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Since the exams this year for college is online, there is a timer. Usually, when I start an exam I click a random answer choice or what I think is right at that moment. Once I finish most of it, I go back to look it over.

I got accused of cheating since I answered the questions in 15 mins, and the system recorded that automatically once clicked, instead of recording the time of completing the whole set of questions.

When reviewing my answers after the 15 minutes, I realized I guessed correctly and there was no need to pick another answer. But I got accused since I finished so fast and so accurately.

We were allowed to use cheat sheets with equations and info, allowing me to finish so fast, so I do not understand why I am being accused. And some of the questions were similar to the homework which helped even more. So how do I prove that I did not cheat. It took me an hour and 9 mins to take the exam.

The only information that they kept repeating over and over again was the timing. I clearly stated that I did not look up anything and I had other tests to take the same day. i went over the review powerpoint which had very similar questions to the test once I started taking it. They flagged my test when they were looking for people that posted it on chegg.

There was no other allegation made besides the timing and I have all the proof that I did not cheat. The person telling me the allegation did not give me the chance to clearly defend my self.

Please help me prove that I am not cheating.

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    To the close voter(s). I think that this problem is now general enough and serious enough that "personal factors" doesn't really apply anymore. The details may be personal, but we need systemic solutions. – Buffy Nov 16 at 20:26
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    What do they say when you say "I didn't cheat. I didn't do anything that wasn't allowed, and as a consequence I wasn't caught doing any such thing. All that happened is that the system picked up something unusual, which I can easily explain. There is no proof that I cheated (and there cannot be such proof as I didn't), so please drop that accusation"? – Lewian Nov 16 at 23:44
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    This question is very light on important details. How were you accused of cheating? Did the online exam environment say something to that effect? Did you get an email from your professor? From someone else? A phone call? What exactly was the message? etc. This matters a lot going forward. – marcelm Nov 17 at 12:46
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    The answers will depend on the standards that define how accusations are to be made in your country. What course of action you have in the US will not necessarily be appropriate in other countries. Where are you located? Finally and most importantly, are you presenting ALL aspects of your case honestly? – Jeffrey J Weimer Nov 17 at 23:09
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    Please don’t write answers in comments. It bypasses our quality measures by not having voting (both up and down) available on comments, as well as having other problems detailed on meta. Comments are for clarifying and improving the question; please don’t use them for other purposes. Existing answers in comments and other extended discussion has been moved to chat. – cag51 Nov 19 at 7:13

10 Answers 10

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Unfortunately you can't prove a negative. You have been "caught" by a system that is insufficiently accurate to properly evaluate your actions (and those of many others).

All you can really do is insist (and keep insisting) to your professor that you didn't cheat and explain how you actually acted. If you don't get satisfaction then escalate the issue to higher authorities.

And keep insisting. People have an obligation to be fair.

A recent article in the Washington Post explores how badly online testing systems are performing. While the article focuses on fully automated systems, the problem is much wider, even when human "proctors" are used in conjunction with webcams. In my view the real problem is in trying to apply solutions from a different era into the current pandemic/online situation. Those solutions no longer work and the workarounds are badly failing. They make assumptions that are not valid given the range of normal human actions.

Any cheating detection system, automated or not, needs to have the property that it produces zero false positives. The meeting is part of that system and should assure that you aren't accused wrongfully. But it isn't well understood that a system permitting no false positives will almost invariably produce some false negatives. But the consequences of error in a cheating detection system are so asymmetrical that such a rule is required.


Artificial Intelligence is certainly artificial but it is definitely not intelligent.


Note that I hesitated to edit this after so many votes had been cast, not wanting to invalidate decisions made already by users. The advice remains the same. Insist that you didn't cheat and stick with it.

