Wednesday, November 12, 2014

How To Cheat. From Dr. Amelia.

Alright, dear flakies, listen up,

I am tired of your half-hearted efforts to put one over on me. All the drudgery of the crying, and the hearing, and the paperwork with none of the admiration for your cleverness. If you really want to slide one through, remember the following:
  1. If you have to turn in a topic for a paper, or are assigned a topic, don't buy a paper on a completely different topic. Also, please make sure the paper you buy relates to the class you are enrolled in. If you are not sure, you can find the title of your course on your electronic schedule.
  2. File formats matter. If your paper is saved with a word processor only popular in Kazhakstan, take the trouble to convert it first.
  3. If you are only copying and pasting PART of the paper, make sure that you have the same density of spelling errors that the rest of the paper does. Otherwise, it sticks out like a sore thumb!
  4. Copying from Wikipedia? Great idea! However, make sure you remove ALL the hyperlinks. When I find one hyperlinked word (ya got most of 'em, champ!), I have to bust you just for being a dummy.
  5. Look at the sections you have copied into your paper. Are there any words in there you could not tell me the definition of on the spot? If so, copy something that you understand.
and a bonus for you test cheaters:

The only standard cheating technique likely to work in my class is the pencil notes lightly on your fingernails technique. *

*However, I must warn you that by 
condensing the information into a 
size/format that fits on your thumbnail, 
you will probably actually learn something. 
Occupational hazard.


  1. The copy and pasters are so damn sloppy and dumb that it hurts me to fail them.

  2. I giggle with cruel delight whenever I award grades of F, and I always make them stick, to copy-and-pasters and any other kind of cheaters, the dumber and sloppier the better, because I HAVE A VICIOUS STREAK A MILE AND A HALF WIDE AND I'M A KILLER...AAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. Please remember to change the line indentations and don't copy every digit exactly when copying your homework from an illegally textbook solution manual.

    When you purchase an old copy of a lab report, make sure that we are still using the equipment referenced in the old report, we haven't used manometers for pressure readings in at least six years.

  4. Just about every year that I taught drafting and/or CAD, I'd catch someone trying to pull a fast one on me.

    Catching cheats in drafting was often a piece of cake. A dead giveaway was when the copied drawing looked too good: no erasures, no mistakes, no pencil smudges, and no construction lines.

    Then, one year, there was the bright boy who forgot to erase the *back* of his drawing sheet. While tracing, pencil dust from the original was picked up. He complained to my department head that I was being "unfair" until I pointed out the evidence. Guilty as charged....

    Cheating with CAD was a bit trickier to spot, but it could be done. I'd look for things like spacing between views or dimension lines or, if the same mistake appeared in both files.

    But, like with conventional drafting, there was always some chap who didn't properly cover his tracks. One year, I caught two of them that way. Both of them protested until I pointed out that the copied file had the initials of the student who did the original work.

    Those two weren't exactly candidates for Mensa membership. Then again, one didn't need to be Sherlock Holmes to catch them.

    1. Would it still be considered cheating if a student copied a previous draft of his or her own drawing? I mean, the student would make one or several drawings,then produce a neat copy of his or her own best drawing, without the erasures, mistakes, pencil smudges and construction lines that may have been present in the original.

      I realize that by allowing this, you would open the door to cheating. Students whose drawings are too good would simply explain that they did what I have just described. But then, I don't see what's wrong with copying one's own drawing, if this is what the student is really doing. If this is not permitted, maybe it's simply to avoid having to find out whether a copied drawing was the student's own or not. Mind you, a student wouldn't necessarily think of saving his or her preliminary versions.

    2. It takes several hours to prepare a drawing and the students simply didn't have the time to do drawings over again to "perfection". Besides, they wouldn't have the time to do that in industry, so they had to get it right the first time.

      Many of them never did any drafting before, even in high school. I saw all sorts of sloppiness and mistakes from beginners, so for someone like that to present to me a pristine drawing would have alerted me.

      I never knew of any draftsman who could produce a perfect drawing the first time. If they couldn't do it, and even I, with my years of experience of checking drawings and teaching drafting, couldn't, either, it would be highly unlikely if a rookie student would.

  5. I did not know it was possible to cheat with CAD. They don't sound too bright, but I have seen some innovative cheating methods. If only the creativity and inventiveness of cheaters could somehow be harnessed for.... work?

    I cop to writing the quadratic formula on my watch band when I was in high school. I did try to memorize it but no go. Much later, in college, I had to memorize the DES and PGP algorithms for the final exam. I just accepted that it wasn't going to happen (both are lengthy, especially DES, although I expect someone will retort that any CS major worth her salt should have DES memorized) and that I'd bomb out on those questions. They weren't on the exam. I suspect the professor just wanted us to try to memorize as much as we could because he thought it was necessary, rather than because he expected us to regurgitate lengthy algorithms for the exam.

    Unfortunately there is no substitute for having a conscience, nor for being the sort of student who wants to acquire knowledge and not just good grades.

    1. Most of the "geniuses" I described earlier didn't think it was possible to detect cheating, either. The excuse used was: "Oh, we worked on it together but on our own machines."

      OK, that's possible, but how likely is it to get each and every detail in one file to be duplicated into the other *exactly* the same with the identical spaceing (to at least 3 decimal points) if they worked together but independently?

      Of course, I wasn't going to tell them how I figured that they copied from each other.

      The worst part is that they could have asked for my assistance. But they didn't for some reason, so they resorted to copying from each other. The result is that both of them got zero. If they'd put together whatever they could and submitted that, they would have received a higher grade.

