How do those scummy cheats do it?
March 4, 2006 6:50 PM   Subscribe

Inspired by this question, I would like to know what people actually do to cheat in university (or school, or academic settings generally).

I'm looking for something less generic than 'ask a smart friend' or 'pay a smart nerd'. Surely there are some ingenious methods out there for increasing your grades? (disclaimer: I've never used any, and I don't need to. People who cheat to get through end up being the dumbass in my group project making me do all the work because they still can't write).
posted by jacalata to Education (67 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Some people post requests on Craigslist for people to write their papers for them. I came across such a request several months ago. It was posted by a woman who was getting ready to graduate with a BA in English and she wanted someone to write five papers for her in a two-week time span. The worst part was that she couldn't write a coherent sentence and she was *this close* to finishing her degree. In English. I was shocked, to say the least.
posted by smich at 6:55 PM on March 4, 2006

I've seen some pretty suspicious postings on I'm sure some slack CS majors are willing to, ahem, outsource their degree.
posted by slhack3r at 7:14 PM on March 4, 2006

I know some people who have more aunts and uncles than Bertie Wooster. It's amazing how they all manage to kick off right before a paper's due.
posted by booksandlibretti at 7:19 PM on March 4, 2006

Modern scientific calculators can store enough data (e.g. store the important parts of your notes) and programs to be considered cheating if you are taking an exam that does not allow say, an equation sheet, and the professor is not planning the exam for the use of stored calculator data/programs. For example I made a program on my calculator to solve the quadratic equation, and if I was taking a test that was supposed to test that ability, it would be cheating. Professors would be wise to ban calculators from tests, really. I just looked it up and was very surprised to find that the SAT still allows them.

People write things on their hands.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 7:20 PM on March 4, 2006

Best answer: The best cheat I ever saw was in high school. It wasn't brilliant, but it won my admiration due to sheer chutzpah: we'd been assigned a term paper, and one of my classmates -- Joey -- didn't get his done until AFTER the due date. In fact, he finished it the day the teacher had finished grading them and was going to hand them back.

He got to class a few minutes early. Most of us were already in our seats, but the teacher was out in the hall, talking to someone. Seeing his chance, Joey slipped his paper into the stack of graded papers on her desk. He did this in front of all of us, assuming no one would turn him in -- a bold move. Or was it? I couldn't figure out his plan. Surely, if the teacher was planning to return our papers, the grades were already entered into her gradebook.

A couple of minutes later, she came into the room. She said, "For the most part, I was happy with your papers. I'm going to return them now. The following people will didn't turn in any paper and will be receiving Fs: Amy, Bill, Joey..."

At which point Joey leapt up from his seat and said, "WHAT? I turned one in! I SWEAR I did. I worked really hard on it, too!"

The teacher smirked. She'd heard that one before. "Fine," she said, "If you turned in a paper, you go find it in that stack."


Once, in Junior High, I was standing up at the a teacher's desk, asking him a question. I glanced down and saw the seating chart. By every name, there were check marks. Some students had one, some had two, some had five.

Later, I was thinking about it, and I realized the marks must be notes of how many newspaper clippings we'd brought in. It was a Social Studies class, and we got a few points for clipping an article, pasting it on a piece of paper, and writing a paragraph about it.

The next day, before class, I sidled up to his desk, whipped out a pencil, and added about six checkmarks by my name. The extra points brought me up from a C to a B+.


Once, I got the answers to a multiple choice test. I didn't have the discipline to memorize them (or to study for the test), so I created a little code. A star meant A, a half moon meant B, a circle was C and a diamond was D. Then I covered the front of my notebook with this code -- adding additional, random symbols too, so that it just looked like a doodle. The teacher didn't mind if I had a closed notebook on my desk.

I was in school back in the very early days of PCs. Technology still had the power to awe. Many times, I claimed I needed extra time on a paper, because there was something wrong with my computer or printer. The teachers were so impressed that I was using a computer to begin with, they generally gave me an extension.
posted by grumblebee at 7:28 PM on March 4, 2006

I once studied for an exam in a science class with a group of other people from the class. One girl had gotten a few old midterms from the same class and we worked through all the old problems for practice. Then it turned out that the professor just recycled one of the older tests-- the problems were exactly the same. It's not technically considered cheating to study from old tests, but I felt a little weird about it, since I got a perfect score on the exam, and other people in the class who hadn't seen all the questions in advance didn't fare as well.

Other things I've heard of: If the class offers several sittings for the midterm, one guy goes to the early one, then tells his friends what's on the test so they can look up the answers and cheat on the later exam. I've also heard of people recylcing other people's papers for big classes.

Lastly, at my school it was considered cheating to have a native speaker look over your homework for language classes. Spanish compositions should reflect one's actual skill and not be corrected by a friend with better skills. However, having someone go through and fix mistakes was extremely common. This policy was confusing to people, since it's okay to have someone proofread an English paper but not a Spanish one.
posted by bonheur at 7:31 PM on March 4, 2006

A lot of students [at least for English lit. classes] just buy papers outright... there are a million websites that sell them. The problem is that the papers are written by hacks, are often incorrect, and the students that buy the papers aren't smart enough to know the difference. Isweartogod if I get to teaching, and I get a paper like that, someone's getting expelled. By doing things like this, it cheapens the value of a degree for everyone.

Why should you [not YOU] get the same job as I, when you didn't do the work, or you don't know the subject?
posted by exlotuseater at 7:33 PM on March 4, 2006

Two words: "learning disability"
posted by Brian James at 7:37 PM on March 4, 2006

Why should you [not YOU] get the same job as I, when you didn't do the work, or you don't know the subject?