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    Proving that you "didn't do something" is what I mean. – Buffy Nov 16 at 20:59
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    -1 The linked Washington Post article is a red herring: it's about third-party video surveillance systems, but no such system is being described as used by the OP. In comments the OP says they're on Blackboard which does not have any such feature for surveillance or flagging suspicious activity. It does happen to record time that questions and tests are submitted; the instructor took initiative to manually make use of that data. No part of the OP's story is asserting any attempted use of AI; that's a complete distraction in this answer. – Daniel R. Collins Nov 17 at 18:11
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    @Buffy: "A machine judged that the OP cheated." This is absolutely false, to the point of malicious misinformation. I am deeply experienced with Blackboard, and no such machine judgement exists in the system, nor ever has. The story here is purely a manual decision by the human instructor. – Daniel R. Collins Nov 17 at 21:12
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    @Buffy: None of that. Blackboard logs access and submission times to all works. Assignments, tests, questions, accessing videos, what have you. The instructor has made a proactive choice to manually look at those time logs and make inferences from them. It's one click away from any test submission if one wishes to view them. – Daniel R. Collins Nov 17 at 21:24
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    It's not that "these systems no longer work". They never worked. They were adopted as a cost-cutting measure. Now there are additional reasons for using them, and they're still trash, but now they hurt more people to a greater extent. There isn't some new, better alternative that isn't utter trash. – hobbs Nov 18 at 3:06
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A simple solution would be to demonstrate the flaw in the system to the professor by recreating the scenario in which you were accused of cheating.

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    This. The main problem here is that the university administration believes that the online system records the time it takes for a student to complete the exam, and it simply does not do that. – A. I. Breveleri Nov 17 at 15:57
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    And I would definitely downplay the "random guessing". I really hope you didn't already tell the administration that. It's really difficult to believe that all the questions you guessed on just happened to be correct the first time, especially in an college exam involving equations (or any exam involving equations). It's a little bit more believable if you only ever picked the answer you initially thought was correct. – DKNguyen Nov 17 at 23:29
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    @DKNguyen Yes, I assumed OP really meant something more like "educated guessing." – Kevin Arlin Nov 18 at 0:12
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    Reproduce the things you did to demonstrate the facts. Note that if the OP was online and logged in to a system, there should be records on servers that show that that (and as it's an exam, the institution should still have them). If the OP was logged in much longer than they timing system claims it took, then it backs up the OP's claim. – StephenG Nov 19 at 6:58
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    @DKNguyen Actually, it does increase the probability of the random guesses all being correct, by decreasing the number of random guesses. Also, none of the guesses are truly random. Or at least, they shouldn’t be, assuming the student actually knows the material. – Brian Drake Nov 19 at 14:32
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When questioning or complaining about a decision, it is best to offer a solution.

All correspondence should now be in writing (or at least email) so that you have a record of anything said and any accusations made. People will be cautious of accusing you of anything in writing. If things go badly, you can copy your emails to a senior person and be open about that.

Never say anything in anger and never accuse or criticise. Simply state the facts in a dispassionate way.

For example

You could offer in writing to take a similar test whilst being observed.

It is unlikely that you will be taken up on this but the fact that you have offered will make them think twice.

If there is any disciplinary action, you can then point out that you were willing to demonstrate your strategy and your ability. Of course you have to make sure that the new test is not made especially hard, so specify "at the same level of difficulty".


Important

Never act in the heat of the moment. Take your time, stay polite but be insistent. Do not give up.


Example email

Dear X

With regard to our conversation about possible cheating.

I note that the automated timing system may have indicated something unusual. My exam strategy is to hurry through all the questions and then return to check my answers. In this case the initial stage took me about 15 minutes and the checking stage took a further x minutes. I checked thoroughly but did not need to correct any answers.

If there is any doubt at all of my skills or ability I will be willing to take a further such test (at the same level) under supervision

I am willing to take such a test online or manually with an observer present.

