I have a very strong suspicion that a final written exam of a student was written by another student of mine. The style, the wording, even font, etc. are just way too similar to be random.

I am wondering what is the best way to confront them in order for them to feel comfortable to admit it instead of perhaps being defensive and denying it.

Do you have experience in confronting students in what works and what definitely does not work?

--- more context ---

The context is a Data Science class where students have to do a data science paper. Allegedly, one student, who is very good, did the work of another student who is a very beginner.

That very good student for instance wrote their code in a very specific rather advanced way and used a lot of extra libraries that we never discussed in class. When I reviewed both of their programming codes, they were written in the exact same way, with the same variables names and the same odd libraries. The newbie student could never have written this themselves in my opinion. On top of that they are family related.

How much more evidence do you need for your cognitive Bayesian model?

  • 1
    What would you "offer" them if they admit it? Is there any upside for the student to admit cheating? What power/authority do you have over the other student?
    – Buffy
    Mar 30, 2022 at 14:04
  • 3
    It's not gonna happen. You'll not be able to "prove" the cheating to anyone else's satisfaction, in any case. Just nevermind... if anything, just think about how the set-up next time could make such cheating harder. Mar 30, 2022 at 23:53

3 Answers 3


No country was named in the question- this answer is from a US perspective.

Start by reviewing your institution's policies and procedures for dealing with academic dishonesty. Do whatever these policies and procedures require you to do. Do not act on your own outside of the official procedures.

Typically, you'll be required to report the incident to an office that handles cheating cases. One important reason for this is that students who cheat in one course often cheat in others. When it becomes apparent that a student is a repeat offender, the punishments may be much more severe than anything you could mete out. Another important reason for this is procedural- it gives the student an avenue to appeal against your judgment.

These policies typically require you to speak with the student about the incident before filing a report. Your conversation with the student might result in the student admitting guilt. Or, the student might convince you that they did not cheat.

Policies on assigning punishments differ between institutions. In some institutional policies, the instructor assigns a punishment (such as a grade of 0 on the assignment or even failure in the class), but the punishment might be adjusted after a student appeal. In other policies, the punishment is determined by a higher authority, perhaps based on the instructor's recommendation.

In this case, you actually should talk to both students since you think you know who wrote the exam. If one or both of the students admits guilt, then you're in a position to move forward with the process.

However, if they both deny it, then you have only weak evidence to support your accusation and it is unlikely that a higher authority would support punishment for the students. Knowing my institution's policies, I'd abandon the case at that point since I wouldn't have sufficient proof.

You should also consider whether you want to continue giving exams to students in this insecure fashion. If the exam had been conducted under your direct supervision, it would not have been possible for one student to prepare an exam paper for another student.


I hesitate to give advice with so little information.

That said, I have taught for years. When I was new at it I tried to resolve these kinds of questions on an ad hoc basis. What do I know about the student? How advanced is the course? How sure am I? Do I want to punish (and how much), or make sure the student never cheats again? How much will I be swayed/convinced by protestations of innocence or regret?

Over time I found it better to follow university policy. Here is what I tell my students at the start of the course. The first homework assignment asks for a paraphrase of what it says.

In your case, perhaps ask colleagues or your chair for direction.


I can improve this answer dramatically if you give examples of what you found

If you have proof they are cheating, call them into your office. Explain they cheated and explain consequences.

it sounds like you don't have proof, but a suspicion. Go to your department head and ask for guidance on if this is enough to report them for cheating.

Personally, I do not believe that style, wording and font similarity are enough to prove cheating. That could be the result of word processor choice and having the same English teacher in high school. To support cheating I think you'd need the same sentence or phrases appearing in assignments from both students.

Try calling the student into your office and ask what their paper is about.

Tell the student you've go some questions about their final exam. Don't give it to them, but ask what it's about. If they wrote it they should have a decent understanding of its content and should be able to discuss it with you without looking at it.

If they cannot, that may be enough to prove cheating with the other similarities.

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