Taking Shortcuts

Cheating - using illegal cheat sheet on exam

By Judy Berman

Plans imperfectly conceived and carelessly executed. That’s usually the downfall of those who decide to cheat.

Cheating comes in all forms. The kind that leads to broken hearts or empty bank accounts. Or, in this case, the type related to academic shortcuts.

I confess. When I was in high school, I did some book reports for a boy in my class because I liked his brother.

His teacher knew something was odd. Suspicion was that he didn’t know where the library was in our two-story, smallish building.

He was caught. End of caper.

Some might dismissively write this off as a childish prank. But it’s not funny if you’ve ever had your work ripped off, and someone else took the credit for it.

In 11 years of teaching, I’ve stumbled on some lackluster schemes and foiled the culprits. No doubt, I’ve missed more than a few.

There are missteps to avoid, for those like Maynard G. Krebs, who cringe any time they hear the word “work.”

Cheating - crib notes

My first year of teaching a student handed in his report about hurricanes. I was really blown away (pun intended) by his phrasing and observations about the storm.

“Rory’s” group was one of the ones that used a poster board for their presentation and posted his essay on the board, despite me encouraging them NOT to.

One day, Rory and his teammates rushed into my room and began routing thru the trash. He told me they were looking for his essay.

Later, as I’m grading the essays that were turned in, I realized that one of them looked awfully familiar. Turns out, I was right. It was Rory’s.

Another student liked it so much that she tried to pass it off as her own. When quizzed about it, she didn’t deny it.

Other situations require the suave skills of a Sherlock Holmes.

For one project, students were to write a five-page journal about a country they “visited.” The writing was supposed to be based on research they’d done over a few weeks.

One student’s writing was very impressive – too much so. The vocabulary was definitely higher than middle school level. I did a quick Google search, and found that she had taken her “experiences” directly off a blog. Word for word.

Cheating - cheat sheet in a roller pen

When you try to pass someone else’s work off as your own, that’s plagiarism. Students are warned not to do it.

When I called the Mom, Mom insisted her daughter did the report on her own.

I told the Mom that I had the blog up on the screen, and offered to read it to her. She declined. The student had to re-do the project.

Some suggestions on how to avoid getting caught when you cheat:

  • Remember to get rid of the blue highlighting of words that link you to another source.
  • Different-size fonts in the same report are a tip-off that it was copied from various sources.
  • Spelling is another red flag. Not only do the British pronounce some words differently, they also spell them differently. (example; “color” – United States; “colour” – British)

OK, I left out a few tips. Also, at some schools, teachers have access to a program that quickly detects plagiarism.

The downside is: If the lesson is not learned early, the consequences for those caught can range from failing a grade, being kicked out of college or fired from a job.

What cheating scam – business, school or life – ticks you off?


COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-15. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider, earth-rider.com, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Music Video: “Baby It’s You” by The Shirelles (1961). This might seem an odd choice, but the lyrics … ‘cheat, cheat’ … were calling me. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8clnxViHdp8 

Photo: Cheating – using illegal cheat sheet on exam – Photo taken May 30, 2007, by Hariadhi   http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/5/5a/Cheating.JPG/640px-Cheating.JPG

Photo: Cheating – crib notes – cheat sheet in a juice box. Taken Sept. 20, 2007, by Stmichael. http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/c/c4/Spicker_trinkflasche.jpg/400px-Spicker_trinkflasche.jpg

Photo: Cheating – cheat sheet in a roller pen – Photo by ABF – taken Jan. 27, 2008. http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/8/8c/Spickzettel_im_Kugelschreiber_2.JPG/640px-Spickzettel_im_Kugelschreiber_2.JPG

  1. Since I always liked to write, plagiarism was never attractive to me although there was this boy who wanted me to do his homework. I didn’t and my hopes of young love were dashed.

  2. When I was sports editor of the daily, a notes column of another paper lifted one of our reporter’s stories and placed it into a notes column without attribution. It infutrated me, and the other paper’s sports editor refused to run a clarification or even apologize, which rankled me even further. Notes compilations happen all the time. I do it on my blog work — with clear and proper attribution to the sources who do the heavy original lifting. Thanks, Judy, for your slap at the cheaters.

