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For final exam in my university chemistry class, a note sheet, 8 by 11, was allowed. You could put anything on the sheet, however it was to remain 1-sided. Of all things, I forgot about the last rule, and created a 2 sided note sheet for the exam. Well, now that the grades are out, my professor emailed me saying that a third of my points were deducted because of my note card. He was really being generous, because the rules say that I should actually get a score of 0.

Well, I still passed the class, but will this incident be put on my academic profile for applying to the engineering department? I mean, I'm still mad at myself for this, but do I have to and how would I explain it to the school if it's necessary?

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    It's so nice to see someone posting a question like this with such a good attitude :) – Jack Aidley Dec 16 '14 at 11:47
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    Yeah I think because it's a class of 600+, (it's an entire lecture section), they skip checking the note sheets. But I am pretty terrified now. I hope my professor doesn't think I was actually trying to cheat. Although by the looks of it, I technically did cheat. He said that because I did well above average on all my other stuff in the class (midterms, HW, etc), a 0% on this final would mean I just barely pass the class, he decided a 30% point deduction would be appropriate.... – user3211857 Dec 16 '14 at 17:35
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    @user3211857: It would seem from your question that everybody had to submit their note sheets along with their exam answers. Given that, I think it would be silly of your professor to assume that you really meant to try to cheat, when you knew the evidence would be staring him right in the fact just hours afterwards. His generous actions towards you indeed suggest that he understands. – Lightness Races with Monica Dec 16 '14 at 20:36
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    Thanks all. I just admitted my mistake and emailed my professor and that settled it all. I still can't believe I did that though. – user3211857 Dec 17 '14 at 6:37
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    @Ian I have to agree that it seems a stupid rule. People could abuse it in so many different ways: using shorthand, using a really tiny computer font, layering several fonts over top of each other to maximise space. Then of course people with large handwriting without access to a computer would effectively be suffering because of these things. In general, it's just effectively eliminating the kind of fairness an exam situation is supposed to enforce, because even if nobody tried to cheat everyone starts off in a state of inequality. – Pharap Dec 18 '14 at 1:13
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Often a professor is no more eager than you to invoke formal disciplinary mechanisms, as they are often complex and time-consuming. From what you describe, it sounds like you've been given your punishment and find it fair. If the professor was interested in taking it further, you would likely (but not necessarily) have been informed in the same email.

To find out, you can simply email the professor back. Say pretty much what you said here: you made a mistake, you find the punishment fair and even generous, and you just want to check whether the matter is now settled, or if you need to anticipate further disciplinary action.

If the professor feels that the matter is settled, and that the grade reduction is all the consequence that you need to face, then you can safely put it behind you; if not, it may become part of your record and may require explanation, depending on how things proceed.

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    Good advice. In addition, depending on the examination regulation, it might be an idea to ask if it is allowed to re-take the exam while "losing" the pass grade. Sometimes this is possible. – DCTLib Dec 16 '14 at 8:41
  • This doesn't seem to answer the question. The question is not whether the asker is likely to receive further punishment but whether they should mention or explain the incident in what I assume to be their application for a place in grad school. – David Richerby Dec 16 '14 at 12:03
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    @DavidRicherby Sorry, I thought the implication was clear: if the professor considers the matter settled, it's over and won't show up on any records; if not, it depends what happens next. I have added clarification to that end. – jakebeal Dec 16 '14 at 12:15
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    @DavidRicherby I think it's a much better idea to at least begin by addressing the cheating issue directly. If a student begins a discussion about cheating by asking about whether it will have consequences for their future, it can come off as insincere and self-serving, as in this question – jakebeal Dec 16 '14 at 12:22
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    @user3211857 I personally would probably just not worry about it at this point: in a comment above, you write that he decreased his penalty based on your prior performance in the class and wanting to let you keep an OK grade. Those are not the actions of somebody interested in pursuing a formal complaint that would show up on your record---after all, he could have given you the zero and had the bad grade show up on your record. You can ask for reassurance if you want, but I personally would just let it go and move on. – jakebeal Dec 16 '14 at 18:29
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At the U.S. schools I have been at, a minor punishment for academic integrity such as this does not appear on your transcript and you are not obligated to mention it when you apply to other schools (unless they ask, which I don't expect that they will.) The same holds for most other "internal" disciplinary actions that the school takes.

This is particularly the case if the professor has not taken "formal" action. At many schools, there are two options for the professor. For minor penalties, the instructor can handle it personally with the student, as long as they can both come to an agreement. In this case, there is no permanent record of the penalty except with the professor.

For more serious penalties, or if the student and faculty don't agree, the instructor has to initiate a formal process. If the formal process results in a penalty, then additionally a disciplinary letter is put in your file (probably in the dean's office for your college). If there is another incident, the presence of the first letter will make the penalty worse. At my school, students are expelled after the third formal incident.

You can check with the professor, as jakebeal says, to find out whether a letter has been filed. As he says, you could tell the professor that you understand the penalty and accept it, and will not repeat it, but for your information you'd like to know if formal paperwork was filed. You could also ask this in person during office hours.

  • One of my professors once told me that I'd be surprised how many PhD's have been expelled from one university or another...it turns out that he was one of them. – Mr. Mascaro Dec 16 '14 at 17:09
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This answer follows on your comment to jakebeal's excellent answer (which you might consider accepting). You have already emailed your professor and, as he has not replied, I'd take that as "nothing further needs to be discussed". Conclusion: no, do not contact him again about this matter.

Also, in your comment below the question, it appears that you professor already has a good opinion of you (you were above average on previous exams, etc) and therefore lightened the punishment. This is already a pretty strong indication that he does not intend to take things further.

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Consider asking the Professor to retake the exam with next semester/next year's class, this time without a 2-sided note sheet. Explain that you made an honest mistake and were not trying to hide it etc. That way you're not asking for a "free pass" or anything.

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