Because in many if not most cases, a university degree is just a general qualification, a means for an employer to separate the sheep from the goats when interviewing prospects. The fact that someone cheated on a paper about Keats is all but irrelevant, and indeed in our nearly ethics-free culture might be more of a recommendation than sitting down and trudging through the tedium of writing an original paper.
posted by zadcat at 7:39 PM on March 4, 2006

Best answer: The ballsiest thing I saw in college was a trustifarian who had somebody to take all of his classes for him. Literally, everything.

He got the diploma his parents wanted, the other kid got a free education (but no paper).

Last I heard, he was happily wasting his days away, making music and selling pot.
posted by I Love Tacos at 7:42 PM on March 4, 2006

As a grad student in CS, I get to mark undergraduate programming submissions. By far the most common form of cheating we see is outright copying; the hard part is detecting the pairs/triples of people that have similar submissions out of the 300 that get turned in.

To diverge from your question a little, we have programs that look for commonalities between submissions and then we eyeball them to see if the commonalities deserve to be there or not. In the spirit of fair play, I give you this list of things to do if cheating on a (programming) submission:
  • Remember to change the name on the submission so it matches yours (stop laughing, people forget),
  • Don't copy from people who have very similar/adjacent student IDs since we mark in order,
  • Don't copy from people who don't know what the fuck they're doing - we get real suspicious when we find multiple submissions with the same stupid mistake,
  • Don't copy verbatim; at least change the cutesiness in the comments so we don't have unique strings to grep for, and
  • Don't submit code that looks like it was written by a professional or obviously comes from a tutorial website - we know which students are quality coders and notice when you suddenly submit something that's not in your usual incompetent style
Or just do the damn assignment. You just know you'll fail the exams anyway if you don't learn the content during semester.
posted by polyglot at 7:49 PM on March 4, 2006

Regarding the SAT and calculators: when I took the PSAT earlier this school year, we had to clear the memory of our calculator and show the "memory clear" message to the teacher running the room. We have to do that after tests in regular math class to keep people from storing the answers. I'm sure this could be faked, but it makes cheating a little harder. In classes that use calculators less often, though, like chemistry, we don't have to clear calculators. I've heard of people using this to cheat on tests in that class. This is in high school, though. IDK about how it would work in college.
posted by MadamM at 7:54 PM on March 4, 2006

"Don't copy from people who don't know what the fuck they're doing - we get real suspicious when we find multiple submissions with the same stupid mistake"

Ahhhh. The problem explained. See, a good student isn't going to participate in your cheating scheme. So what you get is the blind leading the blind. Good luck with that.
posted by bukvich at 7:56 PM on March 4, 2006

Best answer: History Lesson: Back in 1968, waaaay before computerized report cards in high school, the administration staff at my school went on strike. There was no one in the office to type up the hundreds of report cards needed. I was a senior. One of my electives was Personal Typing. As it turned out, the students in every typing class were recruited to type up the cards. I sat in the desk closest to the instructor, so I got to pass out the blank cards to all the students. I was supposed to give each kid six cards. I quickly realized the potential... my friends and I each got eight or ten cards.

I had a duplicate report card my entire senior year. One recorded my actual grades. (Not bad grades... only one C, but that would have been enough to get me grounded for the entire next marking period. My mother was a control freak about grades.) I filled out the other card myself, using different pens and altering the handwriting. I never gave myself less than a B.

My mom signed the dummy card, thinking it was real. I hid it. I forged her signature on the real card. No one ever found out. My friends never got caught, either. We joked about it at our ten year reunion.
posted by Corky at 8:12 PM on March 4, 2006

MadamM: when i was invigilating a university chemistry term exam this year, i had to go around and ask the students with fancy calculators to do exactly that. i'm sorta out of touch with calculators though, and i'm certain that there were some calculators that i didn't catch, and that not everyone who was giving the exam (there were 15 of us and something like 1500 students) did this.

course, i consider a "reference list" of equations stored in your calculator a relatively benign form of cheating. it's like the "quadratic equation" example... sure, you could write a program to solve an equation, and use it on an exam.. but on most university exams if you don't show the steps and just have an answer, you don't get any points anyway. i guess it might help on a multiple choice exam though.

anyway the reality in chemistry (and most other fields) is that what you have memorized is largely unimportant, and when you need to know things you just go look them up. for this reason i don't think an equation in a calculator is bad in the way that copying a paper is bad.
posted by sergeant sandwich at 8:13 PM on March 4, 2006

Oh yeah - HP48 + beefed-up IR link in exam = awesomeness. Just don't get busted.

When I was an undergrad engineer, the faculty specified that thou shalt use a particular model (Sharp EL-556G IIRC) of calculator; no other calculators were permitted in the exams.
posted by polyglot at 8:14 PM on March 4, 2006

You'd be amazed how many journalism students would simply invent sources of quotes. Need some man-on-the-street reaction to a university policy? Pick a name out of the phone book and think up a tasty quote that summarizes your story's angle. Need to write a compelling personality profile for journalism class? Invent some cool student that no one's ever heard of that has some uncurable disease, but dammit, they're gonna graduate if it's the last thing they do. Great story. Too bad it's fiction. I mean, it was real Stephen Glass, Jayson Blair kinda stuff.
posted by frogan at 8:21 PM on March 4, 2006

Students sometimes buy papers from services / websites. It's fun when the company inserts a sentence "This paper was purchased from..." and the student forgets to take it out.

They also sometimes cut and paste directly from several websites. Sometimes without changing fonts or sizes, which can make for an odd-looking paper.

On tests with bluebooks, people will sometimes write notes on the last page and then tear it out before turning it in.

Professors would be wise to ban calculators from tests, really.

