How to cheat good

I just submitted my last set of grades for the semester. This is always a big weight off my shoulders, but since it will be the last set of grades I ever submit at the University at Buffalo, it is an even greater relief. And so I think it’s time for me to “give back” as the kids say.

I had a 24 hour take home (distance course, so “keep home”?) final exam. Students had to submit it in text–and most submitted it in Word. In the exam, I noted that “I expect everyone to behave honorably,” and noted that receiving assistance from others or plagiarizing work was a bad idea.

I would prefer that students don’t cheat. Yes, they really are mostly cheating themselves, so fine. But it also reflects poorly on the community. Rationally or not, what particularly irks me is that it is disrespectful: of me, of their fellow students, of the university, of the institution of learning, and of themselves. And–did I mention–of me? It is particularly irksome when their cheating implies (reminds?) that I am a fool.

So, to help students across the country cheat better, saving themselves both from easy detection and from incurring the wrath of insulted faculty, and leading to a much more harmonious school environment, I offer the following tips, based on recent experience:

1. Don’t cheat off family.

If you are in a class of several hundred people, and you share an unusual family name with another student in the class, it is best if your reply to an open ended short-answer question is not identical, word-for-word. This is particularly true when the answer is wrong, and when it is wrong in an idiosyncratic way. Many profs, as I do, grade “blind,” without reference to the names of the students, but still, it’s easy enough when you find something like this to track back to the names. My suggestion, in this case, is to continue to cut and paste the answer, but to legally change your name. A convenience marriage may do the trick.

2. Don’t talk British.

The only people allowed to use the word “colour” are those with Indian surnames. “Weight,” you may argue, “I was bourne and razed in the english countryside.” I have no doubt, but your Commonwealth heritage is not easily detectable by your surname, so I’m afraid you will need to switch to Amerkin spelling for work in my classes. (If you are Indian, but your surname has suffered from various Colonial incursions, I’m afraid you’ll have to lose the U’s as well.) Otherwise, fair or not, it somehow appears that you have copied your work from another author.

3. You Google, I Google

How do you think I check suspicious work? It’s not like our state university is shelling out for TurnItIn. I am pretty good with that Google thingy. And changing two words won’t send me off the trail. So copy from something a bit more obscure. Or–and this is really tricky–try making up your own stuff.

4. Dont rite to good

When you “write” a sentence like “The veil of ignorance, to mention one prominent feature of that position, has no specific metaphysical implications concerning the nature of the self; it does not imply that the self is ontologically prior to the facts about persons that the parties are excluded from knowing,” you have two ways of being caught up. First, while I make no claim of having anything approaching an eidetic memory (more like an idyllic memory), it may ring some dusty bells and heck, I might be able to pull the book you stole it from down off my shelf, even if you followed the advice of #3. If my memory fails to serve, as is frequently the case these days, Google Print might help out.

The second way you can trip up is by following this with your original words, which tend to be less sophisticated, or equally sophisticated material from an entirely different source that simply does not seem to make sense in this particular context.

As a corollary here, try not to plagiarize the teacher. You will be less likely to suffer her ire, since it will amuse her and her colleagues to no end, but you are more likely to be caught. Steal her ideas and rephrase them in your own prose, because there is nothing teachers like more than knowing that students can write well but have no original ideas.

5. Malaprop big words

Make sure you pick a word that sounds impervious and use it incorrigibly, or inventorate words. We’ll be udderly convinced of your genuinity (not to mention your precedential potential). Snuff said.

6. Use the word “rediculous.”

This almost magical word will cause any instructor to instantaneously turn off all internal plagiarism detection.

7. Borrow from someone who writes as badly as you do.

Don’t do what one of my graduate students did, and steal a text on Korean feminism from someone who wrote slightly better English than he did. I’ll notice the slightly better writing, even before I notice that you have expressed no interest in or knowledge of feminist perspectives in the past. (Once kicked out of our program, he applied to the English department. No kidding.)

