A couple days after my last post, I caught a cheater for the very first time.
I’ve caught plagiarism before, for sure. But this was the first time I caught someone cheating in an exam — like with actual notes the student had smuggled in and the whole nine yards.
I shouldn’t actually say I caught it, because I didn’t. I walk the room during exams, but I’ve always thought of myself as walking around the room to see if students needed help. I don’t think I’m passive, but honestly — it just never occurred to me. And now it won’t stop occurring to me!
When the student handed in the exam, a set of notes fell out of the booklet. I mean, I didn’t catch this at all — the student did it, really. And as the notes slipped onto the desk, my stomach lurched. Oh, I thought. Let me be wrong. Let this be… anything but a set of cheat notes.
Of course, there was nothing else it could or would be.
The situation has been dealt with. Dean and memo and consequence. All sorted a few days ago.
But I have had a hard time not thinking about it in the meantime. I can’t help wondering lots of things. Not least, though: why? Because here’s the crazy thing. I perused the notes and they wouldn’t have helped. At all. The notes were written as though the exam was a “gotcha” move — as though the questions would have related to utterly obscure content from the course. And I remember preparing for exams that way: memorizing minute bullshit instead of focusing on larger course concepts. I honestly assumed until well into 3rd year that the exams were designed to trip me up. Like, me, personally. Like the universe and my instructor were conspiring to bring down my course grade.
(It never happened that way, incidentally. I don’t really remember a time when my mark dropped after the exam. And yet experience was never a very good teacher in this regard.)
I’m not blaming myself for the student cheating. (Ok, I did for a couple of days. I’m still mostly a super insecure disaster.) But I am wondering how I can do a better job of getting across to students that their exam is not an attempt to trick or fool them, but a genuine desire to see what they were able to learn in their time in my class. I mean, I say that. Out loud and everything. But it doesn’t stick.
Have you ever caught a cheater like this? Did it push you to rethink how you design your exams? I’m doing a lot of mulling and would love to hear about other experiences.