It would be easier and more useful to have the department buy a supply of cheap calculators with the required capabilities and hand them out for the test. Likewise, the simple solution to salted bluebooks is to hand out blank bluebooks.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:22 PM on March 4, 2006

bukvich writes "See, a good student isn't going to participate in your cheating scheme. So what you get is the blind leading the blind."

I wrote a tracking add on to the major application I support for. The code basically tags every single object a person creates with the date, time and UserID of the creator. Another chunk of code examines every file openned by instructors to determine whether the file has been edited by more than one person. If yes a dialog pops up listing all UserIDs that worked on the file.

Anyways we have fool proof evidence of cheating. With a few minutes analysis we can tell when different copies diverged and what percentage of the files was create by each person.

It is amazing, to me anyways, how much relationship "assistance" goes on. We see at least one case every semester where the male half of a relationship is doing 80-99% of the female's half. And not one case yet the other way. Often the male half is a solid A or B student.

Another trick we used to see every once and a while is students physically damaging floppies used to hand in work. The theory being they could get a few more days when the instructor can't read the disk and asks for another copy. This has only fallen out of favour because few instructors use floppies anymore.
posted by Mitheral at 8:27 PM on March 4, 2006

Best answer: A former PI loved to tell a story about a student of hers who went to the bathroom during a final exam and was found consulting a textbook in the stall. Just because you're a university student doesn't mean you're above the classic methods of cheating.
posted by rxrfrx at 8:34 PM on March 4, 2006

Here's a few things I've run into at school:

1) When the teacher is out of the room during a test, a pretty big invitation to cheat, the volume of an otherwise silent class suddenly increases. This has happened in every test I've taken in the past two semesters where the professor leaves the room.

2) With take home exams, quizzes and papers, I've seen many students in the tutoring lab social engineering the tutors to help answer the questions.

3) I've witnessed students in an early morning class handing a student in the later class a copy of the exam.

4) Students regularly take online exams and quizzes in the computer labs, which seems to be a breeding ground for cheating. I've watched students work with each other on finals, midterms, and general quizzes. I've even had students in the tutoring lab blatantly ask me to help them with their homework online, which turned out to be an exam.

(I should note, though tutor related schemes are common, all of the labs I've worked in have specifically addressed cheating during training. Cheating in such a setting is very common.)

5) The graphing calculator based cheats are not common outside of engineer types, but you can, with a single google search, find a text editor or paging program for the TI-83 and upload a significant amount of text.

6) Cellphone based cheating is relatively popular, but cellphones are generally banned in the classroom setting. I've seen teachers fail students for answering a cell during an exam. There are several ways to cheat with a cell: uploading text, SMS, IM, or simply making a phone call.

7) One of the most creative instances I've run into was a student that recorded all of the answers to an MP3 that would say the answers at an interval so that he would look like he's naturally look like he's taking the exam and finish in the middle of the pack of students. The MP3 was discretely hidden near, but not in his ear, and played at a volume he thought was inaudible to anyone else. The teacher happened to hear a single letter as he walked by, asked the student to speak with him in the hall, at which point the iPod was discovered, still playing the answers. The student had scored the answers by swiping them from the professors office.
Regarding the SAT and calculators: when I took the PSAT earlier this school year, we had to clear the memory of our calculator and show the "memory clear" message to the teacher running the room.
That is very easily remedied programatically, though I don't see a program that does this in my cursory search. The only way to prevent calculator based cheating is to provide calculators during the exam.
It is amazing, to me anyways, how much relationship "assistance" goes on. We see at least one case every semester where the male half of a relationship is doing 80-99% of the female's half. And not one case yet the other way. Often the male half is a solid A or B student.
The student handing copies of exams to another student, number 3 in my list, was a female student handing it to her boyfriend. The odd thing about this was that she really took the exams and averaged a C. He cheated on every exam and still only managed, purposely perhaps, a B.
posted by sequential at 8:35 PM on March 4, 2006

Abacus Wrist PDA

Need I say more?
posted by matkline at 8:49 PM on March 4, 2006

Cheating on exams:

We have to go to amazing lengths to prevent users from exchanging information during computer based exams while still allowing them to submit their results. Students will try to use IM, email, ftp, drive mapping, shared web file stores, telnet and probably a couple others I've forgotten. Students using laptops will attempt to setup adhoc wireless networks. I've also seen students attempt to prep a couple of lab computers ahead of time by joining them with a FireWire cable.

polyglot writes "HP48 + beefed-up IR link in exam = awesomeness."

First gen HP48s didn't need any hacking, you could send and recieve IR communications a good 3-5 metres. The second gen and up models were crippled with wide angle IR transmitters limiting range to a few inches after schools threatened to ban them. Everyone in my engineering classes had one, a HP48 was as essential as slide rules were 15 years earlier. Mine cost more than my first semester's tuition.
posted by Mitheral at 8:50 PM on March 4, 2006

Most forms of cheating only work if the instructor is burned out and doesn't give a shit. Otherwise, it is easy to catch. I have students do a lot of writing so I get to know their style--it stands out like a sore thumb is they turn in work not their own. I make assignments specific and quirky enough that they can't just find something off the internet to hand in. (Off-topic assignments are another red flag.) I google a few sentences from every paper--it really doesn't take very long. Student turn in outlines and notes in advance of their papers, a last minute change of topic is another red flag. Google Print lets me search within printed books now, which is nice.

During tests, I allow students to bring in a page of handwritten notes, which eliminates the whole cheat sheet thing. I walk around during the test and when I sit, I sit in back so no one knows if I am looking at them.

