My friend had to take their test separately, because of a certain disability, before everyone else had to take the same test. They were supervised by a staff member and when the staff member left the room they decided to take pictures of the exam and proceeded to send it to a few classmates that were going to take the test in the next few days. The professors became aware that the test was compromised (leaked) and made a new test in 45 min that covered harder material. The professors sent out an email saying they were tracking down the student(s) involved. Should my friend come clean or transfer before the professors are able to suspend or expel them? Any advice will be helpful - thank you

  • 4
    Expulsion is a possible outcome. So are letters in the permanent record/transcript. So is a stern talking-to.
    – Buffy
    Dec 29 '19 at 20:46
  • How did the professors become aware of the leak? Dec 30 '19 at 12:14
  • 3
    At some universities, you are considered culpable if you become aware of cheating and don't report it yourself. You might check whether your university has such a rule.
    – academic
    Dec 30 '19 at 16:06

Your friend engaged in outright cheating. In nearly all universities, what they did is a major violation of the codes of conduct that students are rightly expected to abide by. This isn't a "grey area" situation, your friend knowingly did something that was very wrong and I cannot imagine that the university authorities will see much cause to show leniency in this case. Further, as there were likely only a limited number of student who took the test early, your friend is likely to be caught. The professors probably already suspect who it is and are gathering evidence. I doubt your friend will have time to go through the whole process of transferring before they are found out. Further, if one of the few students who took the test early suddenly applied to transfer, it would look quite suspicious.

In this situation, there really isn't much that your friend can do. The ethical thing to do would be to admit what they did and accept the consequences, with the faint hope that coming clean will lead to some degree of leniency. That said, if self preservation is the only concern, they can sure attempt to transfer before they are caught.

As for you, as a budding academic, choose your colleagues and friends wisely. People's bad actions can rub off on you and they can bring you down with them. Someone willing to do this is a poor friend to have indeed.

  • 6
    Having thought about this, the one possible mitigating circumstance here is if your friend's disability in some way makes them more susceptible to certain types of influence. In other words, your friend has the sort of disability that would allow other bad actors (the people who received the photos) to "put them up to it". There are very few disabilities like this (we're talking brain injury here or something on that par), but if that is part of the issue, your friend should make that known. Dec 29 '19 at 20:24
  • There’s also a variety of learning disorders or mental disabilities that might affect their behaviour that way.
    – nick012000
    Jan 3 '20 at 9:17

Your friend knowingly violated code of conduct. A large number of your classmates know exactly who was the source of the leak. It is only a matter of time before professors know who did it and collect sufficient evidence. Then the case will be sent to an academic misconduct panel and they will decide what penalty to assign.

Harsh penalty is quite likely. First, as GrotesqueSI mentioned, this is not a grey area — all students know that this is outright cheating. But second factor is that your friend was provided with a special opportunity to take their exam in a way which takes their condition in account. Managing special accommodations for students during the peak times is difficult and requires extra commitment from academic staff. However, universities want to help all students to realise their full academic potential and staff are usually happy to go an extra mile to help this happening. Your friend responded to this help by cheating, which meant that professors have to put even more effort in a very short time to prepare a new exam. This seems to me like a significant factor which shows that the student does not respect staff time or the special support already provided to them.

I think that your friend has to accept that they did a bad thing, they have to own their mistake, come clean and accept the consequence. And never repeat this mistake.

  • Also that the friend did not in fact deserve the special accommodation. Dec 30 '19 at 3:53
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    @WolfgangBangerth Students with disabilities are like other students: some are lazy, some are hardworking, some are cheaters. But accommodations aren't "deserved" by good behavior, they're allocated as a way of leveling the playing field. Punish the student for cheating, but don't regard the accommodation as something that needs to be earned. Dec 30 '19 at 19:16
  • 3
    Equal access is a right, not a privilege, regardless of whether anyone needs to go an "extra mile." Dec 30 '19 at 19:23
  • @ElizabethHenning You are right, of course. However, it is important to note that universities provide accommodation to level the field, to make the "game" fair for all students. In my University, students have to actively opt-in to accept the accommodation, and hence actively accept the concept of fair play which the accommodation is based upon. This is a more conscious step than simply ticking the code of conduct along with a pack of entrance documents. Dec 30 '19 at 19:54
  • @ElizabethHenning -- the nuance of what I wanted to say did not come through in my one sentence attempt. I agree that it's a right, nor a privilege that needs to be earned. What I meant to say is that they no forfeited that right by abusing it. Dec 31 '19 at 0:02

What happens if a student takes pictures of a test and sends it to classmates that have not already taken it?

