I was caught cheating on an exam, how can I minimize the damage?

  • I got caught cheating in a two-hour engineering exam consisting of 100 multiple choice questions which was done online through the moodle e-learning software. I feel like my life is almost over.

    Having not studied well and having no time to study, I decided to cheat. I know there are no excuses for cheating. Before the exam I dug up research about moodle exams, and it turned out you can take the exam anywhere you want to as long as you have the quiz password. Taking advantage of this, I went up to my engineering library and asked a close friend who was taking the exam to send me the quiz password before he starts.

    What I had prepared:

    • Calculator (was not allowed during the quiz).
    • Printed material (consisted of more than 200 pages).
    • Google search engine (on a laptop ready to help).
    • Whatsapp (to ask questions for a friend who took the quiz last year).

    As I sat down, I did the first 50 questions, suddenly the quiz froze and moodle told me:

    you are not allowed to take the exam from this location.

    While I was leaving, one instructor responsible for the course (there are 5) came and found me. She accused me of cheating, took my mobile and made come with her to a huge office where two instructors searched all my mobile (took the name of my friend who gave me the password), and started talking to me, asking for all details of this crime. They took and confiscated my phone and looked at everything: Whatsapp conversations, all my emails, and images. The instructor took the mobile from my hand without asking me and kept it with her. It seems that the instructors are going to report me as well as my friend who sent me the password for the exam.

    The university's Student Code Conduct said that cheating will result in one of the following: a Dean's Warning, Suspension, or Expulsion. If any of that happens, my future is over. A dean's warning will cancel my financial aid. A suspension would be for at least two years, and coming back would require a lot of work. An expulsion will be definite.

    I've learned the lesson about cheating, now how can I fix this? How can I prevent the five instructors from reporting me? It's obvious that I should speak to them, but what should I say? What can I do? My future is almost over, but many of you are teachers and instructors here, what can I do to fix this?


    EDIT: Wow, it has been almost 3 years. I would like to update on how I dealt with the situation.

    Lesson: It was obvious to never ever cheat under any circumstances, and it was not whether you'd get caught or not.

    Consequences: I received a Dean's warning but the financial aid wasn't revoked. However, I couldn't stay in the department as engineering was not for me and I was even ashamed to stay in the university.

    What happened next: I transferred to an ABET-accredited Computer Science institution and I graduated with distinction in 2.5 years. It was extremely stressful as I had taken 6 major courses (18 credits) in one semester, but I had to do it.

    Future plans: I'm going for an MSc in Computer Science in St Andrews next year.

    Not an answer, but at least you're in an engineering degree. Financial aid probably isn't as important as you think it is, since student loans are laughably easy to pay off as an engineer. If it comes down to it, just take out the loans and finish, and be glad that this mistake only cost you a few tens of thousands of dollars. I've seen people fired for lying to their managers, and that would end up *much* more expensive.

    This question is posted via an account associated with your real name and location. Cheating is wrong and if a future employer or university asks about it, answer honestly. But consider whether you want this question associated with your real identity (at least the way you've framed it, still qualifying your actions with justifications).

    I feel like the right way to ask this question would be a couple sentences just saying that you cheated and maybe a few details about how it was planned beforehand (as in, not a spur-of-the-moment looked over someone's shoulder during the exam). The amount of detail on why you did it is making everyone suspect (rightly so) that you aren't really internalizing the honor code.

    All the previous comments have been moved to a chat room. Please carry the discussions on there.

    This certainly does not excuse the cheating in any way, but am I the only one who thinks that a warrantless search on a cell phone by an educational institution is an autocratic, and quite possibly illegal tactic?

    @RobertHarvey If I ask you for your phone and you say yes, it's perfectly legal. You have the right to say no, upon which my taking it would be theft, but you similarly have the right to say yes. Police searches work the same way - without a warrant, they can **ask** me if they can search, and if I say yes they'll come in and look around.

