I suffer from OCD and intrusive thoughts.

I was once in a test and we were given this extract on a page. I had been analysing the top part of the extract, only. Then, I may have seen the other candidate analysing the bottom part of the extract - I saw nothing of their answer, just their pen moving around that area. The area was quite cramped, in terms of the paragraph space, so I'm not sure what exactly happened, but there definitely wasn't any words or answer/notes she was making on that area. The question was on nostalgia and the quotes that were at the bottom actually referred to remembering and ditching memories. This may have prompted me in referring to the quotes in that certain area. Is this cheating and I feel that this helped me, but I didn't see her notes on it.

My biggest anxiety is cheating. There was a weird compulsion to look around to assure myself that I'm not cheating, if you see what I mean? Yes, I saw the other person analysing that part of the extract, but not her notes or answers on that part/quotes. The question was on nostalgia, and the part that the other candidiate was analysing was right at the end. So, I thought, how about I read the ending, since I was only using quotes from the top. When I read the quotes at the end, they were perfect but I thought that I didn't deserve to use them. Then, I thought, it's on one page, why can't I use it? What if I read this part and summarise it so I can use it. It is really frustrating, because I'm not sure I looked with intent towards her direction; it was a hard extract. I feel like killing myself. This is not the true me!

  • 6
    First, take a deep breath. Now, notice you have essentially written the same thing twice, I can almost see you shaking nervously from here. Whatever happened, is done now. Try to clear your head and it'll help you see things more clearly and in perspective.
    – Davidmh
    Commented Nov 21, 2015 at 21:07
  • 13
    Honestly, I think this question is not really about academic ethics - it's about your personal emotional state, and that's something that we here are not qualified to help you with, especially as you say you have a diagnosis. I think this is something to take to your health care provider(s) instead, and (if you are as upset as you sound) urgently. But good luck! Commented Nov 21, 2015 at 21:16
  • Thank you, professor. I think I may have seen a specific part of the extract being analysed, only. That part had a good quote on memories and explained the motif of the character and his attitude towards memories. I think it was a mix of the two. However, I never saw the analysis of the quote/part of the extract.
    – user44799
    Commented Nov 21, 2015 at 22:58
  • 2
    John, you did not cheat. But with OCD, your mind makes you cycle on the thought "but what if I did?" until you've thought about it enough that you can't remember quite what happened and you think it must be a big deal, because you've been thinking about it. It's just when someone with OCD is driving home and goes over a pothole and the thinks "maybe I hit a person". She goes back and checks, no person of course, but that doesn't provide relief for more than a brief moment. Etc, etc, etc. (1/2)
    – Corvus
    Commented Nov 21, 2015 at 23:53
  • 2
    The good news is that you have a diagnosis, and OCD usually responds well to treatment by CBT or medication. I agree that if cheating is your biggest obsession / worry, you should ask disability services for an empty room as a testing accommodation. This is a completely fair request and you'll be able to perform much better when the OCD is not there stressing you out about other things. Finally, hang in there. Things can feel really dark and scary at times, but you can beat this. Many people have. (2/2)
    – Corvus
    Commented Nov 21, 2015 at 23:56

4 Answers 4


OCD or similar, if formally diagnosed, could be legally considered a disability. Your school would then be obligated to accommodate your needs in an instructional setting.

Taking examinations in a separate room is a very common form of accommodation for students with mental disabilities. Whoever it is in your institution that deals with students with disabilities will be very familiar with this measure. Schools like it because it's easy and cheap to accomplish.

Given how upsetting this experience seems to be for you, and that it sounds like it wasn't a one-off thing, I'd really advise you to get together with your Office of Disability Services or whatever it's called and figure out a way that you can take exams without having to struggle with these challenges.

  • 6
    Oh, and not stress about this thing that's already happened. Because from what you've said it does not sound like academic dishonesty. Commented Nov 21, 2015 at 23:00

I don't think this incident is anything to worry about. Ordinary looking around shouldn't be so easily conducive to seeing another person's test that students start second-guessing what they were intending to do.

However, I recognize this sort of internal response to it (I also have OCD) and would like to encourage you to seek further assistance. OCD easily starts making you wonder whether you meant to sabotage yourself or whether thoughts of bad things might have helped make them happen. Then it leans in and starts taunting you about whether you might be at risk of doing so to a greater degree.

I recommend cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which helped me immensely. Over three months several years ago, I went from being almost unable to concentrate due to my fears of...everything, basically...to having minimal intrusive thoughts (and lots of coping strategies to deal with the ones that showed up). It's hard to believe the difference.

Hang in there! You deserve to find peace-of-mind.

