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I am re-doing a module that I have failed, My first assignment have some questions that are identical to the ones I answered last year, would I be violating any laws or academic practices by copying my own answers from last year and re-use them?

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    This is a very interesting question. My guts feeling is "No". You're okay. But, I'll leave it to the professors on this site to give authoritive answers. – scaaahu Jan 15 '15 at 13:14
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    Well it can't be considered plagiarism. It's your own work, and plagiarism is by definition, using someone else's work and passing it off as your own. Whether it's academically permissible is a question for the professor. – InfernalRapture Jan 15 '15 at 19:48
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    How can you give a different answer to the same question without the answer being wrong? – AndreKR Jan 15 '15 at 21:52
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    @InfernalRapture There is a form of plagiarism called "self-plagiarism" (sometimes called "multiple submission"). Copying your own work and passing it off as your new work is just as much plagiarism as copying someone else's work and turning it in. – apnorton Jan 15 '15 at 22:07
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    If you failed the module, it may in fact be advisable not to reuse the old answers (at least in some cases) to avoid failing again – Hagen von Eitzen Jan 17 '15 at 22:46
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This is a grey area and depends on both the nature of the questions and the specific academic misconduct policy of your university/department/instructor. If you wish to reuse your answers, I would ask the instructor in person if it is okay. If they say yes, I would suggest getting an email confirmation that it is acceptable. That said, while there are many reasons for failing a module, it is probably in your best interest to rework the initial assignments from scratch. If you failed because you were unable to grasp the later material, having a better foundation will help. If you failed because you did not put the effort into the module that it required, this is probably a good test to determine if you are now ready.

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    @Matka Here you go. An authoritive answer. – scaaahu Jan 15 '15 at 13:23
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    I pictured this question being answered in Strongbad's voice :P. – Ryguy Jan 15 '15 at 14:21
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    If you reuse any answers verbatim, I'd also recommend including a note of explanation with the assignment (saying what you reused and from where), just in case there was miscommunication when asking for permission. If you cite your sources like this, then you might not get credit for the assignment if there was miscommunication, but that's not nearly as bad as being accused of academic misconduct if someone thinks you are trying to hide your reuse. – Anonymous Mathematician Jan 15 '15 at 15:39
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In disciplines where answers are discrete and absolute (e.g., most math), if you were right before, your answer SHOULD be the same -- though you should show your work as usual. Where answers are subjective or personal, having the same answer is acceptable, though the result of the work should express any difference in opinion that has taken place over the last term. In cases where there are multiple solutions such as most programming, it may be useful to you (if not necessarily to your instructor) to explore a different method.

Ultimately, there are two routes to go about this:

1) Ask your instructor for their advice (and follow it). Your grade ultimately depends on their opinion, so they are the best source for this.

2) Make your own assumption and stick with it. While it will almost never reflect poorly on you to provide a different answer to the same question (assuming your answer is equally correct), engaging your instructor in a philosophical debate over the objective of education (whether the objective of the course is to learn, or to simply demonstrate knowledge) may require you to appeal your grade if your opinions are not shared by your instructor.

In real life, this question is unfortunately immaterial -- people (especially programmers) borrow work from themselves regularly, and from the standpoint of productivity metrics, generally come out ahead for doing it. Because this relates to the academic environment, this question is best answered by the most direct authority, your instructor.

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    "may require you to appeal your grade if your opinions are not shared by your instructor" - If you think that appealing your grade to someone else (e.g., department chair, college, whatever) is likely to cause someone else to overturn the grade assigned by the instructor, think again. That's just not how grade appeals work in practice. It's exceptionally rare to overturn a grade assigned by the instructor, and "a philosophical debate over the objective is education" is not one of the reasons that would cause such an appeal to be successful. – D.W. Jan 16 '15 at 20:22
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I once ran into this very situation with a course I was looking to upgrade the mark in, I asked the professor if I could just hand in my assignment from the last time around since it was the same as what he'd assigned. He told me that would be plagiarism, and said I should do the assignment again from scratch as it would be a better learning experience anyways.