Nan

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    Note I have added a sample email. Use your own words and check the content carefully before sending. I take no responsibility for the result - I'm just saying what I would do. – chasly - supports Monica Nov 17 at 10:19
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    I don't have much experience in this, but is it really necessary to offer to take an additional test? OP did the exam like everybody else. If the universities policing strategies are not effective, why should it be the students' problem? They really cannot prove OP was cheating, it looks like they can be at best suspicious, not sure. Taking another exam on these ground is not only a great source of stress, it's unfair on many levels. – user2723984 Nov 17 at 11:54
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    @user2723984 - There is a very good reason. If this escalates, the OP has shown willing to provide a way out. Merely having a "he said, she said" argument causes bitterness and resolves nothing. The only argument that actually proves the competence of the student is another test. The test is unlikely to take place but the offer puts the student in a very strong position. The reply to any question by the opposition is, "Fine, Let's have another test!" The offer to prove oneself takes away a cloud of suspicion that would otherwise hang over the student for the rest of their studies. – chasly - supports Monica Nov 17 at 12:11
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    I see your argument, however doesn't this amount to an admission that something may have gone wrong with the initial assessment? I think it somehow implicitly states that the university is right to trust this system and if the system says "cheat" then at least a re-test should be done. I wouldn't be inclined to grant them this. – Lewian Nov 17 at 12:34
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    I don't buy that the student has to prove their innocence if there's actually no evidence at all of their guilt. (What was presented in the question surely doesn't constitute evidence of guilt in any credible sense.) Apart from this a re-test doesn't prove innocence. Just because you pass a re-test doesn't imply you haven't cheated in the initial one. – Lewian Nov 17 at 12:46
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The problem is, from experience, that explanation sounds fake -- what someone caught cheating makes-up. An explanation of the weirdness and an acknowledgement about how weird it is might do some good. Instructors don't always know how on-line tests work, so pointing out the format and problems types and how your process isn't completely crazy might help:

  • Many on-line tests don't allow you to go back and change. Checking one at random and assuming you can change it later is very, very, very odd. If you've been using this test format for a while and it's well known the system is "change any time, submit when done", that might make it seem less weird.

  • Guessing an answer and moving onto the next Q is a terrible way to work. So terrible it seems like no one would do it. I mean, you need to do some work to have a decent guess, why not do a little more work right then to get a real answer? Explain the details. Maybe in one Q you picked "B) using Hanson's method" because most titration's use it, and obviously reading the details would take a while and the tests don't have lots of extra time. Or is it a look-up thing? You thought you remembered Whistler was a member of the Surrealists, checked A), then came back and looked it up in your messy notes -- sure enough, Surrealist.

  • 15 minutes? How many Q's? 30? Explain how a Q can be read in 30 seconds and an educated guess made. Pick out 1 or 2 (again, instructors may be doing their best with pre-set quizes they haven't had a great chance to look over).

  • Explain what "random or guess" means. Under a "best guess using 2 minutes" process, it makes much more sense to leave it blank if you have no idea. When you come back, it's a reminder. Sure a random guess is standard, but only at the end of the test. What's the reasoning behind random answers right away?

  • You wrote than you usually do this. If your last quiz was also answered in 15 minutes, but then you changed answers over the next hour, that proves you work this way. If they can't get records of your last quiz, then just how good is this anti-cheat software anyway?

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    It's a common time management strategy. – industry7 Nov 17 at 20:54
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    The online tests which don't allow to go back and change are stupid for a serious exam. I haven't seen any and I do hope they are not so common as you believe. (Also, all such "tests" I have seen make it very clear that you can't go back - you have to not only do the multiple choice, but also click on an "okay" button.) If I had an exam with 50 questions on one page with radio buttons I would as OP assume one can change the answers later. – user111388 Nov 17 at 22:41
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    @NoahSynder: I had such a test (multiple choice linguistics exam, questions were mostly about definitions "The following is an example of which concept?"). Went through the exam (written, not online) and chose my first feeling for every answer I could easily answer. Then I looked through them in more detail and then to the harder questions (maybe 5 percent). What OP describes sounds similar to what I did. – user111388 Nov 17 at 22:45
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    Personally, if I was told that some questions were guessed random and they all happened to be correct the first time, I would be suspicious. Much less so if the OP only said they just pick the answer that initially seems correct. Also depends on the nature of the test and subject itself. The fact that this test had things like equations doesn't help since that decreases the probability of questions with answers that can initially look correct. – DKNguyen Nov 17 at 23:20
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    "Explain how a Q can be read in 30 seconds and an educated guess made." There are are often good strategies for selecting the right answer to (poor quality) multiple choice questions which don't involve working out the correct answer for yourself. All you have to do is identify the wrong answers as being "obviously wrong" for some reason. – alephzero Nov 18 at 10:57
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Following on what Buffy said, AI is only as smart as its designer, really. If the designer makes an AI look at a feature that is ultimately useless, then no matter how well the AI is designed it will still perform poorly.

