Could You Cheat On an Open-Book Issue Spotter?
posted by Dave Hoffman
Claims of cheating by college students are increasingly common. Law schools are not immune to the problem, though it is rarely talked about. That’s true even though the likelihood of being caught is (probably) higher than in college (because one professor, not multiple RAs, do the grading) and the consequences are more dire (because cheaters, even if not expelled, should be reported to the Bar’s character and fitness board). For exams where the “game” depends on quickly uncovering information — multiple choice exams, especially when questions are copied from previous years, or closed book essays — it is my sense that cheating is on the rise. Similarly, plagiarism on long-form writing is cheaper than it used to be, and thus more common. As compared to colleges, law schools are ill-equipped to deal with these sets of problems, as they lack a tradition of centralized pedagogical coordination, and thus the resources and know-how that might enable technological solutions of cheating.
That all said, I’ve always comforted myself that if you give an issue-spotting exam that is open book, even immoral maximizing students won’t cheat. By making exams open-book, you prevent the easiest form of cheating – a student getting informational advantages over others by looking up cases or treatises. All that is left is discussion between test takers, which is prohibited by the honor code and which is a form of cheating. I tend to think that such coordination is quite rare. Though two students working together might “spot” more issues than either alone, it’s just as possible that group think will revert them to the mean answer – the easiest to see issues. Moreover, “A” answers are distinguished (mostly) not by spotting issues but by discussing them. Two students together would run a terrible risk if their discussions looked alike to the grader. Thus, open-book monster issue spotters are structurally difficult to game, and the best defense against cheaters – at least until we replace our current grading system with a computer.