Wednesday, January 03, 2007


One thing I have learned from teaching Chinese students is that when you give them a test, many of them will try to cheat. I think it is cultural. I have also learned not to worry about this too much. My Chinese students, in contrast to many (if not most) of my Japanese students, actually want to learn English, and so they work at it. I have come to the conclusion that for my Chinese students, tests and learning English are two different things, and of course they are right. They want to learn English. They also want good grades. So they study hard, and they cheat. It is an entirely logical approach to language learning and testing.

In their second-to-last class in December, I gave my class of mostly Chinese students a test. When I arrived in the classroom, they were all already there. This was the first test I'd given them (or at least the first 'important' one - I'd told them they had to pass it to pass the course, and had made it easy because I didn't want to fail anybody), so they were not yet acquainted with my trickiness. They thought they were ready for me.

The first thing I did when I entered the classroom was to tell them to put everything into their bags except their pens and pencils and erasers. They did this. Then I told them to move their bags to the back of the class. They did this, too, looking suspiciously cheerful.

Then I went around the classroom and counted them off. There were twenty-six of them, so I counted to thirteen twice.

Then I told them where they were to sit - number ones in the front left row, number twos in the middle front, and so on. The classroom has three rows of benches rather than individual seats, and each bench seats three students. I told them to sit with an empty seat between them.

It was hilarious. As they stood up to move to their new seats, about a third of the class grabbed for the cheat sheets they'd hidden under their benches.

"GOTCHA!" I shouted, and went around collecting the cheat sheets. Then I went around again, checking the ledges under the seats until I was sure I had them all. We laughed and laughed and laughed.

Then the test started, and I stood at the back. Before anybody had even started writing I saw someone looking furtively around to see if I was looking. I stared the other way, counted to five, then snuck over and confiscated another cheat sheet. I'd already confiscated one from that particular student when she moved at the beginning, so that was a bit surprising. Also, she was one of the students who needed to cheat the least. In class she was always very keen and did all the work, plus extra. I didn't think she would find the test difficult.

About three minutes later I confiscated yet another cheat sheet from the same student. She had still only written one answer on the test. By this time we were both snorting and giggling so badly we were disturbing the other test-takers. I waved the cheat sheets in her face and hissed,

"THREE? How many more of these things do you HAVE?"

Still giggling, she patted herself down.

"That's all," she informed me, wiping her eyes. "No more. Sorry!"

I wasn't sure whether she was sorry for trying to cheat, sorry she got caught, or sorry she didn't have any more.

I kept an eagle eye on her after that, and I am prepared to swear that she did not cheat. I watched her writing her answers. Even when I was confiscating another cheat sheet from somebody else, I was still watching her. She did not look anywhere except at her paper, and whizzed through it so fast she was the first to finish.

She scored very close to 100%.

The moral of this story is: Preparing multiple cheat sheets is a GOOD idea. By the time you have written everything out in tiny letters three times, you will know it all perfectly.


Anonymous said...

Wow. If Singaporean students were to be caught cheating even ONCE, it's straight to the principal's office, and an egg for the examination result. Not to mention hell from the teachers. You really are patient and nice.

Badaunt said...

That is what I would do too, for a serious test. My tests are rarely that serious, though. Most of the students' grades come from what they do in class and for homework. For language learning, sustained effort is far more important. The tests are more for them, to give them some idea of how they're doing.

(Also, they take me more seriously if I threaten them with a test now and again.)

Anonymous said...

Triple redundancy in cheat sheets? Around here we encourage those kind of people to work for NASA.

For single cheat sheets and/or failures we recommend politics.

Anonymous said...

In my college days, I prepared similar, but non-cheat, sheets for classes where the professor let you bring one sheet of notes to the test. Just the one, and whatever you could fit on it was okay, and whatever wasn't on it was your problem. I learned to write small, and I learned the material.

But it could also work your way: encourage cheating preparation, and crack down on practical cheating.

kenju said...

From the first memory I have of school, I can remember taking notes in class, copying them in ink at home and then typing them. By the time I had done that, I knew the material very well. But I never took any of those notes into class with me during a test. I swear! LOL

Anonymous said...

I had a history teacher who caught me cheating once and he suggested that the next time he would allow me to use a cheat sheet so to write down as much of the info as I could.

In my arrogance, I used a full sheet of paper only to get to class that day and have him take it from me. "I lied" he declared. "But let's see how efficient of a cheater you are".

The point was that by making the extensive cheat sheet, i was in a way studying. I got a 89 on that test, to that point, the best score on any of his tests.

Anonymous said...

That's neat. Both about the cheater and how you handled it with creativity and humor. It's funny how people assume the bad students cheat, but not the good ones. :)