Blog confidential: Embarrassing inconsistencies and outrageous behaviour

Each week, Dr Margot Feelbetter poses a dilemma and offers advice for readers to respond to online.

June 24, 2010

This week: Embarrassing inconsistencies and outrageous behaviour

We are students on a psychology course, one in her second year, the other a first-year student. We knew each other before university, having attended the same school. We both submitted the same assignment, a year apart, albeit with minor changes: we know that some say this is unethical, but with time pressures and the like, it seemed like a no-brainer.

Anyway, we came across this column and thought we would tell you what happened. When the assignment was first submitted last year, it got 88 per cent. It received stunning feedback: the marker lauded its "grasp of the subject, links to research and concise critical theorising".

When the assignment was resubmitted a year later, it only just scraped a 2:2. So what's going on here? Where's the consistency?

More generally, we think the degree is appalling value for money: a handful of lectures from old farts who could not hack it in the outside world.

I would like to think that the academic who marked the second assignment was well aware of your totally reprehensible behaviour. Perhaps the second mark was intended as an informed, subversive act. If so, you can count yourselves lucky.

It may seem like a bit of a lark to you, but if you had been caught you would have faced the possibility of being thrown out of university - I doubt you would have been so smug then. And there may still be a chance of this: in theory you could be caught.

In terms of those who marked your assignments, I have little to say. If they didn't know about the plagiarism, a 10 per cent difference in mark would be acceptable, but the massive drop seen in this case would need explaining.

Although I have no sympathy for you, this case does bring to mind innocent students who submit similar work but face terrible inconsistencies in marking. I cannot defend this. But neither can I defend students who wing their way through a degree on the basis of plagiarism. I suggest you think carefully about what you hope to achieve and the potentially disastrous consequences of your actions.

Last year in my department, we discovered that two students had plagiarised the work of others. Their fate? A disciplinary committee hearing and a rather sad exit from the university. What was especially sad was that both had great ability but have now been disgraced.

I would suggest that you amend your rather arrogant and foolish attitude to a serious subject. I would rather be the academic who marked assignments inconsistently than two students who are playing a dangerous game that could have terrible consequences.

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