    "The instructor took the mobile from my hand without asking me and kept it with her" - so not done with positive consent. Furthermore, if someone in authority gains consent by deceiving you as to your rights than that *might* be improper even if a search with consent would have been proper. It's at least possible that the instructor has botched the arrest, so to speak. As to whether there's any benefit in playing that rather shabby card, depends on the procedures. It might lead to the university ignoring the phone evidence but still having enough to "convict" without that.

    The "moderator moves comments to chat" has to be one of the most annoying features of SE.

    @MartinArgerami a >9000 comment wall of text below a question/answer is a more annoying flaw of SE.

    Unlawful arrest, violation of privacy, unlawful confiscation of private property - and everything only because they were too lazy to prepare normal exam. It looks for me, your university can have bigger problems than you. You've broken only internal regulation, they've probably commited the criminal offense.

    @DanNeely: in my experience, the "wall of comments" is hidden behind a "show x more comments" text that is easier to access than a chat room (with a different text format, to add) and does not hamper browsing through the answers.

    @РСТȢѸФХѾЦЧШЩЪЫЬѢѤЮѦѪѨѬѠѺѮѰѲѴ: At least in the US, the courts have ruled on many occasions that universities have fairly broad rights in upholding its internal code of conduct, as they are acting _in loco parentis_. So the actions of the instructors would likely viewed as reasonable within the context of upholding the code of conduct. (If they had no reasonable cause for action, that's another issue.)

    @aeismail oh I see, the US are soooo different that I should not judge them according to European standards... On the other hand, the question doesn't specify that it was happening in the U.S. so why the assumption it was the case? Is that site U.S. only?

    @РСТȢѸФХѾЦЧШЩЪЫЬѢѤЮѦѪѨѬѠѺѮѰѲѴ: My point is that it is generally a bad idea to assume that things work across national boundaries. What's legal and normal in your country might be considered entirely inappropriate or even illegal in another.

    @aeismail I do not believe a university in the U.S. has the right to seize a cell phone without consent unless they have probable cause that a crime has been committed and that it likely contains evidence of said crime. Cheating is dumb and will get you suspended, but it's not a crime. You could conceivably get the instructor who confiscated the phone arrested if you so desired.

    You were detained, searched, and your property was confiscated by your school? What country is this?

    Next time make sure you lock your cellphone with password (what a rookie). Next time install moodle on your system first and see what it can do... Next time do not involve other people (students). Your life is not over; Don't let there be a next time; Suck it up;

    @aeismail If in the US, could OP appeal the cheating accusation under a precedent of illegal search and seizure, and at least free his/her friend hypothetically(phone evidence)?

    @committedandroider: Not a lawyer, but I suspect that the university's need to protect the integrity of the educational process would outweigh search and seizure issues.

    19 answers? How much different advice could there possibly be?

    Of course they know from where you took the Moodle test. I had the same situation with an exam on Moodle, being unprepared and all, but I tried my best not to fail too hard (which I unfortunately did). Fortunately, I passed the course due to my high grades on the laboratories. Cheating is pretty dumb and believe me no one would ever employ a cheater.

    I loooooooooove it when people come back and tell us what happened! I guess you could make an argument that it makes the question even more useful, but I'm upvoting for the human satisfaction from knowing how the story turned out. And congrats to OP for overcoming this (yes, self-inflicted) setback!

  • Dronz

    Dronz Correct answer

    6 years ago

    I've learned the lesson about cheating, now how can fix this? How can I prevent the 5 instructors from reporting me. It's obvious that I should speak to them, but what should I say? What can I do? My future is almost over, but many of you are teachers and instructors here, what can I do to fix this?

    From the way you wrote this, it seems to me that in your current mindset, you have not yet learned the full lesson. I say this because the second sentence above seems to me still in the same mindset where you are trying to control and engineer a result to essentially beat the system and get something better than your own actions have generated. That is not full understanding of learning that that whole approach is not appropriate. You're treating the system like an adversary, acting in a victim mentality, and trying to manipulate your way out of it. You have some lessons to learn about humility, honesty, surrender, and building integrity from the ground up. I would suggest accepting those.