On the other hand, I know of whole departments at certain schools where cheating is more or less allowed, to boost enrollment. Yeck.
posted by LarryC at 8:50 PM on March 4, 2006

Some friends of mine run a freelance proofreading/copy editing business, mostly through the Web. They once received an email requesting that they write someone's master's thesis for them. At least the student cared enough to seek out custom work.

My friends declined to take the job.
posted by stet at 8:55 PM on March 4, 2006

I was once offered a lot of money by the parents of one of my tutoring kids if I wrote his highschool physics assignment for him. (It was supposed to be a literature project that they did over the course of a few months, and they asked me to write the whole thing because it was due in a week and he hadn't done anything yet). I refused, and said I'd take the whole weekend to do it with him, or they could find someone else to do it. "His previous tutor wrote his assignments!", said mom, and: "He won't need physics once he gets into economics at university". No, but he would need to hand in other asisgnments....
I don't remember if I ended up helping him (writing it together) or if they found someone willing to help him cheat, but I didn't write his assignment.
posted by easternblot at 9:27 PM on March 4, 2006

I temped for a few weeks in a university department, and it was during the makeup exams they hold in the summer for students that couldn't write the exams in the regular time slot. We had to arrange to get the exams for the instructors to mark, and there was a huge delay (like days). We finally got the lowdown from the registratr's office. During one of the exam periods (where a huge amount of students were all in the same room but writing different exams), after a large amount of the exams had been handed in, a guy in a ski mask walked in. He picked up a bunch of the exams stacked on the tables, and then ran out. Some of the invigilators chased him, but no luck. Security was called, but the guy was long gone. I don't know if they ever found the exams or not, I was laughing too hard at the mental picture of those poor invigilators trying to chase down a guy in a ski mask streaming stolen exams behind him.

Other tactics: getting someone to write an exam for you, provided they could use your student card (i.e. looked enough like you to fool the invigilator); verbatim copying of internet sources on papers.
posted by Cyrie at 9:46 PM on March 4, 2006

Once I was out sick at high school--absolutely not a problem except for a missed test in P.E., which I didn't care about at all. Soccer. The teacher went over the answers in class, assuming perhaps that I cared about soccer, or that I was much too honest to cheat, or that I couldn't possibly memorize all the answers.

It was a long test, and about a third of the way through, I realized that I probably couldn't memorize all the answers. So I memorized the first half and the last third, and a few question numbers to make sure he didn't rewrite the test, and got a B+.

And then once in college I wrote a paper about Their Eyes Were Watching God which was equally applicable to two classes, so I turned it in one semester and then turned it in again, with just a few revisions, in another class a couple of semesters later. That was plagiarism since I didn't cite my own earlier work.
posted by Tuwa at 10:03 PM on March 4, 2006

Response by poster:

Thanks to all - I've marked a couple as best answer, aiming for the more original stories. As I said, I'm not looking to cheat myself, just interested in some of the more extreme efforts people have gone to.

More are welcome :)
posted by jacalata at 10:43 PM on March 4, 2006

easternblot - I bet that kid you refused to write their paper for is making many multiples of what you or I are now... =(

I used to faciliate cheating in highschool (exams were looseleaf; I finish one, I "carelessly" pushed it away from me, to my right and up - helped a couple of friends who where also by "lab partners" and thus took tests on the same 2-person benches as I was on).

I didn't really detect any in college; well written exams which tested application of knowlege weren't ripe for word-for-word copying.

Perhaps I was naive (or in a very small-school-social setting) but the only blatant "cheat'" that I was aware of was a mature (ie., dropped out of college the first time around, did some "real life" stuff, came back as a 30-something) student who was "secetly" letting one (? more?) of the professors bone her.
posted by PurplePorpoise at 10:55 PM on March 4, 2006

I allow students to bring in a page of handwritten notes

Some professors do, and some don't. The prof of my upper level physics classes was one of the latter. "A classmate" would never have passed without taking advantage of the classroom's ancient, graffiti-scrawled desks -- he'd show up early in order to study/cram before the exams, writing down all the needed formulæ onto his desktop.
posted by Rash at 11:19 PM on March 4, 2006

A guy in my class in university went into his final exam before graduation without having studied a lick. So he spent the first thirty minutes or so of the exam in what could be considered the opposite of a meditative state, holding his breath, shuddering, convulsing, trying to work himself into a froth. He drank lots of caffeine beforehand, and had a bad cold, which helped. After his face was sufficiently red and sweaty, he went to the professor and asked to leave, saying he wasn't feeling well, and could he just submit the parts of the exam he'd finished? The prof went for it, and he walked straight from the exam room to the pub.

I also had at least three exams in uni where someone would pull the fire alarm about 3/4 of the way through the allotted time, allowing the last-minute answer swap outside. Not much the profs could do there.

Another exam I was in featured a guy getting kicked out because he was reading written things off the inside of his shoe.

And not a cheat, but a bending of the rules, perhaps: did you ever have permission to make a one-page "cheat sheet" for your exam, for storing obscure formulae and things they wouldn't expect you to memorize? Well, a guy I knew managed to reproduce the entire textbook for the course on a single page, I guess by scanning each page in and shrinking it to the appropriate size. He had to read the text with a magnifying glass.
posted by Succa at 11:27 PM on March 4, 2006

Academic language lab during school.
It had recorded conversations where you'd listen to conversation snippets over the headphones, and then answer a multiple choice question on the conversation:

"Excuse me, do you know where the restroom is?
Why, yes, it's down the hall with a blue door"
Is the door:
A) Red
B) Blue
C) Green
D) Turtle

It was an open test, meaning that you went into the lab when it was open, sat down, and took the test.
So, all you need is someone who speaks the language to listen to the tape and tell you the answers, right?
Problem 1, it's a 15-20 min exam and problem 2, the desk had just a keypad with ABCD on it, nothing else was allowed on the desk, so you couldn't crib the answers.

