I am an instructor at an American university. A student of mine, Student H, claimed that he was very sick and had to miss the final exam. Based on my trusting students in general, I allowed Student H to take a make-up exam, which took place about 4 hours after the actual exam finished.

About two days later, soon after I submitted the final grades (student H got an A-), I received emails from a few students (in the same class and in other classes) accusing Student H of deliberately postponing the exam, and asking other students, who took the exam on time, about what was on the exam.

I am attaching the emails below (without revealing any names of the students). I know these students personally and I do not think they would conspire together to make up stories about this.

I responded to them asking them to approach students who were asked, or witnessed someone being asked, by Student H about the exam questions.

Nonetheless, please let me know if you think these emails below would already suffice to accuse Student H of academic dishonesty?

If no, what else do I need? Even if I cannot make a convincing case of academic dishonesty against Student H, should I at least request a change of his grade (to a much lower one)?

I feel many students are angry about Student H's behavior, so I must do something about this.

Thank you very much for helping.

Student 1

Anyway, I just want to say something unfair that I've seen in my course. Professor, I couldn't understand you giving Student H makeup tests for several times; he wasn't sick. I kinda expected him going to take a make-up final, as he had done so far, and it really happened again on the final. He wasn't sick as far as many students saw him just a day before and also on the final, but intentionally making dry coughs while he was with us.

I really wanted you to notice him making lame excuses for getting make-up quizzes, the midterm, and the final, but you didn't. At least he had some conscience, he should not ask someone about the information for the midterm and the final, but he did. Unless he was that sick so that it was really hard to take the final, it wouldn't be a real problem. However, he always made excuses like being sick, and get information from students who already took to get better scores on tests. He didn't do such things to other professors, but he did in this course because he knows you were one of our considerate professors to us.

Many students were mad about it. I hope you deal with this problem well to resolve students' resentment.

Student 2

Student H, our classmate, kept on making an excuse in order to take exams late. If he was really sick, I could have understood it, but he was not sick that much; it seems somehow manageable. I have three evidences that his excuses were deceitful, and I will explain to you by chronological order.

First of all, when Student H skipped the first midterm exam, it seemed like he postponed the exam on purpose. No matter whether he was really sick or not, he asked others what was on the midterm exam. He should not have asked those to other students, and this is totally unfair as well as he is being dishonest.

Second, Student H asked me to postpone the final exam together. I cannot deny the fact that both of us were sick, due to the flu, but it was still manageable for both of us -I was not even sure that he was really sick or acting like he is sick. Since I did not see any point of delaying the exam, I rejected his suggestion. Aside from this, he even told me the process of postponding his final exam. He told me that he did not receive any e-mail response from you, and he even told me that he tried his best not to meet you in the hallway of the 4th floor while doing the work-study program so that he can prove that he is genuinly sick, while not. At this point, he is being dishonest toward faculty members to postpone the exam.

Lastly, after postponding the exam, he asked other students about the exam questions, and took the exam. I personally believe asking exam questions to other students is also committing of an academic dishonesty.

To summarize, as seen in the delay of two major exams without any valid reasons, as well as asking exam questions, I believe it can be enough evidences to prove that Student H committed the academic dishonesty. Plus, I wish this issue stay between us -make me anonymous, please.

Student 3

On December 19th, the day before the exam, Student H told me that he postponed the exam time. He told me that he intentionally postponed it not because of his sickness. What he intended was if he take the test late, other students who took early in the morning would tell Student H about the final. This is not my inference. This is what he told me directly. I hoped no one would tell him what questions they had in the final. However, unfortunately, I witnessed Student H talking with someone who already took the final in the afternoon around 1:00 pm.

I am upset with Student H's behavior. He's behavior makes other students' efforts come to nothing.

  • 69
    You gave him the same final exam as the rest of the class, even though he took it later???
    – ff524
    Dec 25, 2016 at 6:53
  • 54
    What reasoning would a student give to only postpone a final exam 4 hours? There should be nothing else academically that would necessitate this.
    – Ramrod
    Dec 25, 2016 at 7:52
  • 51
    If the name you used for your user handle is your real name, I suggest changing it in order to to anonymize your identity. The combination of using your real name (if that's what you did) and quoting verbatim emails from three of your students, lightly edited to disguise their identities but retaining spelling mistakes and many other details characteristic of their writing, makes me rather uncomfortable and feels pretty inappropriate.
    – Dan Romik
    Dec 25, 2016 at 8:02
  • 22
    If the student is too ill to take an exam, then he or she shouldn't take it 4 hours later. You don't get fine again in only 4 hours. Either the student wasn't ill, or putting himself or herself in danger. Thus have such makeup exams a few days later, not only hours. Dec 25, 2016 at 10:29
  • 35
    There is no way that a student can be "very sick" and be able to take the exam 4 hours later... if the student was really very sick you should have given him a few days "of leave" and give him a completely different exam afterwards.
    – Bakuriu
    Dec 25, 2016 at 11:48

5 Answers 5


please let me know if you think these emails below would already suffice to accuse Student H as being academically dishonest?

If no, what else do I need? Even if I cannot make a convincing case of academic dishonesty of Student H, should I at least request a change of his grade (to a much lower one)?

Most American universities have dedicated units for handling cases of academic misconduct. Now, just like if you had strong suspicions and some evidence regarding a crime being committed the right thing to do would be to go to the police and tell them what you know, so it is true here that you have strong suspicions that the student has committed academic misconduct, and therefore you should inform the appropriate office on your campus in charge of handling such misconduct cases of what happened, and share with them the emails from the three students. It is not your job to decide whether the evidence is convincing enough -- let them worry about that. After all, universities have units to handle misconduct cases precisely so that experienced professionals can handle allegations of misconduct in a consistent manner and taking into account all relevant information; for example, for all you know, they might have information about the accused student that you don't know (perhaps they were accused of misconduct in the past or have a history of feigning illnesses to avoid exams).