As an additional comment since I think Buffy answered the other parts of your problem sufficiently. I suggest putting the burden of proof on them. If they cannot prove that you WERE academically dishonest, it is unfair of them to enforce you being treated as if you were.

You shouldn't be trying to prove that you weren't, as you have no evidence, that being said, you have motive for answering the questions quickly which creates enough ambiguity that they cannot possibly argue that you cheated without more information.

To add some more detail to Buffy's "bark further up the chain" comment.

University Admin ^ School Admin ^ Dept. Head ^ Professor

Also, more to the point, your professor should at least understand that this sort of system is likely flawed and will probably at least hear you out. It is worth trying to discuss this with them first without assuming they will be antagonistic towards you. Just calmly explain your situation and see what they have to say.

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    I'd be careful with an approach that rests on pushing the burden of proof on the school. If they feel that the assessment of cheating by Blackboard is sufficient proof, then you haven't really made any progress. Instead, you need to provide a viable "theory of the case" that is consistent with the evidence they have, but which explains that you were not cheating. Buffy's answer covers this – Dancrumb Nov 17 at 14:41
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    AI is only as smart as its designer, - Actually, I think it's more like the telephone game - you lose a bit of intelligence with each iteration. – Kimball Nov 17 at 16:10
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    -1 There is no reputed AI at use in any part of the OP's story; it doesn't exist in the platform they describe. The instructor has manually decided to make use of submission time logs. – Daniel R. Collins Nov 17 at 18:12
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    @Nan It might be best, just on principle, if you stop referring to it as a "cheat sheet". – G. Allen Nov 17 at 19:22
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    okay fine ill refer it to a a piece od paper that we were allowed to use with any information for the test @G.Allen – Nan Nov 17 at 20:29
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Explain to your professor that you did not cheat, and that you think the automated system is measuring something other than 'cheating.' Speed is not cheating after all.

If the professor will not consider your arguments and decides to fail you anyway, there is a process you can follow. It is called a grievance. File a grievance with the university, and the Dean or other administrators will have to conduct a fair hearing based on evidence. Hearings like this usually include your academic peers, and there may even be academic attorneys who can be hired to assist you.

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    I can't imagine the instructor being willing to fight this in grievance. "What evidence do you present?" "Time logs. This student is too fast." "... Okay but what evidence of cheating? What did they do to cheat?" "I don't know, I just know they did!" If the OP's description is accurate, there's no way the instructor's case can hold up. This answer hopefully will help future students in the same position who read this though to know what to expect if the advice in the top voted answers don't resolve their issue. – Davy M Nov 18 at 18:27
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Long story short, consider offering to retake the test, to validate your innocence.

I've been accused of cheating, by my college environmental chemistry professor. The man literally went page by page, from the book, and used his handwritten overhead projector slides from 1969, for his presentations 20 years later. I like to read, and the class was for non-Chemistry majors, so no in depth topics were put in the tests. Additionally, he had a test "preview" class, and he outlined exactly what he'd be putting on the test, every time. After the first exam, I simply read through the chapters, and I never attended any of his classes afterwards, except the previews and exams.

He got quite upset that I kept getting perfect scores on his exams, whilst not attending class. He was so adamant, that he brought in the Dean of Academics into the fray. I calmly explained my process to both, and offered to retake the exam on the spot, saying if I got 90% or better, that my 100% exams would stand. They both agreed. I finished the exam in under 10 minutes, and got another 100%.

It also didn't hurt that I am an avid Chemistry person, and got a 99 out of 100 on the New York State Regents back in high school, plus A's in Chem I and Chem II already, so I was fairly prepared for this class anyway.