However, about two sessions in, a friend of mine had a brilliant idea, why not just record the session with a mini-cassette recorder and play it back for your foreign acquaintance at your convenience?
Ah, but the dastardly language people had thought of that, and used a odd shaped plug for the headphones, you couldn't just rig up a Y-cable with a miniplug.
But wait, isn't that plug the same plug they use for airplane headphones? Why, I think it is.
One trip to RadioShack later, a few minutes with pliers and soldering iron to make it discreet, and viola, one pre-recorded language lab for your listening pleasure.

But, wait, you might be saying, now you've got the answers, but how are you going to 75 ABCD choices?
Well, you know, that same mini-recorder can also playback...

posted by madajb at 11:34 PM on March 4, 2006

The professor in my mathematical analysis class always signed everyone's papers before they started writing. He also used the standard anti-cheat methods of constantly walking around and sitting at the back of the room.

A guy in the class always wrote about 15 A4 sheets of answers to possible questions (one per sheet) beforehand and stashed them in his socks. During the test he would write near-gibberish on the original sheets so as to make it seem he was actually working hard. He would then stealthily exchange the original sheets with the right answer-sheets in his socks, forge the professor's signature and hand over the test. He never got caught.
posted by A Kingdom for a Donkey at 11:34 PM on March 4, 2006

Here's one of the more unusual cheating stories I've heard (from the professor).

At the end of a math exam, one student walked out with his exam, instead of turning it in. He then worked on in for a few more hours (presumably, with some outside assistance), and then dropped it on the floor of the room where the exam was held. He correctly predicted that the janitor would give the exam to the professor, who would then assume that the paper in question somehow got dropped while being carried out of the room.

The student would have gotten away with this, except he pulled the same stunt a few weeks later, on the final exam. Why is it that students consistently underestimate the pattern-recognition abilities of their math professors?
posted by epimorph at 11:41 PM on March 4, 2006

My, ahem, brilliant idea in high school was to take a water bottle (any kind of commercially sold bottled water bottle), carefully remove the label, scribble any important notes on the back side of the label, and then tape it back on. Makes for a very refreshing mid-exam drink. In the same vein, I've also seen people slip very skinny crib notes (I think it was a column of multiple choice answers) into clear Bic pens.
posted by apple scruff at 12:01 AM on March 5, 2006

At least in my econ classes where we needed only to perform basic functions with a calculator, we were only permitted to have a scientific calculator to prevent cheating. Which meant that there were plenty of us running out to buy calculators about ten minutes before the exam because we didn't have one.
posted by anjamu at 12:07 AM on March 5, 2006

One year in high school, on the morning of the most last batch of exams of the year, a massive plate of chocolate chip cookies appeared mysteriously in the staff commons. It was devoured pretty quickly. That afternoon all the exams were cancelled, and because it was not possible to reschedule the exam (summer recess started a couple of days later), all students were simply given a pass or their average grade for the year (whichever was higher). Turns out the cookies were laced with laxatives -- it was never discovered who baked them.
posted by randomstriker at 12:25 AM on March 5, 2006 [1 favorite]

In high school, many of our exams were Scantron (like the SAT where you fill in the bubble). Often, the tests would require more than one letter per line to be filled in -- if a matching section had more than 5 choices, 6 would be AB, 7 AC, etc. This meant that if you erased an answer and filled in a different bubble, the machine almost always thought you wanted both and would mark it wrong.

Usually the teachers would look over the tests and catch these errors, but if found one or two they'd be willing to give you the point. Obviously this was easily abused until people started getting too greedy (claiming 5+ errors instead of 1-2) and one teacher decided to xerox the scantrons before handing them back.

In college, I went to pick up my final paper from my advanced ethics prof (oh, the irony) and while he was digging it out he asked what my final grade had been. When I told him it was an 'A' he said "oh, you must've been one of the ones who didn't cheat." I was surprised that this professor had caught anyone cheating because this was the most absent minded professor I had ever had, which I'm sure is why the cheaters thought they could get away with it. I asked him how they cheated. Apparently, they had blatantly plagiarized, like google, copy, paste type plagiarism. One essay even included something along the lines of "In my previous article, I wrote..."
posted by chndrcks at 12:40 AM on March 5, 2006

I teach Econometrics part time, and the best way to detect cheating is to have a marginal student hand in a stellar disseration.

One time I had an idiot present TWO disserations, and asked me for my opinion wrt which would get the higher grade. And he flunked his mid term, never came to classs, etc. It was obvious he'd purchased both as they differed significantly in terms of writing style from each other and his earlier, mid term efforts.

Needless to say, after we'd bounced a few emails back and forth discussing the merits of the two I handed him over to Academic Affairs.

They had him in for an oral defense of BOTH. Which he failed miserably.
posted by Mutant at 1:20 AM on March 5, 2006

Succa writes "I also had at least three exams in uni where someone would pull the fire alarm about 3/4 of the way through the allotted time, allowing the last-minute answer swap outside. Not much the profs could do there."

My school administrators had more backbone I guess, I got to write a multivariable calculus exam twice because of one of these fools. It wasn't any less gruelling the second time.
posted by Mitheral at 1:31 AM on March 5, 2006

Sometimes it's the teacher that cheats. I took Forensic Science during my senior year in HS. My buddies and I were in the thick of our weed smoking years and our teacher, though he never said anything, couldn't have failed to notice. We all sat together at the same table everyday, in our stonage. It must have reminded him of his own teenage wasteland phase because he'd always walk over and talk to us about the rock band he used to be in and whatnot. He was cool, but you know, he was our teacher.

