A letter to cheating students

To all students   planning on copying their math solutions straight out of the solutions manual:

Please first consider the following story.

Billy needed to compute the general antiderivative of the function 1/x. Stumped, he glanced around the class, and saw that Amy, who always got things right, had written “log x”, so he copied the answer from her.   Of course, Billy was a sharp tack himself, so in order to prevent himself from being caught copying, he rewrote the answer as “timber x“.

Now, if you happen to be a student planning on copying his or her answers from some outside source, let me be frank with you.

You are as dumb as Billy.

As proof, did you realize that Amy’s answer is wrong?

Did you realize it’s wrong for two different reasons?


You are as dumb as Billy.

Fortunately, this is easy to rectify:

Seriously.   You are not smart enough to get away with cheating.

If you cannot do a problem on your own, and you are not smart enough to seek help from the professor or a tutor or a peer, then you are not smart enough to get away with cheating.

I’ve tried to explain this to you before, but apparently it hasn’t sunk in.

Let me try again.   I’ll stick to three reasons.

Reason # 1: if you are dumb enough to plan on copying down a problem wholesale, so too are a bunch of your equally dumb classmates.   As a result, a sizable portion of the class will turn in exactly the same solution, down to the freaking formatting.   On a scale of 0 to 100, the chance of that occurring naturally is 0.   Now, whether or not you have any experience with basic probability, your math professor sure as hell does.

Don’t be a Billy!

Reason #2: if you are dumb enough to copy down an entire problem wholesale, you’re dumb enough to have no idea when the thing you’re copying is total garbage.   Earlier in the month I gave an example of the sheer stupidity of which you are capable when you attempt to cheat.   To return to the probabilistic statement, on a scale of 0 to 100, the chance of a sizable portion of the class naturally turning in exactly the same batshit-insanely stupid solution, down to the freaking formatting, is -100.

Don’t be a Billy!

Reason #3: if you are dumb enough to copy down an entire problem wholesale, you’re also dumb enough to be unable to cover your tracks should you decide to “pull a Billy.”   To wit, just a few weeks after the “cot/cosec” debacle alluded to above,   I had students turn the following problem: compute the arc-length of the plane curve x = t^3, , y = t^2 over the interval [0,2].   A quarter of them handed in the following, word for word:

There is absolutely no way to get the second equality from the first one: what did you do — cancel some of the powers of t under the radical, but nothing else? Nor is there any way to get the third equality from the second one: neither integration by parts nor substitution works, and in any case, the expression in parentheses in the fourth line is not the same thing as the expression in parentheses from the third line.   The final equality does follow from the third one, but at this point if you’re clueless enough to have bought the previous two lines, there’s no way your professor is going to believe you can track fractional powers of large integers in your head.

Of course, if you look to the answer in the back of the book, it reads

If you haven’t found the flaw yet, let me just put in in terms you’ll understand:

It’s one thing to cheat.   It’s another thing to cheat badly.   It pisses off your professors to no end, and if they’re like me, they’ll make you sign a letter of Academic Dishonesty that gets submitted with the Dean of Students and appears in big ol’ letters on your transcripts as a punishment for EPIC STUPIDITY.

Don’t be a Billy!


— Every math professor you’ve ever had.

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