    1. Like you, Mark, I also give proper attribution to the sources of any quotes, videos or photos I use when writing. It’s a courtesy that I would want someone to extend to me if they used anything I wrote.

      I know of more than one reporter – locally and nationally – whose reputations have been damaged by their lifting of other people’s works. A few were fired.

  3. Tax cheats infuriate us. As small business owners, we pay through the nose and it really rankles us when we see the lengths people will go to to not only avoid paying taxes, but to cheat at the game. My husband reports there is nothing like playing a game of golf with someone to see their true character – I guess that’s when the urge to cheat really overcomes some.

  4. In Junior High I may have copied the jacket of a book I didn’t read and submit it as my book report a few times. Oddly enough, I wasn’t caught, even though I copied it word-for-word.
    Diana xo

    1. There are temptations, Diana. One former co-worker was fired after he was caught taking information from a source and not giving proper accreditation. I tend to think he did this because he felt stretched to the max.

  5. In this age of technology, the ability to plagiarize is even easier. Luckily, it’s also easier to catch the culprits. I hope that girl’s mother talked to her about her actions afterward, though if she didn’t believe you that her daughter cheated, my guess is she didn’t. What an opportunity lost to teach a valuable life lesson.

    1. Unfortunately, Carrie, I do hope the mother did have that conversation. But, when we first talked, it appeared the mother was in denial.

      I’m not sure if our school has the technology to spot plagiarism. But, in middle school, it is often easy for teachers to detect cheating.

  6. I can understand students not understanding about plagiarism–but they definitely need to. My daughter has had to work with her high school students, and they’ve had to re-write papers.

    I’ve had to deal with contributors to my books who plagiarize material. I can understand making a mistake and forgetting to mark something in your notes, but one guy lifted paragraphs and paragraphs, and even after I pointed it out to him, he still insisted it was OK because he said it was “public domain.” They were actually signed articles, but even if they weren’t, he would still need to mention the source. I had to re-write all of his articles. (But truthfully, mine were much better. 🙂

    1. You’re right, Merril. Even when it’s public domain, the source should be credited. I get many photos from Wikimedia.com It’s a terrific resource.

      In middle school and high school, students are asked to ‘cite textual evidence’ to support their statements. I point out that anything quoted word-for-word has to be within “quotes” and they have to name the source of their material. They’re told that if they don’t, then they are plagiarizing. Hopefully, the message will get thru. 😉

      But some of the most egregious forms of ‘lifting’ material has come from students stealing others’ work and trying to pass it off as their own. Infuriating.

  7. Cheating, like lying, is a one strike offense for me . . . also, my definition of cheating is very strict.

    Having said that, I do remember when I was young (very young, in Italy), I helped a schoolmate with his homework or a project. In exchange, I got a cap pistol he had (We wuz poor folks; I cut my toy guns out of plywood with a hobby saw).

    He did very well, I did poorly, but I had the cap pistol . . . which my mother threw up in the roof when she found out what I did.

    Also, harder to cheat in Italy . . . oral exams is what I remember. I stuttered, so it was easier for me to say “I don’t know” (in Italian, of course) than to answer the questions. Used to piss off the teachers who complained to my mother that they knew I was lying.

    Much later, I owned a business for 20 years. I came to understand the businesses that are both honest and successful are a myth. Hence why we never made a lot of money, and eventually decided to close. One interesting lesson was that of a competitor who got caught, big time, violating both federal and state laws with regard to payscales and benefits for people on work visas (engineers from India, China, and the Middle East).

    They paid a fine, one of the executives was transferred back to India . . . and not six months later GM awarded them a contract that we were both competing for. We bid fairly, they underbid. I explained to the buyer they can’t do that work for that money, especially if they were paying a fair wage (this was mostly manpower). I even showed them all our costs, overhead, and our meager (and risky) profit margin. It didn’t matter. So, in addition to cheaters, I also despise them who would turn a blind eye to it.

    Anyway, personal cheating, in aggregate, is serious, but it does not compare to government and corporate cheating. Or, as they call it, stretching the rules.

    1. Cheating and lying are two non-negotiables for me. It creates a huge trust issue. I advise students not to go down that path because it makes it harder for people to believe you even when you are telling the truth. I learned that painful lesson when I was about 11 or 12.