  • totally agree. don't make a mountain out of a molehill. Commented Nov 22, 2015 at 1:16

It sounds like you observed something – perhaps even accidentally – that helped you on the exam. If your eyes wandered over there on purpose, actively in search of some help from another unwitting student, then I guess we could call that a form of cheating, albeit a relatively minor one.

On the other hand, if you weren't actively trying to figure out what that other student was doing, but simply noticed something as you glanced in that direction as you gathered your thoughts, then that seems more like the fault of the testing environment, where too many students were clustered too close together.

Sometimes we might notice something that gives us an advantage, even if when we don't want to. (I'm reminded of times where I've seen the solution to a crossword puzzle I was working on, and noticed a word even though I wasn't looking for it. After that's happened, there's no way to purge it from my mind! Incidentally, I've always thought it was a bad idea to print a puzzle's solution on the same page as the puzzle itself – even if it is printed upside-down.)

Anyhow, only you know for sure if your discovery was inadvertent or not. If it was inadvertent, then I wouldn't worry about it all. If it was intentional, then be glad you stopped at getting the hint (i.e., "Read further down the passage") rather than going further and trying to figure out what that other student was writing. In the end, you still had to compose your own answer, even if you did get a gentle, helpful nudge in the right direction.

I wouldn't fret about it; however, if your conscience refuses to let it go, you could always tell your professor what happened, being truthful about whether your observation was intentional, accidental, or some hard-to-explain mixture of the two.

  • 2
    While very well-meaning, I don't think this post shows a nuanced understanding of OCD. Someone with OCD and a biggest anxiety of cheating would never look intentionally. And I don't think that going to the professor is a good idea, especially if you don't also mention the OCD diagnosis. It could be misinterpreted and cause considerable additional anxiety. Nor would going to the professor actually clear your conscience -- the OCD would find a way to worry even when the professor said that it was not a problem.
    – Corvus
    Commented Nov 21, 2015 at 23:59
  • 1
    I'm voting up this answer because of the comparison with the crossword puzzle answer shown on the same page. This shows good intuition for the OP's problem. Commented Nov 22, 2015 at 1:07

It is hard for you to do your best work when you are expending energy looking around to assure yourself that you're not cheating, when you find yourself thinking that you don't deserve to use the quotes provided, when you feel like giving up or harming yourself, when you are pulling petals off a mental daisy over and over again, wondering Is this cheating or not, would it be considered cheating or not, etc.

Jane is absolutely right that you can document your OCD and get a plan in place that gives you some accommodations in a streamlined way. However, in the short term, you can let each of your professors know that you suffer from OCD and need to take your exam in a separate room. If the professor is reluctant to do that before you've finished documenting your disability, he or she should at least be willing to seat you in the front with no neighbors nearby.

My son also suffers from OCD and intrusive thoughts. Your description is vivid and quite effective.

I hope you are in, or will soon be in, treatment for your OCD. The two approaches that have shown good results in studies are

  • SSRI (= anti-depressant): you have to work your way up, gradually, to a much higher dose than is given for depression. A general practitioner can start you on this, but a psychiatrist would be needed for the ramping up. Note: as one is doing the ramping up, sometimes the quality of sleep suffers; and with OCD, sleep difficulties are quite common. Therefore many people with OCD find it helpful to take a separate medication to prevent or treat insomnia, such as Zaleplon or Trazodone. A general practitioner can prescribe either of these.

  • Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP): it can be difficult to find someone trained in this. The International OCD Foundation may be able to help you find someone in your area. Note, some insurance companies do allow one to work remotely (over Skype). Fred Penzel's group in Long Island is one group that has experience doing this.

Frequently, the two approaches (SSRI and ERP), are combined.

Forgive me if you already knew about the treatment options.

  • 1
    I want to be very clear that I did not in any way want to suggest any kind of treatment options. My own opinion is that there are significant dangers witn psychiatric medications, and that it's quite risky to offer this kind of counsel. And, I would recommend that you go directly to your student disability office. They are totally experienced with dealing with instructors, and it takes the burden off of your shoulders of doing it yourself. It also clearly puts the legal burden on the school. This can be a big help when instructors are resistant to accommodation, which unfortunately some are. Commented Nov 23, 2015 at 0:22
  • 1
    @JaneWhittington - No worries. Your answer spoke specifically about accommodating the disability. Mine is the one that encourages the OP to seek treatment, provides information about treatments that have fared well in controlled studies, and outlines what sorts of doctors one would work with if interested in finding out more about medications for OCD. Commented Nov 23, 2015 at 0:30
  • 1
    @JaneWhittington - There are some hoops to go through when you go to the student disability office. It's not as simple as just walking in and saying, Hi, my name is John, and I have OCD. Commented Nov 23, 2015 at 0:31

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