There was a weekly quiz in a TA discussion section I led today. During the quiz I was writing things I planned to talk on the board and didn't pay attention to students.

Then one student suddenly said to public "Frank, we're not allow to use note in the quiz right? These(point to a region that contains 2-3 people) people are using notes."

I looked back and confirm with that students about where she points to, but the people she accused cheating(if accurate) already put away the notes so I got no direct evidence.

Should I do anything in this scenario?

Quiz only worth 0~2%(0% if it's lowest quiz grade, 2% if not) of overall grade if that matters.

Update: The case was also reported to the Professor today and according to Professor's email it looks like the case is more serious than I expected and I'll have to explore a little more. Thanks for all responses so far.

  • 13
    No point in doing anything in that situation. However, the fact that a student was willing to publicly accuse other students suggests this might be symptomatic of a wider problem. I'd talk to this student privately and say you appreciate them bringing this to your attention and if they have seen this occur before. If so, then you probably need to do a better job of curtailing such cheating. Mar 3, 2016 at 23:41
  • 9
    You have no direct evidence, and rely on one person reporting cheating of 2-3 others...who, in case you'd decide to take action, are likely to say "Who? Us???" Tell the reporting student that you'll pay closer attention in the future, do it, and let this one slide. Mar 3, 2016 at 23:55
  • Would it not be possible to simply invalidate the single quiz in question? Let them finish it, but tell them it's just an exercise. Next time, keep two eyes on the students.
    – mafu
    Mar 4, 2016 at 11:06

2 Answers 2


You're the teaching assistant. Inform the professor and let them handle the matter or offer you guidance. That's their job. In this case the evidence for cheating is tenuous at best, so I suspect nothing will be done against any of the students. I've known more compelling cases of cheating to go reasonably unpunished, and one case of very blatant (and easily proved) cheating that was handled with just a stern admonishment and warning from the professor. But you (and the professor) would rather the professor hear of the matter through you, than the possibly salacious gossip of the students.

So what what really needs to be addressed is:

Always keep your eye on the students during exams/quizzes.

As much as you want to believe that they're all perfectly moral and self-policing people (and quite probably most of them are), or that they can't possibly fit in cheating during "brief" windows, there will always be exceptions, and you owe it to the students who are such from giving such a clear opening to those who aren't (for whatever reasons). You can't prevent all cheating all the time—it comes in a lot of forms, and some people are really good at it—, but this was easily preventable.

You may find yourself needing to apologize to the professor for this lapse, though I wouldn't get too worked up over that. Most of us have made such a mistake at some point (although not all of us may be aware of it), and the minor value of the quiz helps take the edge off, such that a simple apology and recognition of the error is sufficient to make things right.

  • I disagree with this, simple because it's important to set a standard. If the cheaters are not at the very least investigated, then it sets a precedent for the students going forward. Perhaps it's the slippery slope fallacy, but perhaps it's just truth. Also, for some students, particularly those prone to worrying, 2% is as important as 20%. Mar 4, 2016 at 12:35
  • @J.J That is the prerogative of the professor, not the TA. And going by fmlin's update in the OP, it seems the professor has opted to go that way, for one reason or another. Mar 5, 2016 at 23:02
  • Agreed, but there needs to be a balance between taking responsibility for injustices that happen on your watch, and passing the buck. Too often bad things happen because subordinates were "just following orders" or "not in a position to make a decision". I think cheating is a pretty universally perceived wrong. Certainly it's not the TA's job to be the judge jury and executioner, but notifying the professor and washing your hands of all responsibly is not appropriate either. A "Please give me your answer books, and leave" is the right balance. Mar 5, 2016 at 23:31
  • @J.J That may have been a suitable response in this case, yes. Ultimately it is the professor's duty to adjudicate the matter and decide punishments or other actions, if any. The TA is usually neither empowered nor experienced enough to do these things on his own. Terminating the quiz sounds like something I'd expect most professors to be okay with or approving of, though. Mar 6, 2016 at 0:00

Perhaps my opinion is less valid given I have only tutored groups of students, and have not yet had formal teaching experience. But, again, perhaps a recent undergrad student opinion would be helpful. In my opinion, you can not reprimand students for cheating without witnessing it yourself, or having a very good reason (backed up by solid evidence) to penalize them for cheating.

Obviously, it seems likely this student that called them out was probably not lying, unless she's a sociopath. So, they either were using notes, or this other student saw what she thought were notes, but actually weren't. Either way, you can not really punish the students without further evidence. Academic dishonesty is a serious accusation that can tarnish a student's reputation for the entirety of their academic career. Evidence is a must. However, I don't think it would be a problem if you just point-blank asked them if they were using notes and deliberately cheating.

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