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So, I was taking my exam, and there were two questions I really had no clue on, and I was running out of time on. So I quickly went to a website and posted pictures of my exam questions and asked for answers. I immediately regretted doing so, and went to delete them, when I realized, it wasn’t possible. I then started freaking out, shaking, crying, etc. I know it was wrong, and I really don’t know why I did it. I just didn’t want to fail. They haven't seen it yet, and I hope they don’t ever, I didn’t even use it on the test, and was too frazzled to even fully finish the exam. I don’t know what to do, and my heart has been racing for 12 hours now, and I haven’t been able to sleep. The schools policy is essentially that the teacher will decide what happens, unless I already have a record, where the school will decide to expel me. I know I haven’t even been caught or anything, but I just want to do the right thing here, because I know it was wrong. But I also don’t want to possibly get expelled.

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    There was some discussion here about whether this question is duplicate of this one...since the discussion is not converging, let us move the discussion to chat and/or make a post on meta. There were also a few answers-in-comments; please avoid this. The existing comments have been moved to chat; please see this FAQ before posting another comment.
    – cag51
    May 16 at 20:52
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    BTW, Everyone got the same questions, right? Test was not personalized? Find that out ASAP. Software on your phone or computer? Installed for the duration of the test? Like a VPN? Hope not. Finding out that you are the kind of person who'd do this kind of thing, seems to have been an unpleasant surprise apparently, but self discovery is one of the great benefits of higher education.
    – chiggsy
    May 16 at 23:47
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    Does this answer your question? I was caught cheating on an exam, how can I minimize the damage?
    – Bryan Krause
    May 18 at 21:59
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Interesting. You are actually not asking an ethics question here; that one you could answer yourself, and very quickly.

I think your question has two aspects:

  1. You are asking for psychological advice. You are suffering because your mighty superego just doesn't shut up. If that's any consolation, to me this means you are a good person. But you would like to come clear in order to have moral and mental closure.
  2. You are (that's the on-topic part) asking for academic advice: You are interested in the likely consequences because they play a role in whether you will decide to confess. If it's likely that you'd be expelled you'd rather try to sit it out. If the likely reaction is stern admonition and a grade reduction you are perfectly willing to trade that in exchange for moral and hence psychological relief.

I cannot really answer the academic question; it probably depends a lot on the country, the school and the teacher, none of which you can reasonably disclose.

But if there are clear guidelines — whatever they are — it may not make a great difference whether they find out or whether you confess. Or it may work to your disadvantage: Unless your name or a unique identifier is on the photos you posted (and if you were that stupid you don't deserve your degree anyway) they will have a hard time proving that it was your exam, and not somebody else's. Unless you go and confess! All jurisdictions accept the right for the accused to be silent. No jurisdiction requires you to indict yourself. This is the time to call on this privilege and observe the prime directive for all accused: Do not talk.

My advice: Take this as a lesson. You'll remember it for the rest of your life. Don't go and serve them your own head on a silver platter. We all have done things in the past we were not proud of; we all have probably hurt people emotionally by acting less nicely than we wish we had. If we could, we would go back and fix it. But here, no damage has been done; there is literally nothing to fix here except your future behavior.

Unless you can't bear being a "pragmatic coward", I'd simply live with having been an idiot, not do it again and hope not to get caught this one time.

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    Another pragmatic approach: try failing the exam somehow without disclosing what exactly happened. That way even if someone finds out inn them future, the consequences well likely not cost you your degree. Depends on the school if this is possible.
    – DonQuiKong
    May 16 at 7:59
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    +1. Sensible advice. Confessing to an inconsequential and victimless crime that’s not likely to be discovered is just plain dumb, in my view.
    – bubba
    May 16 at 11:33
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    This answer overstates how unlikely it is the university finds out the identity of the poster. For example, on chegg, lots of student identities are regularly shared with universities. That process isn't 100% obviously, but it is also not as close 0% as suggested in this answer. May 16 at 14:17
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    Just because he OP is seriously troubled is not enough to tell he/she is a good person. He/she might just be worried about getting caught and the consequence. People are sorry only because they get caught. May 17 at 11:40
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    @stackoverblown You mean, some of us are genuinely good and some of us need a superego to keep us in check? ;-) I have no means of looking into people's minds and hearts, so I basically stick to a moral Turing test, judging observable behavior ;-). May 17 at 12:06
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First of all, I understand that you ultimately just posted your questions but did not look at the answers. So technically you may have committed some kind of an academic violation, but not as bad as you could have. This is, at least ethically, a good thing- you overcame the temptation of cheating!

There’s a small chance that you’ll get caught in the attempt and then it will be very difficult for you to prove that you didn’t look at the answers. If somehow your request is discovered by a TA/student who dislikes you/bad luck, and it’s not anonymized then you can get in trouble.

You can try and explain the situation to your professor. Tell them about your emotional state, that you did not cheat and just did something stupid which you immediately regretted.

