For one of my class projects, the teacher coded the entire solution, then took out a few sections that we are supposed to complete for our assignment. This incomplete code was distributed to the class as a starting point. When he was writing the solution, he used source control. He forgot to delete his repository, so all of his commits are there... You can checkout the commits to get the full solution. I don't think he is aware of it, because he hasn't brought it up in class.

I found this while I was working on my solution. Once I found it, it was difficult to find a different path to the solution. I think my solution is dissimilar, but I feel I am playing a dangerous game here.

I'm not sure what I should do here. I could choose to not tell him and hope they don't catch it, or I could choose to tell him and basically admit I had access to the solution while I was working on it.

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    I wouldn't worry about my grades at this point. Reporting the problem will probably render the whole assignment moot. Just be quick to report the problem in order to reduce the amount of hassle for everyone involved.
    – tripleee
    Commented Apr 30, 2015 at 9:07
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    When this occurred at my uni, it was quickly swept under the rug, grades were lowered, and it wasn't mentioned again. However, I'm suspicious to this day that the mistake was more likely necessity, to keep the few students still enrolled on the course, and achieve performance targets. I personally delivered everything in the leaked example as well as additional info, only to have my grade capped anyway. If you know how to do it already, and why they did it that way, I'd keep shtum and play completely innocent. Else if you struggled with it, own up because you're more likely to be discovered.
    – Dom
    Commented Apr 30, 2015 at 20:19
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    @Dom I disagree. It is more ethical, in my opinion, to assume that the professor released the answers by accident and act accordingly than to assume that something corrupt is happening. "Do not ascribe to malice what can be ascribed to stupidity." Also, give the professor in question the benefit of the doubt instead of assuming the worst of him. In Finally, if it really was a mistake and lemondandy does not report it, he may be in a lot of trouble, and rightfully so.
    – Kevin
    Commented Apr 30, 2015 at 21:24
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    @Kevin I'm not suggesting that ill-doing is likely in this case, only explaining about when I experienced this. What I find absolutely unacceptable is that I had to pay for someone else's mistake. I only found out about it after I'd finished 3/4 of my assignment, and it turned out I was pretty bang on with what was being asked for, regardless though, I lost (ultimately needed) points on my grade because no one had trained this fellow to use a computer/the system (very old chap). FYI, it was an absolutely appalling uni, unless you include the few good professors, than it was barely-okay.
    – Dom
    Commented Apr 30, 2015 at 22:09
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    A tangent: I remember hearing about a colleague who realised, returning to his interrupted task shortly after a busy office hour, that the bit of scrap paper on which he and a student had been scribbling solutions was in fact the proof copy of the exam paper. Bum. Moral: I've become slightly paranoid about scrap paper + students ever since (and repos are the new ‘scrap paper’). Commented May 1, 2015 at 20:27

8 Answers 8


Send him a polite email explaining that, while you completed the assignment on your own (which I am assuming to be true), by stumbling upon the solutions in advance you had a hard time doing anything different. Professors are people--he should recognize his mistake and appreciate that you were forthcoming. Chances are he'll reassign the project or discount its weight toward your grade and just tell people to review it anyway because you need to know the material. The sooner you say something the better though. Indeed, after a while it may look like you were trying to hide it from him.

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    And let's face it, someone else in the class will have discovered the same, so he will find out one way or another. And kudos to you for discovering it first!
    – long
    Commented Apr 30, 2015 at 4:20
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    Professors are people? Can you cite a source on this? Commented May 1, 2015 at 16:44

You should tell him. It's going to be a headache for him when he finds out, so you may as well give him a heads up. Tell him you've gotten a solution which is similar but that does contain original thought and see what he says. Best case, he'll be appreciative of your honesty. Basically the way I see it is you have one path that's ethically sketchy and one that's a good thing to do (because, again, he'll have to deal with this). So, you know. Do the right thing.


I am a retired university teacher and have made similar mistakes a couple of times during my 32 years at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm. Each time, be it on a written exam, or on a home assignment, it was rapidly discovered, mainly because students realized it would cause a problem when grading the results. So, if you don't report it to the teacher, someone else most probably will and all those who took advantage will stick out in a bad manner. Do tell him.

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    Not that I disagree with your conclusion, but I find your path to that conclusion perplexing. How do you know all of your mistakes were discovered? Commented May 1, 2015 at 2:26
  • You have a point there. Maybe I should write "Some times" instead of "Each time".
    – Serafim
    Commented May 12, 2015 at 14:28

Part of finding a solution for a problem is taking a small amount of time looking for known solutions in available resources. The teacher should not only appreciate your honesty, but also your effort to look for existing solutions and reusing the best parts of it.
You did a good job and could tell him that you did some research during the development and found that a similar solution to yours was found in the source control history.

  • Well, it seems that the finding of known solutions in this case was not related to a specific search for knwon solutions, so I'm not with you here Commented May 3, 2015 at 13:58

Tell him. Your integrity is worth more than any pass mark. If your teacher isn't teaching you that, then he isn't worth jack.

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    Why question the teacher here? They seem to have simply made a simple mistake...
    – jakebeal
    Commented May 1, 2015 at 14:31
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    @jakebeal I don't think Wes is saying the instructor is worthless since he made a mistake. He's saying instructors who don't value integrity are worthless. Commented May 2, 2015 at 1:18

Yes, tell the teacher. It's just the right thing to do.

If for some reason you need a self-serving reason: the teacher will immediately realise that your solution is exactly the same as theirs, the whole assignment will have to be reset and you and everyone else will have to do another piece of work. Tell them now so it can be rectified, it's better for everyone.


Tell him. Failing to do so may result in dire repercussions for your academic career. But don't panic, honesty is always appreciated.

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    Dire repercussions? The student didn't do anything wrong, the prof. did. Please don't overblow the situation.
    – Kurt Tappe
    Commented May 1, 2015 at 4:12

To be honest I don't know if there is anything you can do at this point. You have completed your assignment and as a fellow student I feel like once you know the answer, its hard to unseen the answer and forget about it and come up with a new one. And if you do tell the teacher about this, most students will probably have realized this too and the sneaky ones will probably have copied it and stored it somewhere before redistributing it again (believe me, and I am probably one of the sneaky ones). So yeah if you do tell him, I don't think it changes anything to be honest. I have a feeling my answer is a bad one.

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    I think your feeling is correct, and your answer is a bad one.
    – jakebeal
    Commented Apr 30, 2015 at 11:18
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    Yeah. I mean, man, even without having the answers posted or something some people would have the answers anyway and they probably spread it or something. Well I am just saying in a general student point of view.
    – user33853
    Commented Apr 30, 2015 at 20:56
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    I appreciate your "speak against the crowd" attitude
    – Ooker
    Commented May 1, 2015 at 20:20

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