied. Or they might even punish you directly. I know of cases where the dean explicitly demanded professors that they allow certain students (children of prominent businessmen) to cheat, and threatened them with dire consequences if they refused. Sadly, there are places where this is common.
    – vsz
    Commented Jul 2, 2019 at 6:21
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    "The goal of preventing cheating is of course to keep test grades meaningful" - Assuming they are meaningful in the first place, even without the cheating. Commented Jul 2, 2019 at 7:18
  • 4
    @zero298 I agree that this is the way it should be. I see no reason to assume that it is. For the longest time studying in Oxford simply meant having lots of money, and employers in England loved it if you had an Oxford degree. Moreover, there's occasionally courses that everyone, professors included, mainly consider bureaucratic hurdles, or courses where everyone considers the test itself a bureaucratic hurdle. I don't see how either of these invalidates a degree.
    – sgf
    Commented Jul 2, 2019 at 8:40

My philosophy about cheating is somewhat morally relative.

I must confess that, on some of the take-home exams, I had collaborated with another student or two. But it was mostly in the effort to clarify what the exam problem really was and what it really meant. But it was really in clarifying a deliberately nebulous problem that the solution becomes apparent. (i.e. the prof was not gonna do that for us.) Probably, the other students benefited more in the collaboration than I did. It's not exactly plagiarism but something like it. As a result the three of us, collectively, got a better grade on the take-home exam than we would have if we did not collaborate and that was unfair to other students that did not collaborate. But, word spreads, and I don't think there were many others, if any at all, that did not collaborate in their own little cliques.

That confession made, I think that you do yourself little favor by joining in on wholesale cheating similarly by joining in on looting with the crowd. Consider your long-term best interests. Also consider (if this interests you) the qualities of leadership. Sure, with Trump (or W), it looks like a successful cheater has no limits, but, for most of us, it's the people who accomplished impressive goals based on their authentic skill and authentic gifts that are appropriate leaders and that quality will (eventually) be recognized. Just because cheaters like Trump or W got to be President, doesn't mean that you will make genuine accomplishments by cheating.

You're in college to learn stuff. Stuff that really works. Cheating will result in only the illusion of learning something. You might, in your professional life, be called upon to accomplish something based on "knowledge" that you "learned" by cheating. But because you cheated, you may not have really learned it. And bogus "knowledge" will become useless for really solving real problems that really come up.

Once in a while, someone like Trump comes along pretending that they can solve these real problems and brags about their "solution" (sometimes to a problem that they created), and it's only later enough people figure out that the solutions are bogus and don't work.


One way to approach the problem is: "How do I equalise or negate the value gained by the cheaters?"

To answer this one needs to carefully examine what the value gained by the cheaters is.

You say that the cheaters access notes and past solutions on their phones. How useful is this information? Perhaps the instructor expects you to have this material committed to memory (in some way); in that case you need to put more effort in that. Perhaps the instructor is looking for new approaches and solutions to existing problems and all he is getting is the same old churn; in that case you need to try out-of-the-box approaches to the old exam papers.

Grading "on a curve" still means that the questions are set to meet the expectations of the examiner. Perhaps these are unrealistic and students are cheating to meet these unrealistic expectations. Even in such a case, trying to meet these in an honest way will improve your skills.

Talking to the instructor to find out what the expectations are can help in some contexts. In others, you may need to change your approach.

Ultimately, learning is about increasing your intrinsic value, examinations are a way to learn to evaluate yourself (by understanding the corrections to your answers), grades are what determine your opportunities.

In that sense, your worry about being denied opportunities is correct. However, how much of the first two aspects have you incorporated?

Here are two examples.

It was common for students in the school I went to to memorise English essays on various topics and reproduce them in the exam (a form of plagiarism). Some of them may even have brought the essays unethically written on "chits" into the examination. It turns out that the English teacher was tired of these boiler plate essays. When I wrote an essay giving free rein to my imagination and my interests, it was given a high grade.

In a certain physics paper, the instructor often had questions like "Describe such-and-such apparatus and a give an example of it's use". I requested the instructor to make this either/or with a "numerical" which made use of experimental data from the same apparatus to analyse the experiment. So, at least for me, the "advantage" of the rote memorisers and "notes copiers" was equalised.

Both the examples may give you a feeling that they are dependent on an enlightened instructor. However, you must remember that, the examiner gives the grade. Hence, regardless of what you feel the purpose of the course is, you need to meet the instructors expectations. If you can find these out, or perhaps modify them(!), you will get better grades.


IMHO, there's no need to cheat.

Students are fed the lie "you need to get good grades, because..." almost from birth. It's rubbish. Many very successful people were dropouts. Sure, grades can open doors in the short term. But a grade rapidly becomes unimportant as time goes by.

In my experience, opportunities find you if you forget about being competitive and focus on being awesome. My motto was always "why cram for exams, when you can study properly and actually retain valuable knowledge and skills?" If you are competent, capable, creative, or quick, people will want you to solve their problems and great opportunities will come your way.

My advice is to treat exams like:

  • something to keep you motivated to work hard; a goal to keep you focused
  • rough and imperfect feedback on what your strengths and weaknesses are.

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