Context: A friend of mine is ending their first year in a community college (in France, called IUT, 2-year diploma) near my school, and apparently the school administration is quite lenient about cheating during exams ; I asked a few other friends of mine that are currently in second year there, and they have confirmed that nearly everybody cheats during exams, mostly because the questions don't change from one year to the other, allowing students to get the exams in advance and preparing for the questions. An important part of the exams are Moodle quizzes, which show the correct answers after submitting, and don't get modified from year to year either.

Problem: My friend does not want to cheat, for obvious reasons. The problem is that the way this kind of college works (in France) puts students in competition with each other ; your ranking among the other students is very important and is a determinant factor in your chances of being accepted in engineering schools after your second year (which is what most people in that community college do).

Multiple people have already tried reporting the cheating to professors and the college's administration, to no avail. Most professors don't seem to care, and the few that say they do care about cheating never act upon it. This results in mediocre (excuse the harsh term) students having an unfair advantage over good students trying to keep their integrity. This whole situation, combined with the Sars-Cov-2 lockdown has had quite a toll on her mental health.

My stance is to never cheat, but I'm having more and more trouble telling her to stay strong and do the same. It's gotten to the point that not cheating can have a significant negative impact on her future, and I couldn't help but feel responsible if she were to fail her year because of other people's dishonesty.

What is the best behavior to adopt here?

  • "Nearly everybody cheats" - does it mean that cheaters are left alone or that only a random small sample is caught at the end of the exams? Because otherwise, it's pretty risky to cheat. May 4, 2020 at 6:11
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    @Captain Emacs I haven't heard of anyone getting caught cheating in the last few years, again, the professors do not care and there has been cases of students getting caught red handed without consequences
    – zdimension
    May 4, 2020 at 12:56
  • Studying old exams is not cheating. In the United States, every fraternity and sorority has a file of old exams. It's up to the professor to vary the questions, and besides, one might learn something by studying old exams. (Having pictures of old exams with answers on one's phone and viewing them during an exam is cheating.)
    – Bob Brown
    Dec 26, 2020 at 3:04
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    @Bob Brown I agree, in my school professors gave us old exams to help us study, but in this particular school almost all professors never change their questions between years so they consider having access to old exams to be cheating, and that's what everybody's doing, though lots of students are also really cheating by having copies of exams with answers during the real exams
    – zdimension
    Dec 26, 2020 at 12:28

4 Answers 4


Unfortunately, in this kind of situation, it might be best for your friend to look around for a different educational institution. It is all very well to say "just stay strong and don't cheat", and of course she definitely should not cheat, but it is still demoralising to work in an environment that systematically incentivises bad behaviour and punishes good behaviour. Particularly given that her relative standing and future opportunities are being harmed by being compared to a substantial number of students who cheat, it would be good to look around for other places she can go.

Now, if there is no escape from this school (i.e., if your friend has no opportunity to go somewhere else) then I would suggest she try to set herself apart from the other students by doing some kind of extra-curricular project that cannot be faked. If she can use her coursework knowledge to create some valuable project that she can exhibit to show her skills (e.g., writing a good paper on a topic, building a working go-cart, creating a diorama of how a smelting plant works, etc.) then she will have something to show recruiters for later schools so that she can demonstrate her knowledge and ability.


Is the school in some way accredited? In addition to informing the ethics board (if one exists) at the local institution, it might be wise to inform the accreditation agency. University administrations become quite attentive when accreditation agencys breathe down their necks....


Don't do it. Do what you are told to do and nothing less. See my one and only question if you would like more clarification on why.

I did something I am not proud of, and was rightly accused of cheating by the instructor. What is next for me?

  • Funnily (?) enough, it was while reading your question that I thought about posting mine. Although here, the situation is a bit different, as u said, it's considered normal to cheat to the point that not cheating can have a negative impact on your scholarship. My stance is to never cheat, but I'm having more and more trouble telling her to stay strong and do the same.
    – zdimension
    May 4, 2020 at 1:15
  • Hah, seems I do have an effect on others. Maybe you need to give this person the link to that article. If that won't scare them away from it, don't pursue it any more. You don't want to be caught along with them if they do cheat, and you should not let it affect your relationship or your own work. Just do your own work and stay true, if they want to take the risk, let them. May 4, 2020 at 1:28

Unfortunately, with the COVID-19 pandemic and the shift to online/virtual learning mediums, it is much harder to determine when people are cheating or create exams that are fair and reliably determine students aptitude without going overboard as to enforcing the rules. I definitely agree with you that ideally, students should be helping, rather than competing, with each other.

The way I see it, you have two options:

  1. Become a part of the pack and cheat for the grades. Obviously, this is very morally wrong, but as they say, life isn't fair and there will be times where you have to step over others to get where you need to go. This will carry risks that you do get into trouble though if you're unlucky enough, so I wouldn't follow this approach.
  2. Do things the right way and take a slight hit in terms of grades. Again, there will be consequences to this, but in my opinion, at least in the US, your grades are just a number/letter and it is more about what you know rather than how high you can get a number ranking. Even if your grades are lower, you will feel like you earned those grades and be able to better assess yourself as to what you know.

I don't know how things work over where you/your friend lives, but you should definitely do what is best for yourself. In this case, I'd stay towards doing the right thing and putting your best and most honest effort forward. This will put you/your friend in a better position over the others who do cheat in the long term.

Best of luck and stay safe during these unprecedented times.

  • 2
    This is France. Relative grades means not just a "slight hit", especially for the top schools and for possibly a coveted career as a civil servant. They will have to leave the country for the grades "just to be a number/letter". This should be added to the answer. Again, I can only with difficulty surpress my ire with a system that so blatantly encourages cheating. But OP needs to understand what they are in for with the present response. May 4, 2020 at 6:09
  • Again, I apologize if I misunderstood, and am not sure if this would be more related to undergrad admissions in the US rather than graduate admissions. Regardless, I have been through similar situations even in the US. I agree that this type of situation isn't right, but as they say, life isn't fair, and you'll have to evaluate your situation and do what you have to do to get where you want to go depending on what consequences you're willing to take.
    – Daveguy
    May 5, 2020 at 18:05

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