Getting Better Grades Than You Deserve: Eight Tips from a Former Teacher

There’s the classic line you hear in school, “if you cheat, you’re only cheating yourself.”

As a former teacher, I agree with the idea behind this sentiment — school exists to give students knowledge that will help them succeed, and when they cheat, they are choosing not to learn that information, thereby wasting the value of the class.

In actual practice, some of the work assigned in school is legitimately a waste of time. Without being able to predict the future, nobody can know for sure what information is safe to skip and what will turn out to be important. So the best option is to participate fully in class and thoroughly learn everything.

But college students are busy and have to prioritize their time. Sometimes it’s only practical to choose to ration your energy and not necessarily learn every bit of information.

As a student, there are times when I am fine “cheating” myself out of valuable information, but I still want a decent grade, and don’t want to be super academically dishonest. In these cases I can’t help but take a few notes from my former students.

1. Stay Low-Key — Avoid obvious cheats because they are more likely to get you caught. Copy-and-pasting is one of the easiest cheats for a teacher to catch, even if they aren’t using a program that checks for originality like turnitin.com.

If writing doesn’t sound like student work, a teacher can easily google a sentence and find where it came from. Did you just use the word “facetidious?” Is there a random number in your paper indicating the presence of a footnote that doesn’t actually exist? Did your formatting change for a paragraph or two? Busted.

I had a student erase someone else’s name from an assignment, and turn it in as his own work. That kind of rookie move will get you caught immediately, bro. Be smart.

2. Keep Cool — Sometimes, when I was a teacher, I would be working on something and not really paying attention to my students. Then I would scan the room to make sure everyone was still alive. As I was looking around, I would happen to make eye contact with a kid. His eyes would get big, he would whisper to his neighbor and then quickly hide something. I would think, “Really? I’m trying to get my grading done, and now you’re so obviously doing something you aren’t supposed to be doing that I need to walk my ass over there and deal with it?”

Don’t get caught by looking suspicious. Always act as if what you are doing is exactly what you are supposed to be doing. That’s life advice, not just school advice.

3. Understand the Syllabi — Grading can be a difficult part of teaching, and sometimes, no matter how hard a teacher tries, the grading scale ends up a bit funky. Sometimes grades reflect how well students jump through certain hoops instead of what they have learned.

Before cheating on an assignment, figure out how much it will affect your grade. This information should be laid out in the class syllabus. You might be able to take a zero on an assignment without much impact.

Sometimes teachers will ask you to do work that won’t be even graded. That’s the kind of thing you should never cheat on — if you’re choosing not to learn the information, just skip it instead.

4. Know Tests — There is a lot of information online about test-taking techniques, which can be really helpful. But I’m going to give you a couple of tips for multiple choice tests based on how teachers write questions:

If one answer is longer and more detailed than the rest, unless it is ludicrous, it is probably right.

If a term appears in more than one answer, it is more likely to be correct. Example: A) Sweepy Weeps, B) Beefy Arms, C) Beefy Weeps, D) Beefy Brooms. The answer is probably C) Beefy Weeps because the terms “Beefy” and “Weeps” both appear in other choices.

“All of the above” and “None of the above” are the correct answer way more than 50% of the times they are used.

5. Peek Behind the Curtain — Something young students often don’t understand is that teachers are legitimately people.

My mind was blown in my early 20s when I saw a teacher buying yogurt at Fred Meyer. It was unfathomable to me that teachers would do mundane stuff like that. But they are regular people who buy things, eat food and like yogurt — or don’t like yogurt, but either way, they actually have opinions about yogurt.

Logically everyone knows that teachers are people, but actually understanding that they have feelings, flaws and lives outside of school is so helpful that the rest of the list has to do with how to act once you get that.

6. Explain Yourself — Don’t expect teachers to know everything or be able to read your mind. If they’re asking something unreasonable, they might not know it is unreasonable.
What if instead of cheating on an assignment, you could tell your teacher why the assignment is overly challenging and offer a solution? That would be great, huh? Give it a shot.

“I’m having a tough time with ______________, and it seems like some other people in the class are having the same problem. I think it would be really helpful if the deadline were extended until after the weekend. Is that possible?” – it works more often than you would expect because teachers generally appreciate help removing obstacles that keep their students from turning in their best work. Plus, your classmates certainly won’t complain.

7. Be Nice — I had a student who almost never did what he was supposed to be doing in class, but whenever I called him on it, he’d say something like, “I’m sorry. I know I should be working right now. That’s my bad. You’re so patient. You don’t deserve this.” And I have to admit that he got away with a ton of shit.

I had another student who was a real handful. This one had a helicopter mother who constantly let me know that her son was perfect, and I was at fault when his grades didn’t reflect that. When he plagiarized his final paper, and she wrote me a nasty email. It felt so good to tell her that grades were already submitted, and I had the ability to change them, but would not go out of my way to help someone who was being disrespectful.

Remember – teachers are people. They are more likely to give you the benefit of the doubt if you are pleasant. If they do you a favor, say thank you. If they catch you in the wrong, apologize.

8. Read Teachers — The most morally gray area of understanding that teachers are people is understanding that most of them can be manipulated if you understand what makes them tick.

All teachers have their own styles, but general guidelines:

Young teachers will often put up with more shit than more experienced teachers (except the teachers who have been around forever and are just in it for a paycheck — they’ll let you get away with anything because they don’t care).

“Nice teachers” are more likely to be moved by personal hardships.

Teachers who love to hear themselves talk are more easy to talk into things if you tell them that they’re right. And smart. And so good at everything.

School is supposed to prepare students for the real world. These tips — which basically boil down to: be manipulative, organized, and charismatic — will serve students well inside of the classroom and out.

College is all about learning — including learning how to game the system.

-Coral Nafziger

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