I mentor online (in assembly language and computer architecture) at codementor.io.  The way I work is to have a zoom meeting with a student to instruct them on what they are confused or stuck on.

More and more, due to changes in the way course work is being carried on during the epidemic, I'm having new students as me for help with take home exams.  Of course, I won't do that if I know it is happening.

Many of these such requests directly and blatantly ask for help with an exam; however some students appear to have lied that they are doing practice exams or have homework assignment they need some help with when it really was a take home exam.

Here's what I do when I encounter a new student asking for help.

  • For some, I look for urgency for a very specific time they want me be available
  • With some I feel I need to ask them directly if this is an exam or practice
  • I generally ask what the time frame is

I get concerned if the time frame is either immediate or very specific time (say tomorrow) and/or there are multiple question that are somewhat randomly related and it is not obviously a practice exam.

But with the latest changes, moving to home and online study, more and more I'm seeing exams being given as take home and with a two or so day time period, so my approaches to detecting situations that I don't want to be in are not working as well as I'd like, and, I'm being approached more often.

It's a tough situation and I do sympathize with students because at least right now with sudden changes there is some chaos; many are not getting the instruction they need and help from faculty, and for the moment, increasingly so because of the pandemic.

Further, instructors — who are suddenly shifting from in-class exams to take home exams — are probably not versed in best practices against cheating.

My question is, does anyone have any advice on the subject, e.g. on how to help honest students (e.g. practice exams, theory, etc..) while avoiding cheating on exams?

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    $\begingroup$ Do you have, or can you develop, any contact with the instructors? I realize that odds are each student you see will be from a different class, or even country, but contact with the instructor might help, in this and many other cases. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 9, 2020 at 23:14
  • $\begingroup$ It would be nice if this was an interacting community of students, instructors, mentors/tutors, but that is not the case as yet. $\endgroup$
    – Erik Eidt
    Commented Apr 10, 2020 at 0:08
  • $\begingroup$ BenI. has some good advice here, and I would require of each student that they give me the email address of their instructor and let them know that you might need to contact them for advice in mentoring. $\endgroup$
    – Buffy
    Commented Apr 10, 2020 at 13:01

1 Answer 1


If I were to try some online sleuthing, the first question I would ask is for the course's website, if there is one, or for links to recent assignments. This has the double benefit that your primary goal in doing this is to make sure that your instruction is as helpful as it can be.

If students cannot provide this, then my next question would be about how you can go about contacting the teacher, for the same reason. Your instruction can simply be better targeted at this point if you have some sense of what the course is doing.

My guess is that at this point, most cheaters who wish to hide what they are doing will give up on working with you.

(As an aside, you may find that some teachers have, as a practical matter, made their exams entirely open-internet and open-help, and hold a standard that if the student understands what they have written, then they will accept the work. In this case, your assistance might not be considered cheating at all.)

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    $\begingroup$ Hmmm. "open-help"? Can you point to an example. I'm surprised and wonder how that would work. $\endgroup$
    – Buffy
    Commented Apr 10, 2020 at 11:01
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    $\begingroup$ @Buffy I cannot point to a link, but I have used structures like this in the past (within my classroom) and have been considering ways to adapt the model to virtual education. The appeal, I think, is obvious, when I can't lock down or in any way verify what students have actually done. $\endgroup$
    – Ben I.
    Commented Apr 10, 2020 at 11:06

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