Is it okay to report classmates cheating on exams?

  • Is it acceptable or ok to report on students cheating? Many times during a test or an exam, I have seen students in front of me either passing notes, or otherwise collaborating whenever the professor isn't looking.

    I don't want to get into trouble, and I don't know if it's "alright" to rat on fellow classmates. Part of me thinks they deserve being caught out, by virtue of trying to cheat their way through the course. However, I feel like I would get found out by other students if they were caught cheating.

    What is the right course of action here? To be clear, I would never raise an accusation in the middle of an exam; it would only lead to me being ostracized by my peers.

    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.

  • Amal Murali

    Amal Murali Correct answer

    7 years ago

    Honor is doing what’s right when no one is looking. If your institution's Honor Code requires you to report cheating, I'd suggest you report the action to your professor or a higher authority. This is good for multiple reasons:

    • You can prevent the cheating student from gaining an unfair advantage over his or her fellow students.
    • If they're caught (and punished), they might realize their mistake. If you never report the cheating, this student might sail through the rest of the term repeating the same mistake.

    However make sure the suspected cheater doesn't come to know who reported him/her. You can meet the professor after the exam and explain what happened. If you don't wish to reveal the person's name, don't. If you're not comfortable with talking to a professor about your classmates, you can send an unsigned letter, explaining in detail what happened during the exam and if possible, include some ideas on how to stop them next time.

    Before you do anything, think of the consequences. What if the other student discovers you're the one who reported the cheating? How would you feel if you confronted the cheater directly? If you can't imagine any of these situations, I suggest you let it slide.

    Note that the concept of an "honor code" does not exist world-wide.

    Also... "You can prevent the cheating student from gaining an unfair advantage": this is only true if students are competing against each other for grades instead of each one trying to learn for themselves. If that's the case, I would question if the institution is actually interested that everyone learns and probably just walk away and find another place to study.

    I don't agree with your suggestion to " send an unsigned letter". If the action is correct one should assume all its consequences. Allowing an unsigned letter may have drastic consequences.

    "If your institution's Honor Code requires you to report cheating" -- so honor only exists where codified?

    @cassianoleal: Not quite true: your grades end up in your vita. Assuming that many students (in one area) compete for the same set of jobs, cheating "just" for better grades (never mention passing at all!) *is* gaining the cheater an advantage.

    @Raphael: Nope. That was just an example scenario. The OP seemed confused. By talking about the institution's Honor Code, I was just trying to give a friendly push. It'd help if people didn't take things too literally :)

    @AmalMurali: Well, an "if" without the "else" branch has a certain meaning to a computer scientist. ;) Also, keep in mind that not every culture feels the need to write up codes of honour but rely on decent upbringing.

    @Raphael: that does makes sense. On the other hand, I'd probably be wary of working for a company that choose employees by their uni grades. Maybe that's because I'm in I.T. and many of the most brilliant colleagues I had never even graduated in a related course. :)

    _this is only true if students are competing against each other for grades_ — Or for jobs. Or for internships. Or for grad school admissions. Or for fellowships. Or for research opportunities. Or for anything else that depends on your grades.

    What is honor? And what if the inofficial honor rules oppose those written ones?

    Anyway, the word "honor" has very bad connotations for me, because it was (and still is, in many parts of the world) to justify the crimes and social unequality. However, +1 for the last paragraph: what if you get exposed as a reporter?

    @JeffE if the jobs or research opportunities or anything of finacial value depends on something so easily gamed like notes, the system is bad and requires fixing.

    _the system is bad and requires fixing_ — _Every_ system can be gamed. Moreover, every system _is_ gamed. That does not imply that you should tolerate other people gaming the system. (On the other hand, any higher-education system that requires solidarity among students _against their instructors_ is fundamentally broken.)

    @Name: "If the action is correct one should assume all its consequences." - I strongly disagree with that reasoning. If the action is the correct one, there should not be any negative consequences. The fact that in reality there may very well be negative consequences is precisely because a correct action does not guarantee a correct reaction. It is very possible that the cheaters decide to act incorrectly (again) by punishing the one who acted correctly (by speaking up about their cheating). Hence, anonymity to protect the one speaking up may be crucial.

    @O.R.Mapper Let me I ask you a question. If somebody writes an unsigned letter to a judge saying that "I testify that X has killed Y". Can the judge condemn X based on this unsigned letter? Does such a letter have a value from the legal point of view?

    @Name: The information found in the letter provides a hint on where to pay a bit more attention, as pointed out in various other comments and answers here, during the next similar occasion.

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Content dated before 6/26/2020 9:53 AM