What happens next is really up to your professor and how seriously they take cheating vs. how much they want to reward honesty. I personally would have checked your exam, asked for the website where you posted the questions (to check you didn’t ask anything else), and let you off the hook. However other professors could feel differently, especially if you cheated before.

If it’s highly unlikely that you’ll get caught then perhaps it’s not worthwhile to risk the above scenario. You seemed to have learned your lesson and hopefully won’t do this again.

Another alternative is to speak to a student councelor or ombudsperson in your institution. They're usually required to uphold student confidentiality, and won't tell anyone about what happened without your consent. If anything - they will be able to assure you and help you figure out what to do with the specific professor better than strangers on the Internet.

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    +1, though I'm unsure about 'You seemed to have learned your lesson...' : seems to me that OP chose not to cheat due to the possibility of being found out rather than realizing its not the right thing to do. May 15 at 7:02
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    @AppliedAcademic I think we can at the very least allow the OP the benefit of the doubt. They're already doing a lot more than many other students who would either cheat with no remorse/not ask what to do to rectify the situation. Judgment isn't helping here is what I'm saying.
    – Spark
    May 15 at 7:04
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    "you just posted your questions but did not look at the answers. So technically you didn’t really cheat" This is not necessarily true; if these actions helped another student cheat, even inadvertently, then many universities would consider them cheating. Local rules apply. May 15 at 8:24
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    -1 Posting questions to a public website is inherently cheating. I've failed students for that. See answers here for comparison: academia.stackexchange.com/questions/165912/… May 16 at 3:00
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    While I appreciate our zeal for academic integrity, OP didn’t try to kill anyone. They’re a student suffering from anxiety who made a bad initial call and didn’t act upon it. Let’s put things in perspective, and be kind to people who try to correct their mistakes. I think the best course of action is reaching out to student support; crucifying them here isn’t helping.
    – Spark
    May 16 at 18:30
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I would advise against reporting this to the school or the teacher. Not only because of the potential negative repercussions, but what is the use, if you'll do it again in the future? If you need to unburden your heart, confess to a priest, imam, a friend, etc.

If you regret it, remember good this experience. Maybe it will help you to fight the temptation to do it again in the future.

Footnote: Long time ago, at the end of an exam, I couldn't fill in an answer, and somehow I overheard another student whispered it to other student (not me). I promptly wrote it on my exam paper. Later I got almost perfect score, and I regret writing that just one answer I overheard. Even without it, my score would still be very good. Afterwards, I don't care if the students before or next to me cheat during exams. They should know better for themselves. I just don't do it anymore, except that once. My score whether perfect or not, is mine alone. I rather flunk an exam or even a course, but I know I pass it on my own, without cheating. Something that I can be proud of myself.

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  • Re: footnote, I don't know if I'd consider that cheating. What are you supposed to do, wear earmuffs in case students around you are dishonest? I'd say taking advantage of information that was made available to you through no dishonesty on your own part is not cheating. If a poster on the wall says the answer to the capital of Missouri, is it cheating to accidentally notice it? Worse yet, if a student had shouted out the answer for the entire hall to hear, should all students intentionally miss that question?
    – user45266
    May 18 at 5:48
  • It's okay to feel a bit guilty about that, and obviously going into the exam with the intent to gain information from outside sources is cheating. If you knew the people next to you were going to cheat and you were making an effort to eavesdrop, that's wrong. But if you gained information through the normal course of taking the exam in an honest manner, then that can't be cheating, can it? If it eases your conscience any further this many years later, I have a hard time believing that what you did would be considered counter to academic integrity principles in the slightest.
    – user45266
    May 18 at 5:53
  • Thanks for the comments. You might have noticed that most answers and comments here are based on ethical value from the one who gave that answer/comment. The ones who have higher ethical value wants to "punish" this poor student, or at least make him face consequences. The ones with less strict ethical values want to absolve this poor guy.
    – Meesha
    May 18 at 17:37
  • The value he shares here is just a data point for me. Like all different definitions of cheating from the students I've known in the past and present. That includes my own. What interest me most is how this student reacts with emotion while doing something he or she clearly not enjoy. Rather than imposing my own ethical value on him/her, I would like to offer him/her another perspective. What if this just the beginning of a long list of cheating in the future? Or the other way around. That this would be his/her last one? Of course, he/she is going to decide about that. It's his/her own choice.
    – Meesha
    May 18 at 17:47
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I recommend you report the incident to your course convenor as soon as possible. What you have done is a breach of exam conditions (the other answer is wrong: what you did is cheating), but if you self-report then it is likely that this will be taken into account in your favour, and will mitigate the punishment. It will also make it more likely that the university will accept your version of events (e.g., that you did not use any answers from your posted question) and aspects of this may also act in mitigation of the offence. If you decide not to self-report and the university finds out about this conduct then you will not receive mitigation for this, and you will miss out on the opportunity to develop good character.

As to how to stay calm, that is not terribly important right now. What is important is to act swiftly to ensure that you obtain the benefit of self-reporting your own wrongful conduct. Once you self-report, you may experience the calm that comes from the fact that any conseqeuences are now out of your hands. You will also enjoy the psychic benefits that come from starting down the road towards honesty and good character.

