Sam Thompson

Sneaky little cheaters

The joy of midterm exams

Well, midterms have come and gone for a lot of schools in Thailand. I think the general feeling among the teachers is "oh, joy, midterms..." with a highly sarcastic tone. Midterms means a week of sitting bored out of our minds in classrooms with students that usually aren't ours. I feel bad for the students; I'm bored, and they're having to sit there and take test after useless test.

So, to entertain myself, I like to do things like sing entire albums in my head. I sometimes surprise myself by remembering almost every word to an album I last heard in high school. Depending on my co-proctor (or invigilator, as I've come to learn), I may even be somewhat productive and grade papers or prepare lessons. But eventually, this gets boring as well, and I must find another way to amuse myself.

Typically, this means watching the students. This is a good thing, really, being that watching them is my whole point in being there-in theory, anyway. My first thing to do: count the minutes (or seconds) until they start to fall asleep. The harder the test, the quicker the heads hit the desk. Once a good half of them are snoring, the remainder of them begin sending and receiving [usually incorrect] answers via often elaborate systems.

What's funny to me now, as perhaps it was to my teachers when I was their age, is that I've been there. I've sat through ridiculous tests. I've tried to cheat before. I was never very good at it, so I usually didn't bother... but I've been there. It's as if the students think we don't notice... but in reality, depending on the teacher, it's that we don't really care.

I take that back. I care to the level that my Thai co-proctor does. If the other teacher cares, I care. But, being that midterms and finals are all quite the set-up to begin with, I don't make it personal to stop ALL the cheating I see; having done several rounds of these before, I've realized it's largely pointless. I mean, come on... even if they fail for cheating (which at my school NEVER happens), they just get to retake-usually meaning that I personally have to proctor them again-and they must past regardless.

We know that as teachers. They know that as students. So really, it's up to us to put on a good show of good character enforcement. My favorite is giving them "the look." That stern, slightly sly look that is universal: "I know what you're doing, and we both know you shouldn't." Occasionally I'll tap on their desks as I walk by with said look. Honestly, this does quite a lot to curb the dishonesty... far more than it would do in an American school. But unless the Thai teacher in charge makes an issue out of it, I don't typically take it any further.

So, when I'm not being the good character police, I've amused myself by categorizing the students. 

You have your casually-glance-around-as-I-stretch students. Those are always funny. How often do you really need to pop your back in ten minutes?
Then, there are the ones who lay their heads to one side in an attempt to look determined to answer a particularly grueling problem. Let's face it, most of us have been there. Obviously, aside from an attempt to sleep away the pain, this is a surefire way to see half of the answers on the next desk over.

The more clever ones have already worked out a secret code. Three pats of the hand: number 3. A tap of the middle finger: C. 3=C. I like those. Of course, the trick is to do so A) without the teacher noticing, and B) WITH the other code-deciphering student noticing. I was never that clever, so I've got to hand it to them. Even if I tried to make a code, I would have forgotten it. Just like my studying efforts, really.

Those feeling particularly helpful will hold up their papers from their desks, obviously attempting to scrutinize the answers they have already written... with the oh so unfortunate side effect of everyone behind and beside them being able to read the answers too. Oh! I didn't know they could see it! I can't speak Thai, but I was a student before. I know how it goes.

My favorites, though, are the ones that don't bother to hide cheating at all. "Hey, what's number seven?" always garners general classroom laughter. Sure, this would get you expelled in most Western countries, but this is Thailand. Relax.

The fact that the point of midterms, at least in my school, is to prove that the teachers are smarter than the students (aka, the more fail, it seems, the better) is a whole different story. So is the fact that the midterms I write are typically re-written by my Thai co-teachers to include any number of items not even remotely related to what I've been teaching. I've learned just to let it slide, and ensure the students' other scores can level-out the bad grades on midterms that truly are unfair to the students.

If Thailand has taught me nothing else, it's this: hey, if you can't see the funny side of something, why bother looking at all?


The worst mid-term experience I ever had was when other ajarn farang wanted to argue with me over the content of my mid-term. When underpaid and exploited guest teachers take it upon themselves to provide 'serious' instruction in Thailand, the results are inevitably unpleasant. Now I show a movie and give a quiz about it - everyone's happy!

By Guy, bkk (1st August 2013)

If you leave Thailand and come to Saudi Arabia you will experience a whole new level of cheating. It's nothing like Thailand. The Thai students are pikers compared to Saudi students.

When the Thai parents realize they have to adopt Western ethics when it comes to education and when the Thai community makes it clear that if you do poorly in school there is no where to go and nothing to be done, then Thai education will improve dramatically.

On the brighter side for Thailand, it almost looks like Western standards is dropping down to meet Thai standards.

By young_clinton, Riyadh (30th July 2013)

No offence, and trying not to get too judgmental, but not all schools are like this, to greater or lesser degrees. You should find a school where the staff have at least a slight commitment to ethics and do not allow wholesale cheating.

If you really don't mind cheating, though, (as extreme examples) let's hope, in the future, you're not operated on by a doctor who, as a student, cheated on most tests and who never felt the need to learn it properly for him or herself, or drive over a bridge, designed or built by someone similar, which then collapses, etc. Or would that not be seeing the funny side?

I have to apologise- this isn't the first time I have had a go at you, and be assured, I certainly do not wish you ill feelings. But often your descriptions of the things in your school seem to me like anti-education is your school's goal, and you don't have to take it if you don't want to, even if it means voting with your feet.

By jbkk, bkk (30th July 2013)

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