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  • But should they take longer than 15 minutes AND not get 100%, wouldn't this validate that they "cheated"? – BryceH Nov 19 at 15:16
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This is a partial answer, to be read in parallel with the other answers.

The question says:

Please help me prove that I am not cheating.

That is not the real question. The question is:

How can I convince the university that I did not cheat?

My partial answer is that before you can convince the university that you did not cheat, you should try to convince others that you did not cheat. You need to learn to clearly state the relevant information. Your question suggests that you have trouble with this.

For example:

I clearly stated that I did not look up anything

Well, of course you would say that. It doesn’t prove anything.

and I had other tests to take the same day.

It is not clear how this is relevant.

i went over the review powerpoint which had very similar questions to the test once I started taking it.

This sounds like you were looking at the review PowerPoint file during the test. I don’t think that’s what you meant.

Other answers have suggested contacting student unions etc; they would probably be best placed to help you with this.

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In parallel with following one or more other suggestions, please contact your student union, and specifically your faculty/department/semester representatives if you have them, and whoever is in charge of student rights in academic affairs.

First, they might offer material or procedural advice. Second, they may intervene on your behalf. It is a very different thing to railroad a single isolated student, and to go against something the student union objects to (and, hopefully, will not stand for). I'm not sure if that capability is as strong as it is usually in these days of Covid, but still.

Also, as @Buffy points out, it is not possible to prove a negative - and it's quite likely that some guidelines of rules for disciplinary procedures require that concrete evidence be provided of wrongdoing, rather than merely suspicious circumstances. So you (or your student union rep) might be able to "throw the book" at your professor, so to speak.

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Exactly how are you accused of cheating?

I got accused of cheating since I answered the questions in 15 mins

As others have already noted, finishing a exam quickly is not cheating. It could be a visible symptom of cheating, but it could caused by something else. You provides one possible explanation:

I answered the questions in 15 mins, and the system recorded that automatically once clicked, instead of recording the time of completing the whole set of questions. When reviewing my answers after the 15 minutes, I realized I guessed correctly and there was no need to pick another answer.

But you also provide one other small detail that has been overlooked by other answers:

They flagged my test when they were looking for people that posted it on chegg.

And later in a comment to buffy's top rated answer, you reiterate:

I got flagged at the same time as they were looking for those who posted the entire test online on chegg.

This seems to be a major point in the accusation, so I'll focus my answer on it.

An alternate explanation the university may believe for why you finished the exam quickly is that you were copying the answers from the chegg post; which would be rightfully considered cheating.

Others have noted that you can't prove a negative, but in this instance that may not be the case. Quoting from Chegg's Honor Code:

Copying solutions or requesting unexplained final answers promotes completion without comprehension, which is something we don't support at Chegg.

Furthermore, you should be aware that in the event your institution contacts Chegg as part of an investigation into academic integrity, Chegg is authorized under our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy to cooperate fully in that investigation and we commonly do. This can include providing information to your institution about your user profile, account, site usage activity, and interactions with Chegg Tutors.

If the university really suspects you of using the answers posted on Chegg to finish the exam quickly, the burden of proof rests with them. If the univeristy is not currently working with Chegg to determine if anyone viewed the answers, it might be beneficial to suggest that course of action instead of continuing to speculate. Being cooperative in the process can only help determine the truth and clear your name more quickly.

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  • I would ask, first, is there any evidence that the OP was using Chegg other than the timing? Does the OP have an account there used for other purposes? Does OP routinely attempt to disguise their identity online (which might itself be considered suspicious, even if it has nothing to do with the current question)? – Brian Drake Nov 19 at 3:41
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    To clarify my earlier comment: The university has already shown a tendency to misinterpret the evidence. So be careful about bringing them new evidence; you should expect them to misinterpret this new evidence too. So I would first ask if there is anything specific about the new evidence that I would expect to be misinterpreted, and see if I can deal with it early on. Still, from the university’s point of view, working with Chegg should be a no-brainer, so good answer overall. – Brian Drake Nov 19 at 14:35

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