Thursday, November 03, 2005

Why Russian students cheat

Jane Keeler raises an interesting topic on cheating at Russian universities. Some explanations should be added:

Almost all exams in Russia are oral. At the start of an exam first five or ten students enter the room where they pick randomly so called “billet” – question cards. A typical card includes two questions on theory and one or two “practice” problems. A student is given about half an hour to get ready and then for another twenty minutes the examiner and the student talk on the topics from the card. All cheating is done during the preparation phase of the exam. Although cheating is definitely illegal examiners usually wink at it. Reasons are simple:

1. The exam is oral so it doesn’t really matter if a student wrote down correct answers from cribs. Examiner can ask any number of questions and it’s very easy for him to prove that the student doesn’t know anything on the topic. It’s almost impossible to get a good grade cheating. The whole thing is just a somewhat hypocritical tribute to the 19th century traditions of university examinations. Nowadays many examiners allow students to bring textbooks and notes to exams and I think it’s a good idea.

2. Russian higher education system is “lecture – seminar – laboratory”. At lectures students listen, take notes and ask questions. Lectures are followed by seminars where they discuss with the same professor the topic of the previous lecture. This way the professor (=examiner) has plenty of time to get to know students. Long before the exam he knows who is good and who is bad. Students who skipped classes had no chances at the exam no matter how brilliantly they cheat. For Russian students it’s very important to be liked by professors – always asking smart questions, showing up good knowledge of professor’s books and articles, participating actively in discussions at seminars. But again even the best should work hard for exams. When a good student at the exams shows his ignorance it’s considered offensive. That’s real cheating! “Did you think I like you so much that you get A just by showing up at the exam?!”
3. Russian (or Soviet) higher education system puts a lot of pressure on students. Actually only the few are up to the mark. If you follow official standards than 80% of students should be kicked out immediately. Not that they are bad – standards are too high. This way Russian (Soviet) education system produced some A-students who were times better than their American or European counterparts and about 80% who were below average. And almost no one in the middle.

28 comments:

neha said...

The quality and committment of teachers is one of the most important things.

One teacher whom I never stop raving about was this amazing maths teacher, who knew just how much a student was capable of and somehow pushed them to reach that level.

What i found really good about him was that he never took a student personally, he took his work personally. So, he would never get frustrated with the student, and still kept trying to make them understand. He would never try to get to the basics with a student who was neither intelligent nor interested.

Anonymous said...

Are we living in the same country with you? In Russia I live in, you would never get into a good university or school without a bribe or connections.

Go and talk to university students, they'll tell you that in many cases you can pass the exam by putting some money in your student's record book.

And what is so special about lecture-tutorial-lab srtucture? This is how it is done in the US too as far as I know. Moreover, there is much less opportunity for a professor to be biased towards a particular student, because it the exam is written, noone can say that a person who wrote it knows less, than what he wrote. And believe me, not many students in the US would risk being expelled by cheating or plagiarizing, which is a common practice in Russian universities.

Considering your age, you probably have not been able to fit into the present state of things and are still living in the communist past.

It's sooo annoying that so many Russians use every opportunity to talk about how something in Russia is better than in America.

Alex(ei) said...

Konstantin gives a pretty good description of the way things still work at some of our best universities -- a handful, I'm ready to concede, and only at their math and science departments, where the professors' integrity is more or less OK. From what I know, I suspect law schools and ekonomicheskie fakul'tety are corrupt beyond belief. I suspect there isn't much value in post-Soviet (as well as Soviet) economics education anyway.

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Mei Tai said...

I didn't know that almost all the exams in Russia were oral. In my country, almost all the exams are written.

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