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I have been helping a fellow student through a class I'm taking this semester - sending him homeworks, helping prepare him for tests, etc. The other day we had our final, which was online, and he asked me if he could pay me to send him the solutions after I turned in my test. (The program immediately gives you the answers when you finish.)

Somehow at the university I go to this is complete commonplace; people are consistently cheating on every test, every assignment, it's totally normal for me to be asked by a classmate I don't even know to help them cheat. Maybe it's something about me that broadcasts to people they aren't at risk of me snitching. I have recently decided I no longer wanted to participate in this, but I have had trouble telling people politely that I won't be helping them.

I have no desire to bring this up to any administration, because it's not a big enough deal to me, but it is a big enough deal that I don't want to be included. I also don't have any desire to moralize to these people, because first of all what do they care, and second of all what do I know. But I do need some help navigating this extreme culture of cheating. Thanks.

Edit: It is clear from the responses that I missed some important context. I have no problem with saying no to people I don't know and don't like, but I am coming from a position of formerly participating in this cheating. Thus it will be easy to misinterpret as self-righteous. "No, and leave me alone" is insufficient because it leaves my acquaintances wondering what changed. Not that I overly care whether they understand my decision, but I don't want them thinking I basically cheat when I need a grade and judge others for doing the same.

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    Ok, this switcharound is harder to achieve. Do not use a judgemental tone, just do not agree to do it. If asked why you stopped cheating yourself, you can argue that you want to test how well you are able to hold your own, without external help. – Captain Emacs May 2 at 22:32
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    Though it fits so the site IMO, but it's the Interpersonal skills SE that focuses more on this kind of questions (i.e. "How to explain to my friends that I won't help them anymore in something shady?"). If you don't get a really good answer here, you may look around there too. – Neinstein May 3 at 8:39
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    Regarding the edit, if there's more nuance to the situation than folks're picking up on, you may have to spell it out. For example, at the end of your edit note, you briefly allude to not wanting your classmates to think that you cheat when convenient for you -- so would it be fair to say that you want to find a way to decline to help them cheat while being clear that you're against cheating rather than rejecting them, personally? Or, more generally, what goals do you have besides simply declining? – Nat May 3 at 9:38
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    "we had our final, which was online ... The program immediately gives you the answers when you finish ... people are consistently cheating on every test, every assignment" Honestly with this assessment setup, it sounds like cheating is actively encouraged. – David258 May 4 at 9:12
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    @com.prehensible: The questioner should absolutely NOT give us his name. – user111388 May 4 at 11:46

13 Answers 13

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I think you can tell them the truth: that the cheating is starting to freak you out; you don't like your current reputation; getting paid for answers is the next step towards being a scumbag with a test-answer internet site; and it feels weird to help someone with a class then have them say "your help wasn't good enough -- help me cheat". You may not even have to fake getting more and more agitated as you say it, which reinforces the freaked out part.

I've often dealt with an honest student talked into sending a friend a copy of their homework "just to look at". Next thing I'm calling 4 people into my office for cheating. After, the original author would ask for advice on avoiding that peer pressure again. I'd tell them to narrate recent events: they already had one heart attack being called in for cheating, and don't need another.

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‘‘No’’ is a complete sentence.

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    This reads more like a comment than an answer. This questioner has a problem with saying no politely and you say "just say no"? Something is missing here, I think. – user111388 May 2 at 18:34
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    Because it is the correct answer - gets a +1 from me! There are so many questions on here like, "how do I tell someone I don't want to wibble?", and the answer is simply to say, "Hey Joe, I don't want to wibble". – Oscar Bravo May 4 at 12:10
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    This discussion has gotten a number of flags, so I am moving it to chat. Please take any further discussion of whether this is an acceptable answer to the chat (note also that the question has been edited since this answer was written). I'll leave these two as representative of the two sides. – cag51 May 4 at 22:23
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It's great that you do not want to do that. You can make a polite "No, unfortunately, I cannot do that." without any further justification, if the simple "No." is too hard for you.

Some people believe there is an unwritten rule that if you help them once, you help them again, and if you continue doing so, you will help them no matter what. There is no such rule, written or unwritten. There is a reason why requests are requests. You are in a position to decline them.

