Students, faculty disagree over usage of old tests to study
Published: Monday, March 4, 2013
Updated: Monday, April 22, 2013 21:04
When sophomore Carleigh Melofchik went to the front of the classroom this past winter session to collect her second organic chemistry exam, she realized her exam was missing from the stack. She thought the test was lost, but her professor was holding onto it under suspicion of cheating.
The night before the exam, Melofchik was studying with her friend with a copy of the exam from 2011. In the past, her professor allowed students to take their exams home and he would upload the exam to his personal website.
“[The professor] somehow made the argument that my other friend was cheating off of me because our answers looked familiar,” Melofchik said. “But it was just because we studied the problem the night before.”
As a pre-veterinarian major, Melofchik often uses old exams to study because she feels that she will be a more prepared by practicing real problems and see what type of questions the professor likes to ask, she said.
At the moment, Melofchik said she is disappointed with the accusation.
“I’m really frustrated because I went onto my UDSIS and since the charge hasn’t been decided, my grade says that I got an F,” Melofchik said. “My GPA went down from a 3.6 to a 3.2, so it’s a big difference.”
Michael Fernbacher, the assistant director of the Office of Student Conduct said the “university policy [for cheating] ncludes the authorized use of materials and that could be during a test or access to unauthorized tests.”
Whether using an old exam is authorized or not is up to the professor.
“There is no university standard across all colleges and courses that old exams are not allowed to be used to study,” Fernbacher said. “It depends on the faculty member that creates the exam or department.”
Nursing professor Judith Herrman said she believes students are using the Internet to share information that was difficult to obtain in the past about classes.
“The higher the stakes the exam will be, the more desperation the student has,” Herrman said. “Nursing is competitive and there is a little more drive to cheat.”
Herrman said she allows her students to come back prior to finals and look back at previous exams in a controlled environment, especially when there is a cumulative final. She said she knows of some faculty members who let students take their tests home, a practice that opens the door for test sharing.
Melofchik said if a professor is going to give tests back, he or she should know that students are going to talk about the test.
Fernbacher said faculty members have a lot of academic freedom with grades they distribute, information they teach and whether they want to change exams. However, professors often do not change questions on exams because it is time-consuming.
Professor of law and political science Sheldon Pollack said if he can change 15-20 multiple choice questions on an exam, it would be great. He changes a certain percentage of his tests every semester, but it would be difficult to pledge the time to rewrite them all, he said.
As the president of the Faculty Senate, Pollack has seen problems with cheating in the past.
“My first semester, two students submitted the same paper,” Pollack said. “In the class of 30 people, they thought I wouldn’t recognize the same paper.”
Tomasz Szostek , a junior chemical engineering major often uses old exams to study and does not believe that using old exams should be considered cheating.
“I don’t think that I would have gotten through any classes without looking at old exams,” Szostek said. “By looking at old exams, it gives us the type of problems and questions that we’re expected to know. By doing textbook problems, not all of them are directly involved in what you’re doing in class.”
However, he also said there is a difference between studying off old tests and simply memorizing then regurgitating information from past exams.
For the future, Fernbacher recommends students be proactive and ask their professor first if a certain material is authorized to study from.
“It’s always good for students to ask questions ahead of time before using materials because the faculty member may say that it is a violation,” Fernbacher said.