      Those who underbid a project are often slick enough to tack on expenses as the project goes past the deadline. Then it winds up costing far more to those who accepted the low bid. It’s unfortunate that you were not given the contract and someone who was dishonest won the bid.

      Government and corporate cheats, no doubt, got a head start in that direction when they were in school.

  8. You hit a nerve here, Judy. Yes, I have seen a bunch of plagiarized work as an instructor too. The one that makes me blush happened near the end of my teaching career. Students could write their composition “exit” exams in the computer lab where I was a monitor. With nimble fingers, one student got his sparkly essay from the internet. In retrospect, wish I had failed him and not allowed a re-do.

    Another blushing moment though not cheating on a paper: Before I understood texting, a student near the rear of the room hid her active cellphone (not allowed) behind books and papers. I would catch her looking down, down, down but was not tech-savvy enough to figure out what she was doing until later. She should have been a “one-strike” offender as your previous commenter mentions.

    1. Marian … I tend to think that having to re-do a paper is a far worse punishment. It tells the student that he or she wasn’t as slick as s/he thought and NOW he has to do the work he should have in the first place. My re-dos carried a significant deduction in grade points.

      Thinking back, I suspect at least one got away who shouldn’t have. We can’t catch them all. 😉

  9. The amount of times we drum into our students not to do the cut and paste thing … The most scary thing is, most of them see it as doing nothing wrong.
    Ultimately, those who cheat are cheating themselves. There’s no value in that.

    1. Maybe some students would have a different attitude if they realized they had the opportunity to learn something new and pass it on. Jenny, I actually got a kick out of some of the stuff I learned along the way. 😉

  10. i am not a fan of cheating and lying. hard for me to have sympathy for anyone in any situation who does either. only thing i have a tolerance for is the classic little white lie if it is going to save someone from hurt or pain and will serve no positive purpose to share something.

    1. Beth … I suspect the scammer gets a thrill out of thinking that they put one over on someone. They, maybe, got a great grade for doing nothing. Eventually, I can only hope, karma catches up with them and they have a learning experience.

  11. Poor Rory. If only his teacher had shared her list of helpful hints to keep him from being caught. 😉
    I once had a pair of parents argue with me for an hour. I’d caught their son cheating on a final exam, so he failed the exam. Their point? “You actually caught him cheating on only one question. Give that one question a zero, but don’t penalize the rest of the exam.”
    No comment on that. It still gives me a headache just thinking about it. I keep expecting him to run for congress…with a team of legal “spinners” behind him…

    1. Marilyn … It wasn’t Rory who cheated. Another student stole Rory’s essay and tried to pass it off as her own.

      Those hovering helicopter parents should realize the disservice they are doing. It’s the same old, same old. If another student/person shortchanged their kid, they’d be crying foul. One student I had years ago stole something from another. He got mixed messages from his parents – mom was upset with him, but dad appeared to be thinking ‘boys will be boys.’ Sad.

  12. Judy Im not a teacher but loved the images and story about cheaters. I never did, but struggled with average grades. I guess in the end if you cheat you and only you have to deal with the consequences.

    1. Kate … I agree. Jenny Pellett, above, said it best: “Ultimately, those who cheat are cheating themselves. There’s no value in that.” What I’ve told students who do little or no work assigned in class is: “If you put nothing into your studies, you’ll get nothing out of it.”

  13. Whew! A must read to all students and anyone doing some cheating, both on what happens when you are get caught, and the many consequence it will cause us in the future. My worst cheating experience, being scammed by someone once I considered my brother in law. He made a very convincing kitchen make-over and ran away with $30,000 which till today, I had to pay off. The being scammed hurt but the worst part is that it caused a negative effect among me, my sister, even my parents. Saddest part, they have not let go of him despite of his deceit and evil ways and they taught I still made it up, their own son and own brother. My sister is in denial and refused to accept that he could do something that evil. 11 years has passed, she still waits in the Philippines to go to America with her two sons while he is having living with another woman is San Francisco. I already them the moving to America part will never happen because her cheating husband does not want it to happen. She got scammed by him too but on a different level. Only difference, she created a fairy tale world in her head and afraid to face the truth. Every day I pray that they will open their eyes for what he truly is. I believe God is a just God, and one day, his form of justice will come. Cheaters, big or small, should never be tolerated. Thanks for sharing this my friend. Have a blessed week ahead.