If you do not like to argue, then just leave it at that. Don't give reasons, do not give justifications, just say that you cannot help. Of course, one could justify the decision in that one does not like to cheat etc., but as you say, you do not want to moralise, you do not want to be told that it's all fine, you do not wish to have anything to do with that. Therefore: no justification, just, "Sorry, no."

Most likely, it will not go down completely smoothly if cheating is an accepted part of the culture, but keep in mind, these people are using you, one-sidedly. You do not owe them anything. You are already nice enough to help with revising. Take it in stride. Continue being helpful as long as it is honest and otherwise, do your thing. Uprightness is a long-term attitude, you have to ride out the occasional unpleasantry when it emerges.

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    I agree that offering justification invites argumentation. However, if your school has an honor code or a published academic conduct document, one could cite that. "The honor code says I can't do that, so no." – Bob Brown May 2 at 18:33
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    I'd go for "Sorry, no, I won't do that." - IMHO it avoids the tiny little opening to discussion that cannot leaves... – cbeleites unhappy with SX May 2 at 18:47
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    @BobBrown I do not think this is a good idea. OP makes clear that he wants to leave the common practice which consists of ignoring the honour code (assuming one exists). If they suddenly invoke the code, when ignoring the code is already entrenched in the culture, this will ostracise them unnecessarily. Declining in a non-confrontational low-key way is, in my understanding, closer to what OP is looking for. – Captain Emacs May 2 at 20:27
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    @BobBrown Perhaps I am too European, but a honour code, like law, is only an effective argument if people respect it generally or at least pretend to. Otherwise it will exacerbate OP's position rather than strengthen it. There is no point to appeal to a generally disrespected rule. – Captain Emacs May 3 at 8:23
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    @BobBrown: maybe I am also too European, but the idea that someone's justification of not cheating is a honor code leaves a bad feeling in my stomach. You should cheat or cheat not in this exam because of your consience, honor etc telling so, not because of some code. – user111388 May 3 at 14:55
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The point of a short answer such as "No" is to avoid any opening for debate. However, in this case, it doesn't quite work. The issue is that you have helped in the past, so the argument of "but you've done it before" is implicitly left open. To solve this, simply acknowledge that this is a change from your past in as few words as possible. For example:

No, I don't do that any more, sorry.

This accomplishes the same goal as a simple "No" would in most other situations.

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  • This implies that they have helped students cheat in the past, which doesn't appear to be the case (and could be incriminating in some revenge plot by whomever they were helping study). Helping with homework and prepare for tests is at least arguably studying (even if the course instruction says otherwise or great detail is provided), while directly preparing the answers and passing them to another student to pass an exam without their necessarily having understood the subject steps beyond that ethical debate and is clearly cheating. – ti7 May 5 at 19:44
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The program immediately gives you the answers when you finish.

Inform the administration about this loophole without mentioning your past involvement or your friends' involvement. If they close down this loophole, you can no longer help your friends cheat the exam.

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    Furthermore, if they show the answers to everybody ending the exam, they are actually publishing the answers. Telling everybody a secret and not expect it to be leaked is at best wishful thinking. – Pere May 3 at 14:31
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    The assumption here is that the administration doesn't want this to happen. It's hard to believe all this cheating is happening with nobody knowing. Perhaps they want to inflate scores for some reason. – crobar May 4 at 14:59
  • You can still give your answers just like some did with paper tests in school (however giving out correct answers is a particular stupid thing to do) – eckes May 5 at 4:59
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I understand that this may not be a big deal to you, but it is indeed a big deal for your university. Please read your code of conduct, you may be required to inform the relevant authorities when something like this happens. If you do not have a code of conduct, look for an academic integrity officer, or confide in a professor whom you trust.

These students are cheating themselves out of a learning experience and making your degrees look bad. When the cheaters get out into the Real World (tm) they will not have the skills they need, and this will look bad on the university, and thus make your degree look cheap as well.

Yes, it is easy to cheat, especially during the Covid-19 times. But in academia we trust each other, we don't police. But when someone is caught cheating, then the full force of power should be used to make it clear that this behavior is completely unacceptable.