8. Edit > Paste Special > Unformatted Text

This is my Number 1 piece of advice, even if it is numbered eight. When you copy things from the web into Word, ignoring #3 above, don’t just “Edit > Paste” it into your document. When I am reading a document in black, Times New Roman, 12pt, and it suddenly changes to blue, Helvetica, 10pt (yes, really), I’m going to guess that something odd may be going on. This seems to happen in about 1% of student work turned in, and periodically makes me feel like becoming a hermit.

If you follow these simple rules, you are almost guaranteed to pass off your plagiarism and cheating as your own work. This will allow the faculty to remain in blissful ignorance, believing that–despite the low pay–they are spreading knowledge in the world, while at the same time convincing your parents to continue to pay for several more years of school, drunken orgies, and Prada bags. Your classmates who do not follow the above rules will constitute the “low hanging fruit,” easily picked off and tormented by mean-spirited unfulfilled teachers for their own amusement. You, however, will rise above the fray, secure in your superious ability to act smart, even if you don’t understand the text you are passing off as your own.

And what if you follow all eight points and still get caught? Here’s your “get out of jail free” card. Simply say this to your teacher (no, no one has tried these exact words on me yet), and you are off scot free:

“Like a postmodern version of Searle’s Chinese Room, I am able to re-articulate existing knowledge through my command of its (re)presentation and manipulation. Any claim to originality ignores what I like to call our ability to stand on the shoulders of giants. By this, I mean that there is a well-known correlation between book sales and height, and we should use their height to our own advantage, to avoid mud and small dogs.

“Also, is it really all that original to give me an F? After all, I’ve already received an F from two other profs this semester alone. Be an original: give me a C.

“By the way, I don’t know who this ‘John Rawls’ guy is–is he even in our major?–but I think it’s possible he cheated off me.

“Finally, and I think this is most vital, my plagiarism in this case is a clear indictment of the educational system. After all, I’ve been failed by my high school and by three years of university, while continually passing. I don’t think it can be entirely my fault if I’ve gotten this far by plagiarism, and in this, my last class, you decide that it is somehow ‘wrong.’ Clearly, you should use this outcome as a way of evaluating your own teaching and expectations.”

You have my permission to use the above excuses, verbatim and without attribution, in any discussion with your respected faculty. I don’t guarantee their success, but would be happy to hear from any of you who employ them as to their efficacy.

Update (6/16): Be sure to read the huge number of comments below, because they have some top-notch cheating tips. Also, a few have asked whether they can reprint, borrow this in some way. It got lost with my last blog redesign, but everything here that is original is Creative Commons licensed for non-commercial, attributed use. So have at it, just don’t say you wrote it… and don’t turn it in for a grade!

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  1. Queenie
    Posted 4/17/2007 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

    As a student, I understand the desire to cheat, thereby quickly completing the essay/paper/test. Also, as a student who has successfully passed under the radar, cheating, and doing it well, takes about as much time as doing the assignment itself. If you actually read the articles you are plagiarizing and understand the material, then there is no harm done, except saving yourself some time. When, cheating correct the cheated material, so it contains only terminology you know, and is written in your style. In essence, edit the paper so it “sounds” like you. I don’t understand what English teachers call “voice” and thereby can instinctively tell if you are cheating, but I do know that one has caught me cheating. I am an A student without copying others, so when I cheat, I don’t need to “dumb it down.” If you’re a C student, you Must make the work “sound” like C quality work, something you could write. Also, never use the popular search engines, that’s where the teachers go to check for plagiarism. Go to a little known engine, search, find something you like reading, and then enter the first sentence into Google, MSN, and Yahoo. If that article is on the first page or so, don’t use that article. Most teachers won’t look after the first page. Also, if you can register to a paid, private service that provides journals, essays, and research papers, then you are not as likely to be caught as if you used a free essay. Just some tips. I could go on at length, but I think the profs that replied would leave hate mail at my doorstep. They don’t want students to learn how to really succeed at cheating.

