The False Economy of Cheating

CheatingIt’s testing time at the university, which means that it is time for me to observe the Central European Test Cheater in its natural habitat.

At the moment I am standing in the back of the room  shaking my head. I want to stop everything and converse with the students on an even level. No teacher, no student, just reason and logic.

It’s a time I fight the urge to channel one of my elementary school teachers.

We all heard it from a teacher at one point or another:

‘When you cheat, you only cheat yourself.’

If you are like me (and I pray to Dog that you aren’t) you cheated, got caught, and learned your lesson pretty early. Or maybe you did get away with it, laughed like a super villain, and didn’t learn your lesson until later.

Whether you got caught or not, all of us who dabbled in the dark arts of examination espionage has since learned the accuracy of that ominous claim.

Getting away with cheating makes you feel as though you have gotten away with the perfect murder. You spent no time preparing and you got through just like the kids who had been hitting the books for weeks. But the fact is that you have taught yourself some pretty bad habits.

In the first place you are happy with just getting through. While I completely understand that there are some courses that just don’t interest us (I had an algebra course in college that I would have set a dog on fire to avoid), this sort of ‘just get by’ attitude can become a habit. Sooner or later, a student who is finding success sneaking by with a cheat-sheet might find it a go-to strategy for passing courses. And just getting by is not a habit which dies when one is handed a diploma. It’s this sort of attitude that leads to Donald Trump as a viable option.

Another issue is the fact that if you cheat, you probably didn’t learn a whole lot. So while you might snicker at a sucker student who put in weeks of work, that student will have actually gained some, you know, knowledge from the class. Advantage: sucker. Or as you might come to refer to them one day: your boss.

Despite these long-term consequences of cheating, I am now watching the most acute negative effects of cheating. Or at least, trying to cheat.

In the first place, I think it’s important to note that if you are trying to cheat, WE KNOW.

From the first moment you start looking around the room as though chasing down your crush at a house party, we know. We know the moment you place your test four inches away from your neighbor’s test. We know the moment you draped a sweatshirt across your lap in an overheated room. And nobody needs to look into their crotch that often during one sixty-minute test.

If you’re one of those who does any of the above, just stop. But don’t stop for moralistic reasons, stop because you’re not doing yourself any good.

I have watched dozens of students cheat and they all have one thing in common, none of them is paying attention to the test. Some students are trying to reference the 3,000 pictures they took of their coursebooks with their phones. These folks have placed far too much faith in their ability to, first, find information and then read it on a two-inch screen under pressure in secret. So they are totally focused on their phones rather than the test. Moreover, they end up looking around the room the entire test to make sure the teacher isn’t going to catch them.

Some try to cheat off of another student in an exam, which is dumb. First of all, teachers are very good at preventing this, seeing this (e.g. you become synchronized test takers), and then failing that student so fast your eyes bleed when the D student’s answers are miraculously the same as the A student he forced himself next to during the test. Also, those students spend so much time looking at the other student that it becomes a spectator sport.

If I could talk to these students who are now looking around the room in obvious distress, I would give them this advice: Stop. Pay attention to your own work. You are far better off relying on what you know rather than getting booted out of the exam.

At least if you fail, you fail on your own.

Oh, and as a side not, if you are looking into your crotch this often for any reason other than to peep at a phone or a cheat-sheet, then you should hand in your test and go to the doctor.

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