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    Would you mind explaining what an academic integry officer is? Is this an actual job position or function of a uni's employee? – user111388 May 2 at 22:07
  • Also, while you might be right (depending on the specific sotuation and locale) that this ould be a good idea, ot does not answer the question and is probably better as a comment. – user111388 May 2 at 22:11
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    All of this is true if there is a culture of honesty only occasionally broken by cheaters. However, the culture seems to be defaulting to cheating, so all these appeals are starting from a near-impossible premise. OP needs an individual, personalised solution for their own benefit; and OP does not need to be convinced, they have already taken the decision to be honest, so this response does not help them. – Captain Emacs May 2 at 22:35
  • @user111388 An academic integrity officer is a neutral person appointed at a university as a go-between between students, professors, researchers, or staff who observe academic misconduct and don't know what to do. This person knows the university rules and can help in many problematic situations. Some universities have RIOs, research integrity officers, some larger departments like UCSD: academicintegrity.ucsd.edu – Debora Weber-Wulff May 3 at 23:09
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    Up voted this answer, because it is the only answer that addresses the far more important topic of the culture of cheating than OP's comparatively minor interpersonal issues which arise from it. @Captain Emacs, if someone asked a question like "Fellow classmates are sexually harassing other students and are asking me to join, how can I say no and still have them like me?" would you be saying "OP needs a personalized solution for their own benefit"? Probably not, because sometimes you need to address the bigger issue. – Perry May 5 at 12:07
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As other people have suggested, you could simply say "Sorry, no" or just "No."

An alternative, in case the thought of doing this makes you nervous, is to simply not answer. Not now, not ever. Block him on your phone and on social media, and configure your email software to delete emails from him immediately (so that you'll never see them).

In ordinary circumstances this would be quite rude, but your classmate is attempting to exploit your good will. You have no obligation to him whatsoever, and you are free to decide that engaging with him is not worth even a minimal effort.

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    Hm. In principle ignoring could be fine, but you might see them in your classes, later business life etc again. I think it's quite rude and the student will not neccessarily understand your point and therefore be not in the best mood against you (when you might need something later or when talking about you). – user111388 May 2 at 19:20
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    @user111388 I agree, OP already seems nervous about the situation and chances are, this will lead to much more awkwardness than just outright refusing. Also, this could be interpreted as a weakness to exploit by the cheating student who could then apply more pressure in an attempt to make OP yield. Some people have a shark mindset and can smell blood from a mile away. The best thing here is probably for the OP to work on assertiveness. – Evariste May 2 at 19:30
  • I agree that "Sorry, no" is the best answer if OP can muster it. – academic May 2 at 20:25
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    @user111388 Personally, if I ran into a cheater later in classes or business life, I would make a pointed effort to avoid them. I agree that my advice is bad in the case that OP wants to preserve a relationship with this person, or does not anticipate being able to avoid them. – academic May 2 at 23:53
  • @academic: Sure, you would like to avoid them -- but this may not be possible. Most people prefer an honest "no" to being ghosted. And remember that there might be more to this person than being a cheater -- many "cheaters" I knew in my student and instructor life cheated in one subject where they knew they never want to use it again in their lifes (or where there were stupid questions: one examinator asked for the anectotes he told to punish students who were (rightfully) absent in class) and were honest in the rest. This would not be a reason for me to try to avoid them. – user111388 May 3 at 8:31
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I think the concern in this question stems from not wanting to appear to be the bad guy, even though what you are doing -- not participating in cheating -- is a good thing and you shouldn't feel bad about it. You have a relationship and you want to preserve the friendly aspect of it while still saying no.

I totally understand this desire, but it can get you in a lot of trouble. Once you decide to do something, some people are not going to like it, and there's a risk they will not like you because of it. That's a risk a mature person has to be willing to take once they've made a decision about something. Make your choice and accept the consequences. Politely say no, and resolve up-front that you will be OK if your relationship with your associate ends. You're not going to be rude. You're just saying no.

If your associate goes away mad, believe me, you've lost nothing. One less manipulative person in your life is actually a favor to you. Good luck!

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If you feel that you need to say more than just the "No" that has already been suggested, then I would recommend just telling them the truth. Tell them that you know you cheated in the past, but you've realized that what you were doing is wrong and you've decided to no longer participate in it, either in receiving or providing dishonest assistance. And, of course, stick to that.

If your friends don't accept that explanation, that's their problem, not yours. Maybe you'll have a positive impact on them and they'll reconsider their own cheating going forward. Or maybe they'll just wonder what your problem is and continue with their cheating. Maybe some mix of those. Either way, once you've decided you're no longer going to participate in it and have told them that, how they react is their problem, not yours.