To summarize, just tell them what you know and let them handle it. You do not need to present this as "accusing" the student of misconduct, simply say that you have information to suggest that they may have committed misconduct, and share the evidence you have.

  • they may also have information about the accusing students... Dec 25, 2016 at 22:10
  • 1
    They may also say that not asking for a medical certificate has irretrievably messed up the whole situation and that there cannot be proof now that the student wasn't sick (the more so as one of the emails says the student was sick, just not that sick - which is obviously for a medical doctor to decide. Dec 25, 2016 at 23:55
  • 16
    If there's evidence the student was inappropriately soliciting information about the content of the test, it shouldn't matter whether they were really sick. Dec 26, 2016 at 3:24
  • 1
    @user34258: which is a claim even more difficult to prove than sickness. And again, there's only a student saying they believe this is forbidden - whether it is or not depends on the policy of the course/university (over here it is really unusual to forbid speaking about exam questions - some lecturers even encourage it as trying to solve exam questions is excellent excercise.) Dec 27, 2016 at 0:51
  • 2
    @BrianDrake: I guess there's a substantial cultural difference between where we are. Over here, those who were sick typically take their exam together with those who do a reexamination. So "same question" is not a concern. Discussing the exam questions is perfectly fine as soon as the student leaves the exam room after handing in. Asking the same question(s) would be seen as carelessness on the examiner's side. Nov 18, 2020 at 21:30

I was quite surprised to hear that you allowed the student to take a make-up final exam 4 hours after the other students took the final exam

In my university, there is a system for handling cases where a student misses an examination or in-course assessment which makes up 20% or more of the total course grade. A student who is unable to attend an exam is required to submit a mitigation request through an online system. When the student claims that the reason for not attending was sickness, then the student is required to submit evidence (e.g., a medical certificate from a doctor). Only after the system approves the student's mitigation request is the student allowed to take a make-up exam.

Given the delay (about two weeks) in processing various students' mitigation request, the teaching team is forced to set a different exam from the original.

I am not sure if such a system exists in your university. Nevertheless, if you had a more systematic process for reviewing and approving these mitigation requests (e.g., require students to submit evidence) and set a different make-up exam, that would perhaps have prevented this situation from happening.

  • 2
    I've given the same test later as a make-up several times. I make the students write out and sign a statement affirming that they did not seek out or receive any information about the exam before they take it. I don't suspect (based on their mistakes on the exam) that any of them cheated.
    – user168715
    Dec 26, 2016 at 20:21
  • The administrative handling of makeup exams may be trending away? E.g., it was abolished at my institution a year ago. Jun 23, 2020 at 14:51

There are several things wrong with the story. Those emails are hardly sufficient evidence to make a case. Could be one person writing 3 emails.You must report the matter or leave it be. I do not think you lowering his grades is a good idea. What will you lower them to? If you do report it then the identity of the 3 informants will have to be revealed. You say you trust your students but you do not trust H. You, better than anyone else, know whether H was capable of an A or not... It did not amaze you when he got that grade, so obviously it is possible.

Your students know you are a soft spot and so do you. Make-up exams have to be different. I would not want anyone to know that I had given a student the same exam later on and now I think he cheated. Learn from this mistake and move on. In your place, I would just forget the whole matter and profit from someone exposing my weakness. But I am not you, this is your decision to make.


What is your university policy for academic consideration? In most universities, when a student is absent in an exam due to illness, he has to apply for academic consideration within three working days of the actual exam and provide documentation (medical certificate) to the university. Once the medical certificate is verified, then the subject coordinator will receive an email to look at the academic consideration application and gives a supplementary exam to the student. The supplementary exam takes place a month later and the exam questions are different.

Now back to your question, I see no hard evidence that student H cheated. Could it be that other students were jealous of the grade of student H and sent those emails? To be honest, I can not say for sure who is right and who is wrong?

However, I can see that you have done few things wrong here. Did you follow the policy of your university on academic consideration? If you did and the medical certificate was verified, then there is no way that you can accuse student H of academic misconduct. I find it weird that the student sit the final exam after 4 hours; did you give him exactly the same questions? If you did not follow the academic consideration policy of your university and give exactly the same questions, then I am afraid you are at fault and you can not blame student H. It is also unfair to give him a lower grade unless you can prove that he cheated.


You need to do the following, go and see your line manager. Take with you all the evidence, do not breath a word of this sort of thing to random strangers on the web.

I have had to deal with student cheating twice in my academic life, first as a postdoc and then as a lecturer. The first case was students who colluded wrongly while writing lab reports, an older postdoc advised me to mark the reports as if nothing was wrong. Then to take both reports to the person in charge of the lab course. I showed this person the evidence and allowed this person to choose what to do.

The second time I was more senior, I found two students had done a plagiarism (copy and paste) from Wikipedia. Before acting I went to see my head of department.

My advice is unless you know the policy of the university and what to do next for certainty, go and see your line manager. This will protect you from the possibility of acting out of line with the rest of your university.

The problem is that either way around this story will not end well, at least for someone.

  1. If the emails are true and reasonable then the student accused will be punished.
  2. If the emails are a smear campaign intended to tar the reputation of an innocent student then if it was another student who sent them then this student should be looking at getting a punishment.

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