Well it's not surprising that we were all failing the class beautifully, until one day near the end of the year, he called us up ( my buddies and I), one by one to his desk, in front of the whole class. When my turn came I walked on up and he said "here is your grade": a whopping D-. Then he took a pencil, erased it and said " now this is your grade": while writing in a B+. I said, lamely, "ok, wow", and walked away, stunned.
posted by recurve at 2:55 AM on March 5, 2006

I did a history degree, where one of the final papers involved writing one essay in 3 hours. The general advice was plan for an hour, then write for 2 hours. I was stunned by the amount of people who opened the exam paper, looked at it for 2 minutes, went to the toilet, then came back and started pouring out prose. The general suspicion? That they had hidden essay plans or other revision notes in the cisterns of the toilets.

I also know of someone who got a starred first in his degree and was particularly praised (although anonymously) in the examiner's notes for digging out new source material on social conditions in 16th century England. The examiner was so impressed they tracked him down over the summer after the exams, only to be told he'd made it all up to suit his argument.

Finally, not connected to university, but my old flatmate teaches history at secondary school and often gets articles handed in that have been cut and paste straight from the internet. His remedy is to google the essay, and write the URL at the top of the essay together with the word "DETENTION"...
posted by greycap at 3:23 AM on March 5, 2006

I had a friend in engineering who'd do the bathroom trick. She'd go into a stall before the exam and hide her notebook down in the FEMININE HYGIENE TRASH BIN - knowing no one would think to look in there - and then ask for a bathroom break in the middle of the test. She never got caught. Incidentally, Accenture hired her the minute she graduated.
posted by web-goddess at 3:37 AM on March 5, 2006

In Corea the girls in middle/high school have unis, skirts &c. The trick is to write the answers on the upper thigh under the skirt. This really only works with male teachers who are, of course, not allowed to lift their students' skirts.

There is lots of cheating here: a natural side effect of 40-50 students per class.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 4:49 AM on March 5, 2006

When I was 15 I had to do a maths test, I don't think it counted for anything but it pissed me off that I couldn't remember a particular formula (and I can't now, either), so I managed to write it on my hand so it looked like an appointment I was keeping, with a time and a place.

Not quite cheating: For my A-Levels I would summarise the entire course on to one A4 sheet and carry it with me to the exam. Standing outside the hall waiting to go in, I would wait until the last minute to throw it away. Then as soon as we were allowed to start writing, I would write down everything I could remember, which what with it only being a few minutes ago was a fair bit. Funnily enough this year at uni I'm actually allowed to take in a page of A4 notes, and with the course being so laughably easy I'm struggling to think what to put on it. Maybe sodoku.

Also not quite cheating: my dad didn't do ANY work in his first year of uni, so in a panic on the eve of a big exam he goes to the library and grabs a chemistry book at random. Reading it cover to cover, he finds the next day that a large portion of the exam is on exactly that subject and passes his first year.
posted by Orange Goblin at 5:57 AM on March 5, 2006

I always found that if you could get ahold of an answer key somehow for a true/false test or a multiple-choice test with 4 options, the smartest approach was to convert the key into several discrete binary numbers and memorize them. Then you didn't have to worry about being caught cheating during the test, because there's no evidence at test time.

(i.e., TFTTFTFFTF -> 1011010010 -> 722. You can easily get up to twenty answers into one decimal, or ten multiple-choice.)

Of course, you have to be lucky enough to have lazy teachers addicted to Scantron who don't even bother to develop several answer keys per test. You also have to know how to convert binary to decimal... so the application is limited. When it is applicable, it's pretty close to foolproof.
posted by cacophony at 7:51 AM on March 5, 2006

[Based on the spelling and grammatical choices in the previous comments, it strikes me that there's a much higher concentration of British MeFites in this thread than most of the others I've read. Curious.]
posted by kittyprecious at 9:00 AM on March 5, 2006

In programming classes at my school, there have been several instances of students putting the week's homework project up on and the like. Winning bids have gone from $50 go $300.
posted by Netzapper at 9:20 AM on March 5, 2006

Best answer: Okay, in my first post, I didn't admit to my biggest cheat (it was 80% an accident, but it was still a cheat), but since it happened almost 25 years ago, I guess I'll fess up: I cheated my way into college.

I was a complete fuckup in high school. My "excuse" is that my school and teachers were horrible. I was actually a hard worker -- just not at my boring schoolwork. I was constantly reading, studying, learning -- I was a total bookworm. I was also artistic, filling notebook after notebook with my drawings. There just weren't enough hours in the day to study all the stuff I was interested in AND do my schoolwork.

If I'd even had a single teacher encourage me, I think I would have done the work. It would have made a HUGE difference if someone had said, "I love your drawings, and it's great that you're reading that history book. You DO need to stop now and do your homework, but once that's done, I'd love to talk to you about ancient Rome." But no one ever did. I was just told that I was lazy, which I knew wasn't true. I've known many people who have said, "My education was horrible except for this one teacher who encouraged me." I never had that one teacher.

Once, I read about a math paradox that really sparked my interest. None of my friends were interested, so I went -- after class -- to my math teacher and told her about it. She just stared at me and then said, "I'm on break. Get out of here." This sort of thing was typical at my school.

Matters weren't helped by the fact that my parents were completely permissive. They let me do whatever I wanted and never "cracked the whip." They WOULD get upset when they saw Ds and Fs on my report cards, so I just started intercepting the mail. They didn't see a report card for about three years, and they never commented on this.