    1. I’m so sorry that you and your family had to go thru that, and do hope that your folks eventually realize the truth. It hurts when you’ve been scammed, especially when it is someone you know and trust.

      Cheaters don’t always get away scot-free. But what I’ve seen of these situations – on the national level – is that the cheaters are still in denial. As are those who love and defend them. Blessings to you and your family.

  14. The college I attended recently had a strict policy. If you cheat, you are kicked out of school permanently. Still I remember my professor saying every semester someone lifts entire paragraphs off the internet thinking no one would catch them. If the essays were too heavy on jargon, he’d just copy and paste the sentences on google and see what came up in the search.

    1. Darla … I did the same as your professor. It’s just disheartening to see students blow off an essay or project that could have been fun to do. Fortunately, many did get into it and turned in very impressive essays or projects. 😉

  15. At least three times at a chain restaurant I’ve found problems with the bill being too low — one time the prices of both entrees were left off and only two people ate — so I called it to their attention, and each time they thanked me. What was really disturbing, though, was the comment two staffers made: no one else ever calls items left off the bill to their attention even when they must notice it. They just pay and go. So what message does that give any children with them! It sounds as though that one parent simply cannot fathom that her daughter could err on the paper. Spoils from cheating are viewed as worthless and ill-gotten if children are taught so early. Perhaps some of the problem comes from a society where individuals are too often focused on what can I get, and who has more, rather than what can I give and sharing is important.

    1. It’s a good thing you were honest, Trish. I’ve heard of places that had their servers make up the difference when a bill was in error or a customer bolted without paying. I know someone who did that and thought it was funny. I didn’t think much of him after that. Thank you for your comments. 😉

  16. I liked to read the magazine, Redbook, every summer while growing up. One story seemed quite clever and I remembered it as I started freshman year in high school. When I found a story in our English Literature Anthology, that resembled one in the magazine, I told my H.S. teacher. He encouraged me to write the magazine, which I did using handwritten letter, I received a typed and signed thank you letter, which I felt the magazine was kind by saying that “Thanks to you and other sharp readers….” which really hit the plagiarism thought home, which I never cheated before then, but definitely try to find the author of quotes I give on my blog. I really liked how some people mentioned cheating in sports and in classes. As a teacher, I usually asked the two guilty parties to stay in from recess, if they confessed, I told them they could go outside and play. They had to promise never to do such a silly thing again. I think middle school kids get nervous in one on one’s with teachers, so this usually worked out where they both confessed. I never told the parents, unless I saw a pattern. After all, we are all human, Judy! Smiles!

    1. Robin … Good catch on your part about that story in Redbook. It sounds as if you handled the situation in the best way possible for the kids who cheated.

      I did call the parents when I caught students cheating on a project to explain why they got a zero … and that they had an opportunity to get a reduced grade by re-doing the project. The projects were a significant part of their grade. Most parents were upset their kids cheated, but were fine with the consequences. It sent a message. There were no repeat incidents of cheating. 😉

      1. I was circling back, since I should have comments sent to my email, but alas I have 1000’s of them sitting there left unattended. I sometimes find out weeks later of a clever comment back to me, so I have been trying to go back on people’s posts to read their replies to my comment.
        Thanks for telling me how you handled those who had a lot at stake, their projects being the main part of their grade. I agree, telling parents is important in this case. I had children who were not born with the ‘spelling’ gene, two in my own family. While a sixth grade Language Arts teacher, I noticed children ‘cheating’ by spying how to spell a word or two. These are mainly the cases I had to correct. Usually during a test, I insisted on their propping a math book up as a wall, to prevent cheating. Since none of my quizzes or tests were math-related this worked out fine! Smiles for the lack of repeat incidents in your classes, Judy!

  17. I think it takes a ‘brave’ person to copy and submit a paper as their own, but *“I always wonder where the pride is in NOT working hard and producing something on your own.” (Zambian Lady’s comment was edited to reflect what she intended to say.)