    I would suggest it may help for you to consider you may also be wrong-minded when you think things like:

    If any of those happen, my future is over. A dean's warning will cancel my financial aid. A suspension, will be at least for two years and coming back requires a lot of work. An expulsion, will be definite.

    The "my future is over" fear is what led you to cheat in the first place. As your professor kindly observed, you didn't need to cheat in the first place, and it got you into far worse trouble than doing your best would have. Indeed, I think your future looks darker if you don't take full responsibility now. I would be more optimistic about your future if you lose your financial aid and have to leave that university, but actually learn your lesson and continue at some other institution.

    Your future will depend on your mindset, your integrity, and how you do your chosen field of work (including how you feel about yourself and how you relate to your work). These things are built upon each other like the bedrock, foundation, and upper levels of a building. If your mindset is full of panic, it will undermine your integrity. If your integrity is unsound, it will undermine your work. Seriously. This is practical and not empty moralizing.

    So, realize that if you really want to be an engineer, you can do this, even if you need to go to another university. Even if it takes another 2 or even 4 years. Then, restore your integrity by being completely honest about everything and taking full responsibility for everything you caused and continue to cause. Don't try to cover anything up, make anything sound good, look good, nor avoid looking bad. You will feel a lot better about it all when you let go of resisting and admit everything. Your instructors know all about it, and will notice any attempt to make this better for yourself, so even if you were going to cling to being a desperate manipulative person, it would be best to surrender and fully admit everything, and be as honest as possible in everything you do. If you can really learn these lessons, then it may actually make sense to give you some leniency. If you're still resisting, then it wouldn't be doing anyone any favors in the long run, to do anything less than suspend you.

    The good news is, this lesson is FAR more important than the engineering content you were studying.

    +1 This is a wonderful answer and hits on the bigger picture for the OP. The first paragraph is spot on.

    I was wondering whether anyone would mention the fact that the instructor didn't think that he/she needed to cheat to pass (though it might not be an exact quote)

    I agree with the gist of this answer. However, I think the awkward truth is that the following may not be the right advice for everybody: "Don't try to cover anything up, make anything sound good, look good, nor avoid looking bad.". All good people do those things. It's true that most people in the OP's position should get that out of their mind - but for people whose social behaviour relies more on "System 2" than is typical (in Daniel Kahneman's words), that may be a counterproductive over-simplification -- and the OP's wording makes me wonder if they fall into that category. Be good :-)

    To be clear: *anybody* who could write what the OP did *clearly* needs to get well out of the "how can I work around this" frame of mind. Just not completely, because life always involves some of that.

    I disagree with this answer. He should simply get a zero and warning (unless this is repeated). From an outcomes standpoint, a productivity standpoint, forcing a student to move to another university and spend 2-4 years redoing all courses, or spending tens of thousands of dollars redundantly is economic waste. Is, not seems to be. If he were employed, he probably wouldn't be fired. He would, in most cases, be warned. How many times he could do this would depend on how otherwise valuable an employee he is. If he is a poor researcher, fire him; otherwise warn him. Anything else is unreasonable.

    @GuidoJorg I wasn't saying what the university should do with him, and I wasn't suggesting that it would be better for him if the university expels him, or if he loses his financial aid. I'm saying he needs to notice that he is still attempting to control and manipulate the situation at this point, and let go of that approach for now. Even from a strictly practical short-term tactical approach, this would be the best approach, because the university is onto him and will notice any attempt to manipulate - it will only worsen his result.

    The OP does not take responsibility for cheating. They just want to avoid the penalties of having been caught. I would hope that they are reported - I would not want to hire them.

    @Dronz I wish I could give +1s for individual sections of your answer. I especially loved the last sentence, that OP has an opportunity to learn a very important and valuable lesson. I am not optimistic that she will but, thankfully for everyone, your answer is going to be on this site for us to revisit and chew on from time to time.

    @user15282 I disagree with you completely. He is seeking to be an engineer. Dishonest actions and then further trying to cover them up _kills people_ in engineering. You would almost certainly be dismissed immediately from any serious engineering company for such actions in a job and, in some situations, you could also face criminal prosecution.

License under CC-BY-SA with attribution


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