So I was able to live my life, not do my schoolwork, and still learn all kinds of useful, interesting stuff. In the end, I was horribly messed up, because by the time I got to college, grades really mattered, and I had no grade-getting skills. It took multiple college attempts for me to mature enough to buckle down and learn to do busywork. But I still have a complex relationship with school. To me -- even when I learned to succeed in school (I eventually became a straight-A student and went to grad school) -- it was totally disconnected with learning. I just figured out how to play by rules that would get me pieces of paper that were prized by society. Learning has always been something I've done on my own.

In any case, it was my senior year in High School, and I was just shy of flunking out. My parents had no idea that my grades were so bad, but I knew that no college would accept me. My dad kept bugging me to apply to colleges, and I kept saying, "Yeah, yeah, I will" and putting it off.

Finally, my dad thrust an application into my hand and said, "Fill it out!" I did, and there was a place on it where I was supposed to get a signature from my Guidance Counselor. So I actually went to her and got her signature.

She said, "Do you want me to mail in your application for you? I'm sending applications in for a bunch of other students and I can include yours." I didn't actually want to apply -- and get rejected -- so I said, "no thanks" and left her office. Later, I threw the application in the trash.

Apparently, she didn't remember that I'd declined her offer.

I lied to my parents and told them I'd applied. After a month or so, my dad started saying, "it's strange how you haven't heard back from that college." I would just mumble a "yeah." I knew it was all going to come crashing down on me soon, but -- in true adolescent form -- I just ignored it and hoped it would go away.

Then, one day, I was in class, and I got a note to come to the office. When I got there, I saw both my parents, the principal, the guidance counselor and some guy I didn't know. It turned out he was from the college. Everyone was yelling.

The school staff started telling me how sorry they were and that they'd do anything they could to set things right. The college guy also apologized. I was totally confused. But pretty quickly, I figured out what was going on.

My dad, having believed my lies, contacted both my high school and the college to find out why I'd never heard anything. Of course, the college said that they'd never received an application. For some reason, my dad then called my high school. My guidance counselor mistakenly remembered sending in my application. And she TOLD my dad that she sent it.

It was past the deadline, so there should have been no way I could have gotten into the college now, but my dad went ballistic. He threatened to sue both the college and my high school. And everyone believed that someone other than me had screwed up. The principal worried that the counselor -- or maybe a secretary -- had somehow lost my application. The college worried that they had received my application but somehow misplaced it. And they were all worried about being sued.

As soon as I realized what had happened, I went into an Oscar-worthy performance: "WHAT? YOU DIDN'T GET IT? BUT I GAVE IT TO MY COUNSELOR!!!! SHE SAID SHE WOULD SEND IT FOR ME!!!!" Everyone told me to calm down and that things would be okay. And basically they college guy -- who was from admissions -- just accepted me then and there, without looking at my grades, because it was the path of least resistance.
posted by grumblebee at 9:26 AM on March 5, 2006 [4 favorites]

grumblebee, that's freaking awesome.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 9:31 AM on March 5, 2006

Long thread but I'll throw one in for you. Not a college story but still highly amusing.

In high school a friend of mine was absent for a test and did not get back to class until after the test had been graded and returned. The teacher, being of the near retirement age sort, was not overzealous in his make-up testing policies and allowed my friend to take the same exam that the other students had taken, a multiple choice German test.

In the hour before the test my friend got a copy of someone else's graded bubble sheet, with all the answers correctly marked. Being a band nerd he decided to write a song based on the notes A, B, C, and D according to the sequence of the test. He figured that if he sat there and hummed the melody he would ace the test.

He got 100%.
posted by baphomet at 9:40 AM on March 5, 2006

Awesome story. I don't mean to pry too much, but I just gotta know.... did your dad ever find out what really happened?
posted by honeyx at 10:09 AM on March 5, 2006

History tests were always multiple choice for us. There were two history classes in the day, so someone in the first class would take an extra copy of the test and then give it to us once the class was done.

I'd then go over the test and determine the answers (I was one of the only people paying attention in class). Then we'd cut thin strips of paper out and write all the answers (ABCD) on the strip of paper and insert it into our bic pens (the translucent kind). This worked quite well, you just glanced at your pen as you completed the test.

Of course, one bozo still managed to fail one of these tests, as he had skipped an answer while transcribing the answer key and thus offset all his answers by one. Poor fool was too dumb to double check what he had answered.
posted by furtive at 10:13 AM on March 5, 2006

I have a good friend that graduated from high school a few years after I did, who told me one of the best cheating stories I've heard. He needed a top score on a biology exam, but with little knowledge of the subject matter and little time to study, cheating seemed to be the only route. A few days before the exam, he and a friend resolved to break into the school to steal the exam key. The biology classroom was on the second floor, and so that day during class they surreptitiously opened a window in the room. After sneaking onto campus early one morning, they built a precarious platform out of garbage cans and boosted themselves through the window. The exams were apparently kept in a file cabinet in a small room shared by several of the biology classrooms, and the door to that room was locked. My friend removed several ceiling tiles, and climbed through and over the wall to enter the small room, only to discover that the file cabinet itself was also locked. Unable to locate a key and not to be deterred, they read the serial number off the file cabinet and left the school. The next day, they called a locksmith and claimed that they had bought a file cabinet at an auction, but that the keys were locked inside. With the serial number, the locksmith was more than happy to make them a duplicate key. That night, they entered the classroom again through the window, this time opening the file cabinet and photocopying the exam key.

I told him I thought it would have been easier to learn the material.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 10:14 AM on March 5, 2006

did your dad ever find out what really happened?

Yes, I told him -- years later. It wasn't a big deal by then, because I never graduated from that college. I did just as badly there as I did in high school. After attending for four years, I dropped out. And I stayed out for a few years -- which was exactly what I needed to do -- and applied to a different school and started over. I didn't even transfer any credits from the first college. I really started completely over.

On my application to the second school, I admitted that I nearly flunked out of high school, but they let me in because I wrote a really good essay.

My brother, who went to the same horrible high school as I did, dropped out. He's 30 and still hasn't gotten an high school diploma. He's a pretty successful sound engineer. He's eleven years younger than me. He's lucky. Nowadays there are so many alternatives -- high school equivalencies, certificates, etc. Some of these things may have existed back in my day, but they weren't well known. Man! The YEARS I wasted!
posted by grumblebee at 10:26 AM on March 5, 2006

In college, a friend of mine called me on the last day of exams, mentioned this really hard physics test he'd just taken, and could I explain some problems so he'd know if he'd done them right. I did, and after I was done he mumbled, "Aren't cellphones great?" This was before cellphones were everywhere -he'd called me from the exam room.

I know a guy who failed calc twice in college. On the third (last) try, he had a female friend walk into the exam room, grab two tests, then loudly exclaim, wait, I'm in the wrong classroom! She walked out with tthe other copy of the test, and haded it off to the guy's cousin, who *did* know calc. Toward the end of the test period, the cousin handed off the test to my friend in the bathroom.
posted by notsnot at 10:29 AM on March 5, 2006

At least two tests I did in high school gave the answers for the multiple choice sections away. One of them was obviously copied from the answer key with white out; there were little dots around each right answer. The other time, the correct answer was indented about an inch. I'm not kidding.

For both, I ended up spending extra time on the multiple choice because I figured it was some sort of trick.
posted by ODiV at 12:04 PM on March 5, 2006

I swear there was a post on the blue last year sometime about university students cheating by posting the rough drafts of their research papers on Wikipedia and then waiting for the experts on that particular topic to swoop in and edit, clarify and improve them. (I can't find it now.)
posted by veronica sawyer at 12:06 PM on March 5, 2006

During a 7th grade test, the person next to me once looked up and told me I really needed to work on my handwriting. After that I asked for a new seat. Also, I know someone who wrote a book report on a book that didn't exist and turned the same (made up) report in twice to the same teacher (she was a little absent minded).
posted by martinX's bellbottoms at 5:02 PM on March 5, 2006

Oh, that reminds me how I did an art project, got it marked and given back, then the next year printed it off again, dug up the drawings, and handed it in again.
posted by Orange Goblin at 5:19 PM on March 5, 2006

SMS Text Messaging. Of course, now that it's all the rage, I don't know if it would still fly.
posted by iamck at 5:36 PM on March 5, 2006

My 10th grade Biology teacher checked out the books to the students. He checked out the teacher's edition to me. At the end of the year (after I passed) I "lost" the book. My friends paid for the lost book so that they could have it for the next year.
posted by nimsey lou at 7:34 PM on March 5, 2006

This one isn't amazing:
My final biochem exam (and last exam I took in college) had separate scantron-type form and paper test. I sat in the top tier of the lecture hall (huge room for 350+ test takers) next to a friend. We went through the paper test and circled what we thought, put question marks next to unsure. Halfway into it, we just switched the paper tests. Only 1 teacher supervising about 80kids on the top section so it was pretty clear and easy.
Unfortunately, as neither of us had studied that much, it didn't help that much. In hindsight, probably wasn't even worth the risk.
posted by shokod at 8:25 PM on March 5, 2006

In first year physics for engineers, we used an online third party system to take quizzes. Because many prof's from many schools used this system, there were different options with respect to hints, and showing answers after x amount of try's, etc. Fortunately, the wonderful "you got it wrong, but the answer is so and so" pages were publicly viewable if you could decipher the URL structure that the answer engine spit out also had the correct question ID (an 'internal' parameter).

I'll not go into it, because the vulnerability still exists, but it is sufficient to say that Firefox's "view page info" dialog is very helpful, and that I never got anything less than perfect on those quizes. ERTW, as they say.
posted by Drunken_munky at 9:32 PM on March 5, 2006

In medical school, it was known that the head of the Gross Anatomy course golfed. Students with memberships at local country clubs would invite him and their fellow students on golf dates. The year I took Gross Anatomy, all his golf buddies were white men, which was apparently usual. Most of them were friends of mine. Their consensus was that about 10% of the practical dissections on anatomy exams were impossible to answer correctly without reference to the tips he gave out during these golf excursions (or a lucky guess). I don't golf, but my buddies tried to clue me into what he'd mentioned on the course, which always got me an extra point or two.

There was no monitoring for cheating during routine med school exams. In the rest room during exams, you could hear papers rustling and stacks of notecards being flipped.

I don't know how it is at other med schools, but I look at the AOA list from my own alma mater with my tongue firmly in my cheek. I never cheated and didn't make AOA, but my USMLE scores were far and away the highest in my class.
posted by ikkyu2 at 11:37 PM on March 5, 2006

At the college I attended, every student had to write a senior thesis in their major. One year, a student who had hired somebody to write his thesis for him made the crucial mistake of not even flipping through it before handing it in. The first person who did open the book was the student's professor, who immediately discovered a receipt for "Thesis Writing Services" tucked inside the cover.

Maybe I'm naive, but I always got the sense that my fellow students took the school's honor code very seriously. I know I did, and so did my friends.

At least one of the professors, though, did not take it quite as seriously. According to rumor, the professor started at least one semester by telling her students, "I know you all have an honor code here, but growing up in Russia, it was just assumed that all students would help each other cheat. So if you chose to do that, I would understand."
posted by yankeefog at 8:14 AM on March 7, 2006

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