Remembering All the Ways We Cheated in School

The real test is whether or not you get caught.
school test classmates cheat teachers nos
Smart ways to avoid looking stupid. Photo: Honey Yanibel Minaya Cruz, Unsplash

My teachers from grade school all the way to university used to say versions of the phrase, “when you cheat on tests, you’re only cheating yourself.”

The logic was simple enough—traditional school testing is supposed to measure how much students learn (or so schools claim). If students feign knowledge and understanding in favor of a quick and mindless fix to make a grade, they miss out on actually learning whatever they were supposed to learn. Fair, I guess. But it should come as no surprise that students think some tests just aren’t worth the trouble.


It could be that the scope and difficulty of the test are wildly out of proportion to what a student can reasonably remember or what some teachers can competently teach. Perhaps it’s a failure of the traditional schooling system that students would even consider cheating just to “prove” they’ve learned something. Or maybe students just don’t give a fuck. 

For example, some students bet on the very real possibility that their teachers don’t have the time or attention to thoroughly read through the papers they made them write.

I know someone who copy-pasted the lyrics of the Philippine national anthem in paragraph form, several times, somewhere in the middle of a research paper, just to hit the page count. To my knowledge, they never got in trouble for it.

All this is to say that some of the ways students avoid seeming stupid are actually pretty smart. 

“We distracted the photocopy guy to get a copy of an exam”

In some hyper-competitive school environments, cheating could bring students together.

“We once distracted the photocopy guy to get a copy of an exam. The A students answered it and everyone memorized their answers. The whole batch scored near-perfect and the teacher just thought we all studied well,” said an alumnus of an all-boys school who preferred to remain anonymous lest his post-graduate program finds out about his past study habits, or lack thereof.


“I grabbed my friend’s papers and swapped them with mine”

But sometimes, cheating doesn’t go so smoothly, and you’re forced to think on your feet. 

“It was finals for a minor subject we weren’t really taking seriously. My friend and I sat next to each other and I was doing pretty well in the exam. I knew he didn’t study so I let him copy my answers. For some reason, I was compelled to look at his papers and I realized that we had completely different [tests],” said Emilio, who studied hospitality management in college. 

They were halfway through the time allotted for the test and Emilio did not know how to tell his friend that their exam papers had different questions.  He started covering his answers instead but his friend couldn’t understand the sudden change of heart. 

“I rushed the second half of the exam and finished answering my sheets. I  watched the professor, pretended to still be on the test, and waited for the right opportunity. When she went up to the board to write an announcement and had her back turned towards us, I quickly grabbed my friend’s papers and swapped it with mine.”

The questions were just a little bit different, so Emilio spent the last 30 minutes of the finals finishing his friend’s test while his friend pretended to toil over Emilio’s already-done papers. When Emilio finished, he stood up, got his papers from his friend, and submitted them together to their professor. 


“Good thing none of our classmates were tattletales,” Emilio said. 

“I made this word up”

Part of the fun of cheating is how close we sometimes are to getting caught.

During a quiz about capital cities when she was in grade school, Isabella recalls looking over at her seatmate’s paper to copy the answer to a question she didn’t know. Then, their teacher asked them to exchange papers so they could check and grade each other.

“You know I made this word up, right? Like, it doesn’t exist,” said Isabella’s seatmate, who knew then that Isabella must have cheated off her. It’s one thing to get caught by a cooperative seatmate, but if the teacher had decided to check those papers herself, Isabella would likely not have gotten away with it so easily. 

“I think I scrambled to cross the word out and change it before we passed our papers forward,” she said. 

“They probably knew” 

Other times, however, cheating might not be enough. It’s better to not have the test at all, at least not yet. 

“We were supposed to have a test, but we changed its date on our classroom calendar and insisted that our teacher said it was happening in the next class,” said Gayi. 

Their teacher, Gayi said, believed them—or at least pretended to.

“I’m sure he knew, but teachers chose their battles. They probably knew when we thought we were being so smart.” 

Now, I’ll leave it to you to decide whether these students were cheating themselves out of a good education, but here’s a quote from essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson I tend to live by: 

“You send your child to the schoolmaster, but ‘tis the schoolboys who educate him.”

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