    Oh, once, in middle school, I had no time to write a English paper, having been busy the entire month with other extracurricular activities. So I found an excellent paper online, and quoted the entire thing. Right down to the Worked Cited. Technically, I had done nothing wrong, because on my own Worked Cited, I cited, in proper MLA format, where the paper had come from. Anyway, the teacher found it hysterical, but requested that I rewrite it, “with less quotes.” She gave a week to get the rewrite done, and I did so in good humor, having gotten the time extension I wanted. I got a B on the paper I wrote, for it being late.

    I believe, that as college students, we are paying you and are the consumer. It is your job to make your subject matter engaging and understandable, so that most students have no desire to cheat, except for the incredibly lazy/stupid ones that truly do not care. Even if you just threaten to send our papers through a plagiarism machine, we probably won’t cheat, for fear of getting caught.

    As an American child, I used to enjoy taking on a British manner. I liked using the ‘u’ in colour and honourable. I found it way cool. So I read a lot of British literature, so I could write like the Brits do. I don’t think changing code is that big a deal, and isn’t a surefire way of detecting cheating.

  2. Jennifer
    Posted 7/3/2007 at 12:33 am | Permalink

    Wow. I thought I was the only one with REALLY STUPID students.

  3. Shalom
    Posted 7/13/2007 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

    I was at UB myself, but I doubt we ever crossed paths: I was a pharmacy student, and did my pre-pharmacy studies at CUNY/Brooklyn.

    I remember when I was taking Economics 10.1, which was the first course in Brooklyn’s idiosyncratic numbering system. This wasn’t required by my major (which was Chemistry at the time), but would have been required by the pharmacy program at a different pharmacy school (which I didn’t wind up attending, as it happened).

    I think this was the first course the Business majors took right out of high school, and the only class I’d ever taken where I felt like I was back there. The professor couldn’t control the class, although he shouldn’t have had to in a college-level course, and there was much conversation going on around me. Every ten minutes or so, he’d say “Uh, can we have a little quiet here?’, and it would be quiet for maybe a minute, then the talking started back up. Not even whispering, talking at normal conversational volume. I think I must have been the only one paying attention, even though I hated economics, and still do. (Got an A in the class anyhow.)

    Came exam time, and suddenly I had twenty new-found friends. I sat down, and all the students who had been aimlessly milling about in the back sat down around me. I got up and moved across the lecture hall, and they all rose and followed me. Come on, guys, at least try and make it less blatant? I wound up covering my answer sheet with a blank paper and writing with my hand underneath it. One guy behind me then had the chutzpah to offer me $20 to uncover the paper! I told him how he could fold the 20 and where he could subsequently insert it. (Well, OK, not really, I just told him to get lost.)

    He said, “Come on, man, please help me out! I really need to pass this class!” I responded, “Well, you should’ve studied then, shouldn’t you’.

    By my last exam in that class, I was so P.O.’d at the cheating that I wrote my (multiple choice) answers in Hebrew characters, and then gave the professor (who I don’t think could read Hebrew) a key: aleph=A, beis=B, etc.

    (Come to think of it, in elementary school, I once wrote an exam in invisible ink, then gave the decoder pen to my teacher. He wasn’t best pleased by this. I wish I’d remembered that one in college.)

    I have to wonder. I never saw such outright copying in any other class I took, nor such disrespect for the teacher. The science majors who I hung out with (out with whom I hung?) weren’t like this, nor the math majors in my sister’s classes, nor the pharmacy students at UB. Was this deliberate, as a way to prepare them for what passes for ethics in the business world?

  4. Posted 7/16/2007 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    how i make cheats

  5. Tom
    Posted 3/13/2008 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

    Above all, do not select a professor that uses what ever you do!!!

  6. Bimzabuay
    Posted 5/8/2008 at 9:02 pm | Permalink

    A. Yes that is my real name.
    B. Why at the top of the page people are complaining about the writing in british thing?