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    I imagine that once OP self-reports it, they'd become calm.
    – Allure
    May 15 at 11:02
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    I agree that this is technically a breach of exam conditions. My point is that the OP did not benefit or actually follow through on this issue.
    – Spark
    May 15 at 19:03
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    Breaching exam conditions is not necessarily cheating or even attempted cheating (-1 for that). Extreme example to get the point across, but if someone picks up a gun and holds it to your head, then puts it down voluntarily and repents, you wouldn't say that's murder or even attempted murder, right? Similarly with going to the bathroom against the rules, or showing your exam to your 4-year-old brother against the rules, or whatever. You'd still bear responsibility and it'd be a great idea to explain yourself (and maybe people won't believe you), but they don't imply you've cheated.
    – user541686
    May 15 at 20:21
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    @Ben: I'm kind of amused actually. Everyone's gotten out their pitchforks ready to crucify a student who's repenting and not even benefited from a violation of exam conditions, and yet merely losing 2 internet points is suddenly "very harsh"...!
    – user541686
    May 16 at 3:45
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    @ElizabethHenning: Illegal != dishonest. Cheating is about dishonesty. "Attempting to be dishonest" might be a breach of the exam conditions, just like "attempting to give a bribe" might be illegal. It's obviously against the rules. Deal with it accordingly. What I'm saying is it's not "cheating". Call it "initiating attempt to cheat" if you want; that's what it was. That doesn't mean the cheating actually happened; the attempt was voluntarily ceased. If you can't be honest about the crucial distinction here, you're being even less honest than the student you're accusing of dishonesty.
    – user541686
    May 16 at 3:59
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If I were you (and I’m not), here’s what I would do ...

First, keep quiet. It seems highly unlikely that your posting will be discovered. Teachers might search the internet for people posting their exam questions, but searching won’t find a photograph. Even if they do find the posting, there’s no way to know who it came from, is there?

If your school somehow gets proof (and I don’t know how this is possible) then you can admit to posting the questions. Your exam paper proves that you didn’t use the answers given on-line, so you can just say (truthfully) that you realized the posting was a mistake, and didn’t follow through. Maybe no answers were posted. Did you look?

If you confess now, then, if you’re unlucky, your school authorities might decide to make an example of you, and your life could be ruined. I don’t think you deserve that, so I wouldn’t take the risk.

You did a stupid thing, but you realized this, and you didn’t gain any unfair advantage from it, so no great harm done, in my view. Don’t do it again.

Of course, this plan is somewhat dishonest. I could live with the dishonesty, but maybe you can’t. No-one can make that decision for you.

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  • Yeah, I deleted the account immediately and was unable to find the questions when searching. So I was unable to even use it. I realized immediately after that it was stupid, hence why I tried deleting the questions before they could even be answered (though I don’t even know if they ever were). I knew not to do this beforehand, yet still did it. But it teaches me to just listen to my conscience and not do it at all.
    – lunabean
    May 16 at 1:12
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    "...searching won't find a photograph." Be aware that many of these types of sites automatically transcribe all text in pictures into searchable text. I've seen this occur even in the case of handwritten questions. Some of these sites will also disclose student information upon official university requests. (Of course, if the account was made with a burner email address, then in that case it may be difficult to track back to the asker.) May 16 at 1:59
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    -1 A lot of this shows insufficient knowledge of the domain. E.g.: (a) The most-used sites translate photos to text specifically for easy searching. (b) Posting test questions online is inherently an academic violation, possibly up to expulsion from a college. (c) Consider the NC State professor in this WSJ article from last week who's caught over 200 students cheating this way by individuating and watermarking test questions: wsj.com/articles/… May 16 at 3:06
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    @DanielR.Collins. I don’t think the OP deserves to be expelled. So I’d prefer to not give the authorities any ammunition to do that. But, that’s just me. I’m willing to break some rules to protect myself, especially if it doesn’t harm others. Some people have higher moral standards than I do. As I said, that’s the OP’s decision.
    – bubba
    May 16 at 3:14
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    This answer overstates how unlikely it is the university finds out the identity of the poster. For example, on chegg, lots of student identities are regularly shared with universities. That process isn't 100% obviously, but it is also not as close 0% as suggested in this answer May 16 at 14:18
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What's done is done. You could go admit your guilt to the professor and be destroyed. That sounds like a really bad idea to me.

I recommend you:

  1. Vow to never attempt to cheat again. As you can see, cheating is bad for the soul.
  2. Improve your study skills so you're not tempted.

That the episode upset you so speaks well of your character. Everyone makes mistakes.

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  • I agree, that's a really bad idea, also from the viewpoint of the professor. A professor is somebody who wants to be done with grading exams as soon as possible. They want things to go smoothly. A student that walks in and starts telling a story such as the present one asks for a lot of attention and decision-making, which is a considerable waste of time and energy. May 18 at 18:44

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