      One would think that they would understand the risks and the consequences. Perhaps I overestimated them.

    2. Perhaps it's a form of short-sightedness? Students do not consider what will happen if they are interviewing and asked a question or asked for a sample of their work or even if they do get hired, what happens when the secret's out that they do not have the skills they claimed to have?

      They also do not think ahead. I've often told my students "contact your professors when you start having difficulty and they will make time for you. Ask for help the day before the final and no one will care."

      I don't know if your students are young, but most teenagers and many grown people are like this. They procrastinate until something that could have been a small and easily fixed problem becomes a huge crisis.

      I have tried telling them "Your lack of planning does not constitute an emergency on my part." I got my own emergencies, I don't know to take on anyone else's made-up drama.

      As I mentioned, I cheated myself once, so I'm not one to be too lofty about this topic. But I knew my job would never depend on reciting the quadratic equation. Likewise I didn't think I'd be expected to recite DES during a job interview, even though programming interview jobs can be excrutiating, but I can encrypt and decrypt with DES and that is the real-life skill that I needed from the class.

    3. Most of the students who tried to pull a fast one were too dumb to even be creative or clever about it. It wasn't that they were young--they were simply thick as a plank.

      Then again, it might be the high school environment they became accustomed to. Getting caught at cheating didn't seem to carry any consequences there, or at least one of any significance others than getting a slap on the fingers. Maybe they thought they could get away with it at the place where I used to teach. (Unfortunately, there were administrators who sympathized with them and they often got away with that nonsense.)

      Then again, my last department head (who always found something to criticize about me), claimed that my students were "forced" to cheat because I made my assignments or exams "too tough".

  6. If you're going to copy from the internet, at least try to find a source that knows more than you do about the subject. Copying from an internet message board full of equally-clueless undergrads means that not only are you likely to be caught, but even if you're not caught you'll probably produce an even crappier paper than you could write all on your own.

    It never ceases to amaze me how many of them also copy from internet sources when almost identical information is available right there in the textbook that they have already paid $80 for. I see it all the time.

    The textbook I assign does an excellent job of explaining the main reasons for the end of Reconstruction, the major historical changes behind the new immigration laws of the 1920s, and the most significant factors in the rise of 1970s conservatism. This book is written by a group of distinguished scholars, and contains excellent analysis along with images, maps, extended reading lists, and supplementary online materials. And yet the students would apparently prefer to get their historical information from

    1. You cannot copy and paste from a textbook, unless it's an e-book. I don't know if you teach history (sounds like it), but I have seen Web articles on on history that are mostly copied from Wikipedia, and these are on fairly well-respected (albeit general interest) Web sites. I wonder if history is regarded as something you just accept whatever you read about it, regardless of the source, without any need to verify or confirm or otherwise determine if that source is accurate. Perhaps this is why so many people believe a motley array of pseudo-history; everything from Victorians covering their piano legs to men legally permitted to beat their wives with a stick no wider than a thumb.

  7. This post and comments might be the most useful thing ever created by this group. Who says that academics can't be practical?

  8. Here's my advice. Go to the library. Find a book about your essay topic. The older the book, the better. Copy it.

    Odds are slim that your prof (or the frad student who actually grades it) will recognize the text. As long as it's not a too well known, Google Books will not have a copy. Rhis ensures that your essay won't match anything in TurnItIn's archive.

    Profs might complain that I've devulged this secret to plagiarizing. At least I'm encouraging the young scholars to visit the library and read a book.

  9. Solution: Run Tom Lehrer's "Plagarize" ( in class.

    Shoot the ones taking notes.

  10. I'm especially fond of the random font design and size change that happens when they cut and paste and don't reformat so it blends seamlessly into the essay. I almost want to give them tips on how to cheat well, but I don't thin they'd pull it off. At least I know these are the criminals who will be caught.

    1. One thing I found insulting is when I'd catch someone and they'd deny it, particularly if there's overwhelming evidence that they did. I got a lot of "I dunno" and "I didn't".

      At least I wasn't in the same situation as an ex-colleague who went to a different institution elsewhere in the country. He told me, at one time, that he once had to give out diplomas at a graduation ceremony. Among the recipients were students he caught cheating on their final exam.

    2. Indeed. I'm getting used to bibliographies with a dozen different fonts (in fact, I'm somewhat encouraged by them, since it may mean that the student constructed the entries by hand rather than just pushing a "cite this" button and never examined the results, though it can also mean that the student pushed the "cite this" button in several different databases with different algorithms), but changes of font in the middle of the paper are, um, suspicious.

      As are the hyperlinks. You'd really think they'd notice the hyperlinks, which are usually blue, but a surprising number don't.

  11. P.S. I love the footnote. I sometimes think that half of our job is constructing assignments, exams, etc., that are either very hard to cheat on, or at least can only be cheated on in ways that present a significant risk of the student actually learning something in the process. In my field, assigning a genre other than the "research paper" can accomplish this; assuming the student doesn't have enough money to hire someone to create a truly customized product (and most don't, or at least aren't willing to spend the money), then at least (s)he has to understand the genre enough to find a pre-existing example, or assemble a reasonable facsimile thereof from pre-existing parts, and there's a significant possibility that (s)he will learn something (maybe even the word "genre") in the process. Assembling the reasonable facsimile may well be harder than actually writing the stupid paper; in fact, that's pretty much my standard for a good assignment: include enough preparatory assignments and other "scaffolding" that it's not only relatively easy for most students to construct a satisfactory response if they just plod through all the steps, but also will take as much or more effort to fake the process. I'm pretty upfront about all of the above, but apparently some students don't believe me (or aren't listening).


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