I teach various undergraduate courses. I make the cheating policies clear on the first day of lectures, check the student's understanding of this with an on-line quiz, and remind students of the policy almost weekly in class. I try hard to detect cheating, but cannot catch everyone.

Sometimes I discover cheating mid-way through the semester. For example, I caught some students submitting duplicate assignments. After making the discovery, I looked back to past work that they submitted to the course Web site, and found the students sent identical papers for all past assignments, but I already awarded them A's.

Is it unfair of me to go back and regrade prior assignments when students cheated?

  • 4
    Unfair of you to the student who cheated, sure. Unfair of you to the rest of the students you teach who didn't cheat and want integrity in their grades, no.
    – Compass
    Dec 11, 2014 at 13:58
  • 22
    Perhaps you don't have to regrade his prior assignments, according to some policies cheating means failing the class, just like that. Then, if you fell sorry about the student, you could offer him lenient treatment and only regrade his prior assignments.
    – dtldarek
    Dec 11, 2014 at 15:23
  • 17
    What happens if students cheat on your "do you understand cheating" test?
    – Etheryte
    Dec 11, 2014 at 21:43
  • 4
    In what university is plagiarism (which is what cheating is) not a serious misdemeanor that at least causes the student to fail the class? If the only consequence of cheating is that you fail that one assignment you were caught on (and realistically if you're not completely incompetent I'm sure you'll remain undetected in a majority of cases) seems pretty encouraging to do just that.
    – Voo
    Dec 11, 2014 at 21:56
  • 9
    @Ben expulsion for a single time cheating is certainly over the top, but falling the course? Both the universities in Europe and the US had that policy (they did let the teacher decide whether to instigate the process). Without serious consequences every student who doesn't cheat on an assignment they couldn't finish themselves would be an idiot - you're basically encouraging academic misconduct at that point imo.
    – Voo
    Dec 12, 2014 at 6:56

6 Answers 6


Looking over previous assignments after detecting cheating is perfectly reasonable. In fact, I'd advise that you should do it if you can.

Revising previous judgment calls about the quality of a student's work could be unfair, or at least extremely upsetting to the student. For example, it wouldn't be reasonable to say "Remember that paper I gave you an A- on? After thinking about it a little more, I've decided that I was too generous and your work deserved a B+ instead, so I'm changing your grade."

However, looking for evidence of cheating is different from reconsidering your grading standards. You aren't changing your opinion of the grade the work would deserve if it was properly done. Instead, you are trying to figure out whether it was in fact properly done. If not, then the student never earned the grade in the first place and has no cause to complain about unfairness.

In other words, there's no statute of limitations for cheating. Just because a grade has already been assigned, it doesn't mean you can't be found guilty of cheating, in which case the previous grade becomes irrelevant.

  • 3
    "In other words, there's no statute of limitations for cheating." Whether or not there is absolutely no statute of limitations for cheating depends on the school (my particular institution will only accept honor violation reports regarding a student for up to two years after graduation), but I'd be willing to bet that at most (if not all) institutions, the duration before limitation at least exceeds one semester.
    – apnorton
    Dec 11, 2014 at 22:29
  • 6
    +1 for the difference between regrading and reevaluating whether there's been cheating. Dec 12, 2014 at 14:42

You should consult your institution's policies; there may be due-process requirements.

At one institution where I have worked, as I recall, university regulations required that before an instructor could impose a grade penalty for cheating, they first had to meet with the student, present the evidence, and allow the student to respond. The instructor could then make a determination as to whether cheating had occurred, but the student had the right to demand a hearing before a university panel set up for that purpose, whose decision could overrule the instructor. Further appeals were possible beyond that point. Until the student either accepted the charge, or exhausted their appeals, the instructor had to grade the assignment under the assumption that it was completed honestly.

So under such a policy, you could certainly go back and look at the past assignments to see if you thought there was evidence of cheating; but you could not actually change the grade until the hearing process was duly completed.

