Many years ago, (more than I care to remember) I was taking a series of evening classes at Pierce Junior College in Woodland Hills, CA. There was another student, Hopkins, who happened to be taking several of the same classes that I was and inevitably, we began to sort of hang out together. We would sit next to each other, compare notes from time to time, and go on coffee breaks together – that sort of thing.
Then one semester we again found ourselves in the same class and as usual, sat next to each other. I don’t remember what class it was but I do remember that the instructor always gave multiple-choice exams and that he graded “on the curve.”
Grading on the curve means that after each exam, the instructor would take the top few grades and those students would receive an A, the next several lower grades would get a B, and so on. So, for example if there were 35 students in the class. The top two or three students would get an A, the next twelve students would get a B, the next twenty students would get a C, and anyone below that would get a D or an F. (The grade of D or F rarely occurred.) The week following every exam, the instructor would show the grade results on the blackboard and then occasionally review some of the exam information.
The class continued for a few weeks and one evening at coffee break, Hopkins asked me, “Have you ever noticed that Cheedle always copies your answers during an exam?” (Cheedle sat next to me on my other side.) Hopkins went on, “I wouldn’t care if he cheated or not but grades are important to me and Cheedle’s cheating is ‘killing the curve’ and making it harder for me to get a higher grade.” Then he added, “I was hoping you could do something about his cheating. Maybe make it harder for him to see your answers?”
I said, “Sorry, I never noticed. I’ll take care of it.” And I continued, “And I won’t hide my answers.”
The very next time we had an exam, I carefully selected the next choice on every question. If the correct answer was A, I circled B; if the correct answer was C, I circled D. When I was ready to turn in my exam, I noted what I had done on the top of my paper with an Attn: Mr. Phillips on it. I also hung back until I saw that Cheedle had handed in his exam. Then as I handed in my test paper, I made an added point to explain to Mr. Phillips that I suspected someone of cheating and asked him to note what I had done when he graded the exams.
At the next class meeting, Mr. Phillips did his usual grade review on the blackboard. He remarked that he in his twenty-two years of teaching, he had occasionally seen cases where a student got 100% of the exam questions correct, he had never seen one where there had been one student in the class who had gotten every single one of the questions wrong! (Of course. If I got every answer right, Cheedle would have had to get every one wrong.)
My friend, Hopkins looked over at me and silently mouthed, “Thank you.”
Bob sat in a different seat the next time the class met.
(I’ll bet Cheedle wonders to this day how it that happened that I got an A and he got an F.)
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Paul Burri is a retired inventor, engineer, writer and all-around know-it-all.