This matter should be covered by the code of conduct of the institution, in terms of procedures, consequences, and factors that determine the level of punishment (including potential factors that ameliorate the gravity of the issue).

For instance, regulations of the London School of Economics states:

8.3 Cheating

The School takes exam offences extremely seriously and will investigate all allegations. If an allegation against you is substantiated, it may lead to your expulsion. You should read the Regulations on Assessment Offences to ensure you avoid behaviour which could lead to an allegation of cheating. This document draws your attention to some of the ways in which you could potentially be thought to be cheating. However, this is by no means comprehensive.

The University of London states:

If we receive a report claiming that you have committed an offence, your results for the year will automatically be withheld whilst your case is investigated.

Students who are found to be guilty of breaking the rules may receive a penalty, ranging from a warning, through to cancellation of a module, an entire year’s work or, in very serious cases, termination of registration.

You should read your institution's regulations but if they are well designed, you would expect enough flexibility for them to do what they think appropriate, including expulsion.

PS: Into the more practical question of your friend, what I would definitively try to do is to mitigate potential spreading of the issue into social media. The reputational damages but also the trolling can seriously damage a person's life, which imo is never justified.


I have to disagree with the other answers. In all universities where I studied and worked (only in Europe) there was never a rule that students were not allowed to distribute exam questions after a test. Indeed, I find it somewhat strange that a professor gives the same test twice or leaves the student alone (if the exams are in short distance of each other).

Some details are missing from the question. If there is a rule that this is not allowed or the professors mentioned that they should not share the exam questions, what they did is clearly wrong and they should come forward.

In absence of such a rule (for me, it is not at all clear that "every student knows this" as it is said in another answer), your friend is in my opinion ethically in the right. However, a professor might often do nasty things/threaten the student even if they have no basis to do so. In this case, I would talk to my student union/maybe even a lawyer and discuss the case with them if it is wise or not to come forward. (This may also depend on specific details such as how many students were taking this test earlier.)

Edit: Some people have misunderstood my point so I try to make it clearer: If the student was told that the second exam will have the same questions as the first, my second paragraph applies: Then, they would have implicitely been told not to speak about the exam. In this case, what they did was clearly wrong, period. Then they should come forward and accept the appropriate consequences. On the other hand, if the student was not aware of the exam questions being equal, my third paragraph applies: The student should consult a student union or lawyer. In this case, they did nothing wrong -- how could they possibly figure out the professors lazyness?

  • 4
    In the universities you worked at, are students allowed to use smartphones during the exam? Are they allowed to communicate with other students during the exam? Dec 30 '19 at 15:53
  • @DmitrySavostyanov: of course not. But instructors also do not leave the room during the exam. Since the instructor in question did, I assumed this was after the exam. (I always give the question sheet to my students after the exam and post it on the Internet.)
    – user117834
    Dec 30 '19 at 16:05
  • 2
    This isn't a legitimate interpretation of the event. If the exam was over, then the proctor would have taken the exam, and it wouldn't be available to take a smartphone picture. (Also, the OP's phrase "staff member" indicates this was not the professor, but other staff at the accessibility/disability office.) Dec 30 '19 at 17:33
  • 2
    @user117834 In my University, students with disabilities often take exam 1-on-1 with a proctor, and the proctor technically may have to leave them alone with the test for a few minutes if they urgently need to visit a bathroom for example. Regardless, as OP clearly stated, the student knew that he/she is taking the same test other students are going to take in a few days. Clearly, by offering to take this test earlier, the University put a lot of trust in the student. (In my University, this could be allowed only if the student is due for a surgery.) This trust was sort of betrayed. Dec 30 '19 at 20:06
  • 2
    "ethically in the right"???? Taking a picture of the exam and sending it to the rest of the class before they take the same exam??? What planet are you living on? This is textbook academic misconduct/cheating. Dec 30 '19 at 21:21

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