  • 13
    US fetishism with lawsuits starts at college already.
    – Cape Code
    Dec 11, 2014 at 14:24
  • 8
    US fetishism with lawsuits starts in kindergarten, if not before. It is what it is, unfortunately.
    – keshlam
    Dec 11, 2014 at 17:13
  • 1
    @Mehrdad this answer is relevant in as much as it says: "What is the schools policy?" THAT determines what can/should/will be done - about this assignment, past assignments, future: School policy can trump all or give complete decision to teacher. Same thing about breaking "laws" differs from state to state, country to country.
    – WernerCD
    Dec 11, 2014 at 21:53
  • 3
    @CapeCode Is that not just "innocent until proven guilty"? If I were accused of cheating, but was innocent, I'd certainly like the right to have my case heard.
    – Moriarty
    Dec 11, 2014 at 22:23
  • 4
    I think we all agree that it's reasonable for the student to have to have his/her side of the story heard. The only difference here is whether the instructor makes the grade change first and waits to see if the student complains, or talks to the student first. Under the policy I described in my answer, in most cases the instructor would meet with the student and explain the evidence, the student would accept the decision, and the grade was changed. The various levels of appeals I described were rarely used. Dec 12, 2014 at 5:16

You have detected a willful and on-going pattern of cheating.

I don't know about your school, but many including mine have an explicit policy on academic misconduct. Indeed, we're required to copy the policy into our course syllabus every semester. Ours reads in part:

Penalties for academic misconduct in any course may include a failing grade on the assignment, a failing grade in the course, or any other course-related sanction the instructor determines to be appropriate.

(Emphasis added.)

One option is to preserve and document the evidence and simply inform your department head that you are summarily failing the students. Once he or she is on board you tell the students (in private, of course) and move on.

That way the question of re-grading doesn't come up.


"Unfair" is a pretty slippery concept. As I have quipped several times on this site already, I feel very confident that by writing down even some of the things that students insist must be done in the name of fairness, we could logically deduce that the only fair thing to do is to give them all A's. More seriously: let's talk ethics instead of fairness. I don't find regrading homework in lieu of information gained to be unethical in the slightest. If you graded a problem incorrectly and later noticed that it was wrong, then on the contrary the ethical thing to do would be to change the grade. However a lot of instructors would think twice about doing this because students may find it unfair not be happy about it. (Sometimes they regrade the problem and say "I'll give you the credit anyway", but isn't that truly unfair to the other students??)

(Added: I agree with Anonymous Mathematician's answer that revisiting subjective grading issues after the fact is less defensible. What I had in mind above was noticing that you added up 20 and 30 and 20 and got 90 and similarly clearcut matters.)

I don't think a lack of detecting cheating is a grading error, so regrading when you detect cheating ought to be more defensible than the in principle correct practice of fixing incorrectly high grades. However, I predict that the students may find it unfair not be happy about it. A regrade may encourage the students to contest the cheating, which is of course their right. So, as usual, when you accuse students of cheating you can't do so lightly.

But hold on a minute: is the nickel-and-dime approach of regrading necessary in this case? You say that you have already caught the students cheating on other assignments. You don't build a case of academic dishonesty piecemeal: you look at all the incriminating evidence at once. The students' past duplicate assignments can certainly be used as evidence in your present allegations of academic dishonesty. If they are found guilty of cheating, then the penalty should not be localized to precisely the problem sets in which cheating was observed (especially if the cheating takes place across multiple problem sets). In the circles I travel in, having their homework grade for the entire course reduced to zero would be one of the lightest punishments on the table in this case. No worry about regrades if that happens.