  7. Taruna
    Posted 7/23/2008 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

    Hi! Alex – I am your student from the Informatics Class of 2003. Yes, I remember that you actually informed our class that you use and we shouldnt bother plagerizing! It was one of the best classes I ever took.

  8. Lisa
    Posted 6/14/2009 at 6:16 am | Permalink

    I just gave a student a zero because about 15% of his paper had come from Wikipedia. He asked why he failed the essay assignment. I told him that it was because he plagiarised. He asked me to explain. I showed him the Turnitin report and the word-for-word passages cut and pasted directly from Wikipedia. I pointed out that they were not placed in quotes. I showed him that Wikipedia wasn’t in the references list. He said, “So basically what you’re saying is that it’s a referencing problem. I think it’s pretty harsh that you’re just failing me for a referencing problem.”

  9. defaultturd
    Posted 8/31/2009 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    yeah… if that worked for the Los Angeles School District, I’m sure there’s more coming this way.

    I assume that this form of cheating only applies to writing papers, which goes for only so far in secondary education.

  10. Kitty Jay
    Posted 10/21/2009 at 10:23 pm | Permalink

    Oh, boy.

    Blatant plagiarism is bad enough for the student involved, but it trickles down to the rest of us. I had a 4.0, was in the honors program for English, LAH honors, and was a double-major in Latin. For this one class, I had turned in two previous papers and gotten A’s with glowing comments on both. I turned in my third paper and the teacher accused me of cheating because it was “too polished”. To be fair, I don’t think he thought I copied so much as I had written it before or something, but it was extremely upsetting. Even worse, he didn’t accuse me officially so I couldn’t really file a complaint or anything–but he severely damaged my credibility with the other professors in the department, and I had to write my thesis the next year. So yeah, it’s not only dishonest, but it hurts the rest of us who actually work on our papers, too.

    On a lighter note, I work at the writing center at my college and there are tons of rules about what we can/can’t do to avoid any hints of “collusion”. Quite often I’ll have ESL kids come in who don’t cite–not because they are trying to actively cheat, but the Western system of citing everything isn’t what they were taught. I usually gently remind them that they need to cite their sources. Then we get native speakers who come in and have paragraphs like: “The dichotomy between the natural world and the mechanical one creates an underlying tension throughout the novel. These are good. I think the natural world is better.”

    Um, pretty obvious. I have no authority to report cheating, so I usually point it out and say, “Oh, so what were you trying to say here?” and wait while they hem and haw their way through an explanation… If I notice it, trust me, your teacher is going to notice it.

    Anyway, lovely article–when I’m a professor, I’m so putting a copy of this up somewhere!

  11. seekingnevada
    Posted 12/4/2009 at 3:53 am | Permalink

    I’ve never even had the faintest temptation to cheat, but that didn’t stop me from being accused of it late in my first year of college. According to my friends, my response was priceless: a look of pure offended horror, followed by a “Why would I copy other people’s work?” Turned out my language really kicks up a gear when I go from writing-essays-in-class to writing-assignments-with-full-reading-and-referencing, so it suddenly looked very different, and the teacher (unlike those I’d had in school) didn’t recognise it as my style. C’est la vie, I suppose.

    However, our college had worked out an easy way of finding out whether the student knew what they were talking about. Get them to talk about it, with no notes, for five minutes or so. It soon becomes very apparent who’s done the work and who hasn’t.

  12. Gideon
    Posted 4/8/2011 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

    Not plagiarism: but a freshman lab student once wrote “I have improved the measured results, so as to fit better with theory”. I just wrote “please do not do such things again” in thick red pen in his lab book.

  13. handsome black kid
    Posted 4/10/2012 at 9:57 pm | Permalink

    Fuck you hoe. i will plagerize till the day i fuckin die… or at least till i get my agree. you fuckin professors waisting my money giving me shitty classes that aint got shit to do with my major anyway. fuck english, i’m a business major.

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