Some professors also keep an archive of work from the previous semester or two (at least some of them did at my school) for such occasions. They want to see if something a student has handed in is the same as their work from the previous year or the same assignment as one of their friends. It doesn't happen often but if the prof really wanted to look into it they could.

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    Note that by the definition of self-plagiarism, saying "that would be plagiarism" is the same as saying, "on this course, assignments are required to be original work that has never been submitted before". Which seems a reasonable course requirement, but it's a statement about the course rules and not much of a statement about plagiarism. Repeating yourself is only plagiarism if you claim that you aren't repeating yourself (explicitly or because you're following rules that say not to). Otherwise it's called "consistency" :-) – Steve Jessop Jan 15 '15 at 15:41
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    ... and for this reason, the professor isn't committing plagiarism despite asking the same questions two years running. He never claimed the questions are original, just that the answers must be. – Steve Jessop Jan 15 '15 at 15:44
  • Actually it is only plagiarism if you try to hide the fact that it was previously "published" and don't give a "citation". What the professor described was something else he didn't want to see, but not plagiarism necessarily. But as you did, and others have suggested, ask first. – Buffy Aug 14 '18 at 18:24
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Just to add another reference, here is an excerpt from the Code of Academic Integrity at Cornell University, saying this is forbidden by default.

Work submitted by a student and used by a faculty member in the determination of a grade in a course may not be submitted by that student in a second course, unless such submission is approved in advance by the faculty member in the second course. If a student is submitting all or part of the same work simultaneously for the determination of a grade in two or more different courses, all faculty members in the courses involved must approve such submissions.

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I had to retake a module and its main practical. According to the rules for my university, on no account may you resubmit previously submitted work, as this constitutes self-plagiarism. As I wasn't keen on taking the same bloody practical twice, especially not if I'd have to rewrite, I asked my module organiser: she said carry on, the data will be different, don't worry about the words.

In the end, I used my report from the previous year as a template - the data and some of my conclusions had changed, but I used bits and pieces of my old report (e.g. in the table descriptions). If the answers you would be re-using require very little creativity, then you may not need to edit them very much.

Check the rules and practices for your own university. If you can't find an explicit answer, get in touch with your academic support team or whoever is closest; but unless your work is going to go through plagiarism software (e.g. Turnitin) I shouldn't worry too much about a complete rewrite. You might want to make sure that the person correcting your work is aware that you are retaking the module -- corral them after a lecture if you can, it's usually best.

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I sat on a disciplinary board for a student who was in this exact situation a while ago. The student ended up being subject to disciplinary action; the fact that the plagiarized material was their own did not make a difference.

Of course this is also going to be up to the teacher reporting it, and the school's judicial board to decide to uphold or overturn the decision.

Better safe than sorry, ask the professor first, and get an answer IN WRITING.

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My university's guidelines actually describe self-plagiarism, here. I think the point would be to go through the whole thinking process of your assignment again and most likely you will come up with a different answer. Sure, it would be fine if it is not completely different but the point would be to not copy it, but rather understand it fully.

  • can you (if you are confortable revealing what is your university) link those guidelines? – Mindwin Jan 16 '15 at 12:13
  • It actually took me a while to find those guidelines again but I hope the link above would suffice! (page 3). – yldm Jan 16 '15 at 17:26
  • The more references we get, the better. Putting up a real (real in the sense that it is really an university website) link means a lot in the credibility of the answer. – Mindwin Jan 16 '15 at 20:21
  • I understand, no problem! – yldm Jan 16 '15 at 20:23
  • Just to finish the thread, you need to balance the advantage of posting credible links with the risk of exposing part of your real world identity if someone attempts a social engineering attack on your online persona (for example, I can now link your SE profile to that university). – Mindwin Jan 16 '15 at 20:25

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