  • 3
    IIRC, in Germany there have been court decisions that it is not okay to change a grade for the worse after having published the results of an exam. As a grader, you have one shot -- make it count. (I'm not sure how this applies to provable cases of cheating, though.)
    – Raphael
    Dec 11, 2014 at 7:29
  • 10
    @Raphael: In Germany, some prominent people’s doctoral degree was revoked due to cheating in the thesis – in one case, more than 30 years later.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Dec 11, 2014 at 9:00
  • @Raphael I imagine it is similar to what happens in Spain. The results are published and the student has the opportunity to see the exam and discuss the results with the professor before the grade is made final. If you change the grades afterwards, you are taking from the students the due process, and may end up with an unfair (or, more likely, unexplained) grade.
    – Davidmh
    Dec 11, 2014 at 9:04
  • 4
    @Raphael: I would severely doubt that. What might be questionable is retroactively changing the grade for the worse when a mistake by the grader is noticed, in particular when that mistake is pointed out by the student (though declaring the exam or task void for all involved could be acceptable). Other than that, as a matter of fact, my German university explicitly declares in its exam regulations that are read out before every exam that "any awarded grade, certificate or degree will be revoked at any later time if cheating or attempted cheating is discovered afterwards". Dec 11, 2014 at 10:05
  • @Raphael: For what it's worth, please note that legislation differs between types of exams. What you are referring to might be true for highschool grades; there are state-specific time limits of a few years for retroactively revoking Abitur (A levels) grades when cheating is discovered later on, and thus possibly, there are even less or no such restrictions when it comes to university grades. Dec 11, 2014 at 10:10

Cheating is an Academic crime that should be punished by academic death. Grade change has nothing to do with it. It is the academic institute's policy to contain such crime by expulsion.

  • 11
    -1 For the absolutism. In particular, the final sentence is nonsense: there is no single world-wide policy. You can claim it's a duty but it's clearly not universally a policy. Dec 11, 2014 at 12:16

In all fairness, I think cheating is just the same as answering correctly.

In real life, you are graded on the result of you work. If you are asked to deliver X and deliver X, that is acceptable regardless of the means (unless illegal).

What really is the difference between cheating or studying? in the long run, I would argue that cheating is actually a much more beneficial skill to lean. For example if you know how to cheat, you can cheat at any subject, if you study for math, you wont necessarily pass science.

School is suppose to prepare you for life, And thus should take into account things like technology. Never in life will a boss tell a co-worker to find a solution to a problem but they can not use the internet or their mobile phone to find the answer. Before starting my own business, I have worked for a few larger companies and the mentality of most of the young out of college employees seem to be if you are tasked with an assignment, do it on your own and don't ask anyone for help even if you don't know the answer or else you will seem incapable, probably because they have this mindset coming out of school that asking peers for the answer to a problem is not the way things are done.

If you student(s) have found a way to receive a positive result with less work, I think that deserves and A...

The exception I would give is plagiarism.

  • 3
    Isn't a point that cheating is illegal? Dec 11, 2014 at 17:15
  • 8
    In the "real world," people are routinely fired if they are caught passing off someone else's work as their own. So if you truly believe that the best way to prepare students for the "real world" is to mimic it as closely as possible, then the best response to catching a student cheating would be expulsion. (I'm not advocating expulsion, just pointing out the logical inconsistencies in your answer.)
    – ff524
    Dec 11, 2014 at 17:16
  • 2
    And if you are asked to deliver X and do not deliver X, because have no idea how to achieve X, that is a severe problem in the "real world". The methods of cheating you might learn in educational facilities can help you get around the requirement that you have to submit the result of your own work, while many others are submitting their own results for the same task. They cannot help you get around the requirement that a solution that did not previously exist has to be developed. Dec 11, 2014 at 17:26
  • 5
    "Cheating" means breaking the rules that were assigned to you with regard to your specific task, not necessarily breaking laws. Anyone who thinks that they can't get in trouble in the business world for not following rules laid out by their superiors is either not actually in the business world or soon won't be. The idea that you acquire skills in X by precisely replicating the conditions under which you will eventually perform X is similarly out of contact with reality (academic or no). This answer could be dangerous if it weren't so over the top. As is, I doubt anyone will be taken in. Dec 11, 2014 at 21:53
  • 10
    The result that instructors are asking for is not X per se, but evidence that the student can produce X. If you cheat, you are not delivering that result, and you should be graded accordingly.
    – JeffE
    Dec 12, 2014 at 4:43

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .