I am enrolled in an upper level STEM class.

My teacher has recently announced that we have a "downloadable" midterm. The midterm is not officially timed, and we have a week to submit it, and there is no way the teacher can track how much time we have used. Now, in class and in a clarification request, it was stated that we have a total time to "work on it" for 3 hours tops, even though we can "look at it" for longer.

I have no clue how to deal with this. A good number of my (normally obsessive/honor code) friends have already told me that they will use more time than what is officially allowed to work on the exam. Based on the sample I've conducted with the people in my year in the class, I would say its highly likely at least 50% are planning on using more time than allowed.

Ngl [not going to lie], I've had to deal with "other people using more than they should be" for at least two of my classes (all of which are online) this semester and I don't want to deal with it in a third. I'm frustrated.

Is there anything I can do?

Solutions I consider:

  1. Students protesting — I don't think anyone is being obsessive about this mess apart from me.

  2. Confronting the teacher myself — for one thing, I'm not sure if I am liked by this person (LOL) but I'm guessing if I say "yo there are students planning on cheating", this person will simply send out an email stating "don't cheat" to the class.


  1. The people in the class of my year already know about all this mess of a situation because I discussed the strange rules in our group chat, so I suspect if the professor sends out an email I can be immediately linked as "the person who prompted the kerfuffle". also I'll be known as the rat. I don't care too much about my reputation, but nonetheless this isn't super pleasant. I probably shouldn't have done this, I see now that it is kind of coming back to bite.

  2. Certain details have been changed or obfuscated to avoid identification.

  3. I'm estimating likelihood of cheating based on an informal "poll" I gave in a high-effort group chat; to get a picture of this group, its a bunch of overachieving underclassmen who I don't think would ever cheat in normal circumstances. I have evidence of intention to cheat, I am not willing to submit it to my teacher.

  4. What I would hope from my teacher would be that the "time cap" of 3 hours would be removed; this obviously is going to get violated anyway.

  5. I specifically asked the professor whether we "must not" spend more than 3 hours on the test; he confirmed that 3 hours is a hard limit.

  6. The class is graded on a curve.

What I'm probably gonna do:

I don't think I should contact the professor directly, mostly because I think this person doesn't like me that much. I think my solution is just going to be to email this person anonymously and express that I have concretely seen evidence of people intending to cheat, though I'm not ratting out any fellow students, and I'll request that the time limit is lifted.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – cag51
    Commented Oct 27, 2020 at 16:39
  • 1
    The biggest problem is the grading-on-a-curve. Commented Mar 20, 2022 at 21:51

5 Answers 5


You’re in an unenviable position and I don’t have clear suggestions how to proceed. But at the very least, it’s worth calling attention to the fact that

  1. your instructor is neglecting their duty to maintain an acceptable level of academic integrity, and

  2. this may rise to the level of being more than just a “feeling” but an actual violation of university policy.

For example, at my university, our guidelines about faculty responsibilities in connection with academic honesty state (emphasis mine):

Academic honesty is an integral part of the University's educational mission. According to the UC Davis Code of Academic Conduct, all members of the academic community are responsible for the academic integrity of the UC Davis campus.


Faculty are encouraged to promote an atmosphere of honesty in the classroom. For example.


  • Use exam and assignment formats that discourage academic misconduct.

Now, to be clear, I’m not suggesting that this is grounds for an official complaint or to ask for the instructor to be punished or anything like that. But the point is, if and when you choose to complain either to the instructor or to other campus authorities (department chair, office of academic integrity etc), citing relevant university guidelines or policies can be a good way of strengthening your case and reminding people that academic honesty is a two-way street in which both students and teachers have responsibilities. When the teachers are neglecting their own responsibiltiies by creating such obvious opportunities for a “thought crime” form of cheating that cannot possibly be detected, they can’t very well expect students to fulfill their side of the bargain.

Good luck! Sorry you have to deal with this nonsense.

  • 2
    I think this is completely valid provided that the situation really is one where grading has competitive elements. But if the instructor's attitude is that I will provide you a grade based on your own work, rather than I'm grading the class as a whole, then the issues disappear. If you can get full marks in three hours independent of anything anyone else does, then I don't see much of an issue. The worst part, then, is just causing anxiety.
    – Buffy
    Commented Oct 26, 2020 at 20:40
  • 1
    Poignant and to the point. +1 Commented Oct 26, 2020 at 21:27
  • 1
    Thank you for your suggestions. Frankly though, I don't think this will work; my professor I think will likely see any email saying "this is kind of encouraging academic misconduct" as an affront... and I think this person already dislikes me. Though I'm likely being pessimistic.
    – user131015
    Commented Oct 26, 2020 at 23:17
  • 1
    your instructor is neglecting their duty to maintain an acceptable level of academic integrity - I think this depends on the school/situation. Some universities want professors to trust their students and not even proctor exams during normal times. During the pandemic, a lot of confusing guidelines are being passed down to faculty and at the end of last semester I think I was discouraged from proctoring online exams.
    – Kimball
    Commented Oct 27, 2020 at 3:31
  • 7
    @Kimball there is a difference between not proctoring a home exam and giving the instructions that OP’s professor did. The former makes cheating possible. The latter makes cheating undetectable and lowers any mental effort associated with such cheating to zero. It’s like the difference between a bank not turning on their alarm system on the weekend, compared to leaving all the doors and safes wide open and putting a big sign in front saying “come in and help yourself”.
    – Dan Romik
    Commented Oct 27, 2020 at 6:28

I would consider the possibility that your professor phrased the rules more strict than they intented to. That is the 3 hours are a recommendation and they would not consider it cheating if students where to take much longer. It is also possible that the professor just didn't think about this too much beforehand and if you point out the mess they will just retreat to this recommendation because it makes life much easier for them. I don't know whether this covers your situation but consider that this is how it could play out.


I recommend you comply with the exam instructions yourself, and inform your professor that others intend to bypass the instructions (you can report this anonymously if you wish). With regard to the first piece of advice, university is a good time to develop good character by learning to avoid doing things that are unethical, even in situations where you are incentivised to do so. This is more important than getting a few extra point on an exam and it will pay dividends in your life. With regard to the second piece of advice, it is good feedback for your lecturer to know that their examination process is flawed, and that it is unfair for students who comply with the exam instructions. You can let your lecturer know that you are aware of other students who have said that they intend to take additional unreported time on the exam. (Feel free to report this anonymously if you wish, and/or to omit the names of the students in question; the important thing here is feedback on the process, not reporting of students intending to cheat that process.)


Most of my graduate exams were take home and pretty much everyone talked to each other. I mean even the professor knew it was going to happen.

Exams were basically there to force you to keep up with the course, projects had as much or more grade.

  • 2
    Not sure how the second paragraph is relevant here, as there is no mention of the weight given to the exam in the question. And overall, are you recommending doing nothing and ignoring the time limit? If so, maybe that could be made clearer.
    – GoodDeeds
    Commented Oct 26, 2020 at 23:57
  • 2
    Yes, ignore it. Commented Oct 27, 2020 at 0:19

I would presume the teacher took this course of action because they know the exam will take less than three hours. Probably the there is no benefit to spending more than three hours on it. In my experience, students who take the longest to complete an exam are not doing anything to improve their grades during the later part of the exam.

What should you do? You should follow your honor code (we do not know what it says), just as with any other exam. If you are required to report other people telling you they will cheat, report it. Otherwise, spend your time studying.

  • 2
    If there is “no benefit” to spending more than three hours on the exam, why is the teacher going to the trouble of forbidding it?
    – Dan Romik
    Commented Oct 26, 2020 at 21:52
  • 1
    This does not sound like a situation where a lot of thought was put into it. Commented Oct 26, 2020 at 21:58
  • 2
    I agree that laziness and/or thoughtlessness are the likely reasons for the prof’s behavior. My point is that there clearly is a large potential advantage to thinking about an exam for a whole week as compared to three hours. So I disagree with the reasoning of your answer. OP is correct to complain, and you’re incorrect to dismiss their concerns.
    – Dan Romik
    Commented Oct 26, 2020 at 22:38
  • 1
    Of course that's hypocritical as I am posting on Stack Exchange. Commented Oct 26, 2020 at 23:02
  • 1
    @AnonymousPhysicist ??? I am not asking for my professor to proctor, I am asking for this person to remove the 3 hour cap; its obviously silly at this point.
    – user131015
    Commented Oct 26, 2020 at 23:05

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