Ah, exam time. Everyone’s favorite. The stress, the late-night studying and sometimes the fear. This is the time to show that you really were absorbing knowledge all semester. Some have test anxiety, which only adds to the intimidation students feel at the bare idea of one exam counting for a large portion of a course grade. But you know what can really make the exam experience hugely stressful even if we’ve studied more than enough? Cheating.
I don’t mean our own cheating. I don’t cheat, and I think (or I hope) most of us don’t. But hands down, the most stressful thing that can happen during an exam is when the professor leaves the room and some student then looks or sounds as if they might be cheating.
It might not be blatant, like digging through their backpack and hauling out notes or the textbook to consult. But they’re whispering. Or they’re looking fixedly in the direction of their neighbor’s test. That kind of thing is extremely distracting to those of us trying to mind our own business but unable to help noticing.
We can try to block out thoughts of, “Why are they whispering? We’re supposed to be doing this test. I hope they’re not cheating. It’s the professor’s job to supervise the test; I wish they hadn’t left the room. Maybe the whispers were just something like, ‘Man, this is hard,’ and ‘Yeah, it sure is.’” We can try not to be distracted by this thought process. Good luck! Even if we usually have laser-focus concentration, this situation will test it to the max.
As a new freshman, I signed an honor code. By doing that, I promised to report it if I had good reason to believe someone cheated. I promise you now that I don’t go out of my way to look for cheating. My selfish side would honestly rather not know. I don’t want to have to squeal on anyone, much less on someone I’ve been in class with all semester. By the time we’ve gone through almost a whole class, I usually like all my classmates at least a little.
Professors, please help us. Stay in the room. We want to focus during exams. If you’re there to supervise, we don’t have to worry about what’s going on around us. If you think you can leave the room and no student will take advantage of that, ever — your trust in us is touching, I suppose, but I fear it is sometimes overly optimistic. I understand a quick restroom break if necessary, but lengthy absences leave room for trouble.
I’ve heard that some professors leave the room because they expect upper-level students not to cheat. I don’t share that expectation. If a student was a cheater in freshman year, why will there necessarily be a change of character because the student is now a junior or senior? Surely when our professors were undergraduates, they knew of students who were at least a little shady, all the way through school. I really doubt students today are, in the aggregate, considerably more principled.
If the reason some professors leave the room during testing isn’t that they trust all the students to be honest, I can only come up with a couple of other possible reasons. Here’s one, although I doubt this is the correct one: Perhaps they think that by giving students who want to cheat an opportunity to do so and thus get caught, the college can get rid of those wannabe cheaters. Perhaps that seems better than deterring cheating by staying in the room.
Another option is that, maybe, professors just don’t care if there’s cheating. But that would be pretty sad. I really hope that’s not the case.
The last possible reason I can think of is that professors might be confident that they can spot cheating from reading the turned-in exams. For instance, two students who sat next to each other might have the same answers on the test even though they usually don’t perform at the same level. If that’s why some professors leave the room, I suppose it works fine for the professors. But it is still too hard on those of us who don’t want to cheat and just want to take our exam in peace.