    1. I’m not sure that’s how the student who was ripped off would view that. “Nerve” might be what it took to steal another’s work and pass it off as their own. I think the accomplishment of completing something – whether it’s a task at work or a project in school – is satisfying. I agree, Zambian Lady, there is pride in doing something well. I see it on the faces of my students as they eagerly await a comment on their work. Thank you for your comments. 😉

      1. It seems my response was a bit ambiguous. I meant the copying is ‘brave’ (in quotes because I do not think it actually is brave) as I am afraid that if I do it I will be caught, apart from the main fact that it is wrong. The second part should have read “I always wonder where the pride is in NOT working hard and producing something on your own.”

        Pardon my English – it’s a fifth language to me.

      2. Your English is perfect compared to any other language I attempt to speak and write so poorly. Thank you for writing and clarifying. I did edit one part of your first comment to reflect what you intended to say. Hope that’s OK. 😉

  18. Great post, Judy. Hats off to you for writing about a subject that needs to be dragged out into the light. People have always cheated, and I suppose they always will. But it seems to me that something fundamental has changed. When I was a kid, there was never any doubt that cheating was wrong. Maybe you got away with it, but it was wrong– and the cheater knew that.

    Nowadays, there are people who view cheating as morally neutral. It’s a reflection of our relativistic culture. You have your values, I have mine, and we’re both right, because it’s all relative. Getting where one wants to go, is, in some people’s minds, of greater value than some old-fashioned notion of personal integrity– so why not take a shortcut??

    It’s a pity, and it worries me a lot. Thanks for standing up for honesty, integrity, and doing the right thing. There are few things that buoy me up more than people with the courage to speak the truth. You are one of those people, my friend!

    1. Thanks, Mark. What triggered this was a student – in someone else’s class – who took a poster belonging to fellow students, putting his report on the poster, and apparently throwing out the other students’ work. Astonishing, brazen and thoughtless. There are many other adjectives, but you get my drift.

      Sometimes my honesty is not well received. Thank you for your comments. 😉

  19. Judy, I see so much plagiarism online,it isn’t funny. I was checking out travel blogs rated higher than mine in a directory of Indian blogs. One carried a post on the Rock restaurant I featured a while back, that was lifted word for word from a Trip Advisor review!!! That person obviously didn’t have a teacher as adept as you at catching copy cats 🙂

  20. I cheated in college and not a bit ashamed. How about a curve 98 -100=A, 94-97=B, 90-93=C and 85-89=C. How do you master 80% material and fail? One course pre test and post test the same. Got 8% on pretest, 66% on post test and fail? Increased 58% and that’s failure. Stolen test world history and six of us researched and best we got was 80%. What the h_ _ _ is that for a test. Another time got highest grade out of 400 students at 92%. Got B because is was not 93%. Huh?

    Some professors had attitude against me and got F or D on every term paper I did. Later sold them to underclassmen now taking same course and they got B and A on my same papers. Huh?

    They felt it was their God ordained duty to flunk us so we’d lose student deferment and go into 1A draft pool and Vietnam. They wanted to send us to war so we made war back on professors by cheating. These were the days before internet and cell phones and any electric communication. If you had a stolen test we had an absolutely fool proof way to get the answers into the test room. I’ll never reveal it.

    When I became a teacher I did essay tests only with advanced placement students. I would give them six questions ahead of time and told them I would pick three for the test but they were not told which three. I wanted them to study and learn the concepts so testing was more a study tool than a measurement tool. First test they had pre written all six essays , pretended to write in class and then turned in the three particular essays for which I asked. Stopped that. Upon entering the class all had to leave books on the shelf and I provided five blank sheets of paper to each student. They were in shock. Then I gave them a different type of paper for each of the subsequent tests.

    Actually I enabled them to cheat because I gave the test questions ahead of time so they would not have to really cheat.

    Anyway you can’t cheat a cheater.

    1. Carl … What the professors did was absolutely despicable and unfathomable. Why did they want to do such a thing to any student? As I recall, you did serve in Vietnam. Right?

      I don’t blame you for taking desperate measures. I also applaud your ingenious testing policy.

      I allow students to make corrections on their test. They get half back what was taken off the original test. So, if they got a 60 percent, I would give them 20 points – half of the 40 points they lost – for correct answers. My objective is for them to learn the material. (Some students, incredibly, decide they’re “good” if they get a 70 or above. They don’t want to be bothered making corrections. Sad.)

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