Over the past 3 months due to Covid-19, many of my peers have pinged me during exams asking me for answers to questions. I, of course, turn them down (albeit after I'm done with the exam so even if I sent it they wouldn't gain much due to the limited time left). I am usually at the top of my class, so I don't suspect that they ask many more people after me. So far, I've only reported cheating that I knew is actively taking place.

Should I also be reporting this type of prospective cheating where the other student doesn't actually receive any benefit? It feels wrong to me to punish those that gained no benefit, yet a friend I was causally talking to said that these people should be reported too.

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    Depends of course on your school’s requirements. The honor code at my undergraduate institution required reporting such requests.
    – Jon Custer
    Apr 27, 2020 at 18:19
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    What does your honour code say? To be honest, they shouldn't put you in this situation. Probably least bad of all bad solutions is to warn them that you are expected to report them, lest you become accessory to cheating (and will be punished, too) and next time, you will. What I do not understand, though, how come they have a mobile device with them in the exam? Is that permitted? Apr 27, 2020 at 18:21
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    @CaptainEmacs No, of course it is not permitted, but they are taking advantage of the Covid-19 situation.
    – user760900
    Apr 27, 2020 at 18:21
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    It would be good if the professors know how easy it is to cheat so that they can provide better procedures. And I don't mean more restrictive procedures, actually.
    – Buffy
    Apr 27, 2020 at 18:22
  • @Buffy I doubt they don't know how easy it is to cheat, but I feel morally in the grey if I were to report people asking for help if they don't receive any, despite what the university guidelines may say.
    – user760900
    Apr 27, 2020 at 20:14

3 Answers 3


If you are bound by an honor code, you should respect it as always. Some require reporting attempts at cheating.

Otherwise, I'd suggest that you just tell the prof that you know it is being done without naming names. Complain that if there are any competitive aspects to grading (curve...) then you are being disadvantaged by a system you can't control. Such systems don't fairly evaluate your competence in the subject and you have a right to that.

Unfortunately, some such systems just assume that everyone is honest. It is a poor assumption if the performance of one can affect the outcomes of another. But if you get the grade you have earned then it may not affect you if others get a grade they did not.

Other systems assume that everyone will cheat and try to set up technological or other means to carefully watch and monitor every action. This might actually have the perverse effect of increasing the amount of cheating. Prisoners of war, for example, seldom willingly follow the rules set down, finding them pernicious. It creates a destructive environment in any case. I find these systems to be the worst, since students can be "caught" and accused of cheating when they were not. Other questions on this site attest to this problem.

But, if the system is to improve, students and others need to point out its flaws. You don't need to accuse anyone to do so, however, except in extreme cases or in case of an honor code that you have agreed to.

And good luck. Life should be a bit fairer than it is.


These students are attempting to cheat. “Prospective” is not the right word here. They have already crossed the line from just contemplating cheating to actually doing something. The fact that they derived no benefit (as far as you know, that is), while perhaps relevant to the significance of the offense and the punishment they might receive, does not change that fact. It’s clear misconduct and not at all morally grey.

To put it differently: if you saw someone attempt to rob a bank but fail, would you think you needed to report it? If you saw someone attempt to kill another person but be foiled by a lack of assistance from someone they turned to for help, would you report it? Etc.


Just to inform you that there is another perspective...

If you can "cheat" in an exam, then the examination itself may be flawed. I remember open book exams, take-home exams during my undergrad studies that even if someone "cheated", they had to learn at least something during that.

I consider that approach lazy at best.

I have no idea about US culture (and THAT level of competition) but my view on cheating is:

What would happen if some are cheating? Did they learn anything? If yes, that can even be considered "group study" by some stretch. Do you think you learn anything significant in undergrad? Whole undergrad can be covered in a year of M.Sc.

Will they really have a competitive advantage over you? Assuming they did not learn anything, you have the advantage. You know, they don't. Build upon that. Instead of losing your time asking this question, reading answers, you could have learnt a couple of things already. See the big picture, try to reach higher, read some papers or books.

I wouldn't care if a student A had higher grades than student B. I would choose B with lower grades if they have read a bunch of articles, have some questions about them and can think of novel ways even if naive.

Do whatever your code of conduct or whatnot says to be a "good citizen". Study further instead of pondering over petty details to be a "good scientist". Yes you can be both, too. I am not that interested in former though, I just care about my studies.. People are people.

I am not saying you should close your eyes to unjust. I am just saying that what you see as unjust is just a kid stealing another one's toy in a playground. Yes it technically is unjust but...

My best advice would be to go as much as forward you can so that world's best cheater can't reach you. Find your passion.

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