You can only decide your own actions, not the reactions to them from others.

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I wonder if you could express surprise at being asked. And then shake your head laughingly, letting him know that no reasonable person in his right mind would have the nerve to even approach you with a request for all, or any, of the answers when you've been working hard to pass that test legitimately and help him learn the material and pass the test legitimately, too. Maybe then you could shake off the question with something like, "I thought you were serious for a second there and we were going to have a problem."

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    They have the nerve because the OP has previously helped them cheat. OP also doesn't want to moralize or be self-righteous. Remember the old TV Ads about how you could pass a joint without taking a hit? They're looking for something like that, but for cheating. – Owen Reynolds May 3 at 5:16
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    Yes, I see what you mean. I was trying to come up with a way to use humor, to sort of brush off the request, but I think I failed. Looking back, I can see that my idea here comes across as self-righteous, not humorous, and self-righteousness was something clearly mentioned as wanting to be avoided. – Jamie Watts May 3 at 15:30
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"No, and leave me alone" is insufficient because it leaves my acquaintances wondering what changed.

I don't think you should leave them wondering. I think you should tell them that you have learned that a serious investigation has been instigated by the school, and you are terrified that you will all be caught and probably expelled. This will have an immediate chilling effect on the rampant cheating, and will position you to preach against cheating in the future.

Do you question the morality of lying to your friends? Well, (1) you don't have a moral leg to stand on, and (2) they are not really your friends.

If you didn't have the moral stamina to resist cheating, then you don't have the moral authority to feel squeamish about lying. It's too late now to say you won't do either one.

And, friends are people you know and respect, who want to help you make your life better. Friends are not people who invite you to risk expulsion with a shredded reputation, while simultaneously diluting your grades and eroding the reputation of your school.

I am coming from a position of formerly participating in this cheating.

Peer pressure has led you to your current situation, but you don't really owe those peers anything. However, for your own comfort and peace of mind, you should (as you have intuited) not present them with a complete surprise. The lie takes care of that.

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    Downvoted. Let's read the question again: "I"m uncomfortable continuing to be dishonest, but I'm also uncomfortable confronting people; what do I do?" Your response "Lie to them" totally misses the point of the question. Accusing OP of weakness is also unnecessarily insulting. Even you think it's true, saying so is no helpful. – JeffE May 3 at 21:06
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    @JeffE: OP did not say that he was uncomfortable continuing to be dishonest. OP said he was uncomfortable continuing to abet and assist cheating. – A. I. Breveleri May 4 at 15:47
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    You say potato, I say potato. – JeffE May 6 at 18:21
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If you want to prevent bullying and keep your reputation, you could just lie and say you're struggling or really dumb and so you're not the best to cheat off of. Otherwise if it's something like just getting a sheet of answers just say you don't have it yet yourself. You could also be honest and say you've worked hard on it so find his own. But I think in your situation lying could be best.

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Ethics aside, inform them directly of how this may negatively affect you and them.

You do not wish to send them the answers to your test because it may be traced back to you, causing you both to fail the course. No excuse of theirs will sway you.


Back to ethics, if there is rampant cheating, simply informing the school brass of it and dusting your hands is probably not sufficient and likely lead to the failure of legitimate students.

If rampant cheating goes on, courses often evolve cryptic examinations which are only solvable via dubiously-ethical methods, such as

  • testing advanced topics not covered in the course (everyone appears to understand them because they are wrote copying well done on a great course, Professor)
  • must have a copy of last year's test (see above bullet point)
  • textbook has wrong answers which the professor treats as canon, and no amount of arguing will sway them

The existence of such a system, while it at first seems tragic (and is), is really another learning opportunity provided by Universities.

  • people cheat, some cheat until they lose, and often they lose very hard
  • sometimes a system can only be defeated by discussing the subject amongst your entire undergraduate class
  • some courses teach nothing, but provide a wide swathe of peers to learn from

Consider working with a neutral member of the college to review the problems you've noticed once the semester is over, such as pieces of technology revealing the exam answers. Ideally this will also help retroactively correct the grades of students who did poorly in subjects because they were not part of team cheat (it has been discovered by review that course X had an unfair exam which covered subjects beyond the provided material..).

Justice is desperately important, but it comes in many flavors.

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