The Economics of Cheating (And Catching Cheaters)

Over at Gangwon notes, there’s an interesting post about the economics of caring about cheating.. I should note that this is specific to cheating on tests.

I gotta say, I kind of agree. Most cheaters:

  • Are inept students to begin with, and are likely to hang themselves with any rope you actually give them.
  • Are highly susceptible to well-designed tests. The cheaters among Korean students benefit very much from the multiple-choice, regurgitate-but-don’t-demonstrate-deep-understanding forms that testing often takes here. A test that’s designed simply to force a student to demonstrate understanding and enough intelligence to performing a little synthesis of the material, a little individual opinion or feedback about some input, that stuff knocks the cheaters right out of the water.

    It can be as simple as designing tests for which intellectual preparation is possible, but cheating is not possible; tests that have a subjective element, such as the demonstration of understanding a concept with a creative, or variable explanation of the concept, and so on.

  • Are screwing themselves. The average plagiarist or cheater might not be all that bright, but they’re even less likely to learn something when all they use their time and energy for is finding ways to fool others into thinking they know something.
  • Are usually not that good at what they’re doing. They seem not to understand that teachers know about Google, or have a memory long enough to recognize something that was on someone else’s exam.

One last thought: in my pre-University education, I was terrified by the fact that the idiots and jocks would somehow always position themselves next to me when test time rolled around. They did this, of course, in order to cheat. The reason I was terrified was that if someone cheated off my test, most of my teachers would not hold the cheater alone responsible: the fact that someone copied off my exam meant I was culpable too. (I’m talking elementary and middle school here.) Also, those of us who studied very rapidly learned to resent and distrust those who used their time in other ways and then tried to capitalise on our studiousness.

So the smart kids in most of my classes all developed ways of shielding their papers, and preventing others from cheating off them. And what do you know, I cannot remember the last time someone cheated off a test paper I was answering. I do think that cultivating some of that mood helps. Not paranoia, but, a sense of, “Screw off, you’re not copying from MY test paper.”

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