In season 3 of Veronica Mars when Veronica and Wallace go to university, Wallace buys previous exam papers and answer keys. Apparently, this is cheating.

In my alma mater, this was being resourceful: My alma mater's instructors (usually) assume word of the exam will get out and makes the succeeding tests accordingly.

What's going on? Is this some dumb university that stubbornly refuses to change exam questions each year and gaslights students into thinking they're cheaters for looking up previous exam papers when really they're lazy/negligent for not making new exam papers as explained here? (Update: Also here.)

  • 5
    Looks like you asked your first question about whether using previous exams is cheating way back in 2014. Maybe it’s time to let it go? I don’t think getting the word out on Stack Exchange that you have this opinion is going to change any academic integrity or honor codes at any universities. The rules are the rules, whether you think they are good rules or not. Perhaps if you become president of a university yourself, you can make sure that university has rules that make sense to you, but you’ll have to accept other universities will go their own way. Commented Sep 4, 2022 at 4:34
  • 5
    Based on your use of the term "gaslighting" I think you might actually just have an English Language & Usage question about whether enforcement of conduct that is against a published policy can be gaslighting. That would be out of scope on Movies & TV though. You might also have a question for Law about whether not changing exams is "negligence".
    – user96544
    Commented Sep 4, 2022 at 6:37

3 Answers 3


Questions are very often reused, even if the order might be changed or some new questions might be mixed with the old. So having previously asked questions that are likely to be asked again, and especially having the answers, is almost certainly an unapproved resource.

In general, you’re supposed to 100% do your own work and thinking and cite all resources that you draw from at an American university. In some ways it’s complicated and a large number of honor code violations (cheating) are committed by students who honestly don’t realize they are violating the honor code.

If you really want to get solid information on whether this is likely an honor code violation, you could ask at Academia.SE. I think it’s completely reasonable that the university they are attending considers it an honor code violation and they know it, which is why they can actually get paid for the material (if it were licit everyone would have it and share it) and why they are careful and concerned about their business.

From the UCLA code of conduct:

102.01e: Facilitating Academic Dishonesty Facilitating academic dishonesty includes, but is not limited to, knowingly helping another student commit an act of academic dishonesty or publishing assignments, exams or solutions without permission of the instructor.

University of Southern California engineering school honor code:

Any use of external assistance during an examination shall be considered academically dishonest unless expressly permitted by the instructor.

Stanford honor code:

Examples of conduct that have been regarded as being in violation of the Honor Code include:

  • Giving or receiving aid on an academic assignment under circumstances in which a reasonable person should have known that such aid was not permitted

Virginia Tech honor code:

Examples of cheating include, but are not limited to:

II. A. 1. Acquiring answers from any unauthorized source in completing any examination. For examinations, this includes looking at another student's exam, taking answers from another student’s exam paper, use of textbook/study sheet/calculator during an exam for which those materials are not allowed, working with another student on a project that is to be completed individually, copying solutions from an online source or solutions manual, getting answers from students who have previously taken the examination, or using external aids (e.g., books, notes, calculators, electronic devices, conversation with others) that have not been specifically designated as allowed by the instructor.

  • 1
    @BCLC Personally I doubt there’s an American university where it’s definitely ok to buy and sell previous test questions and answers, but of course it’s impossible for me to know or even check hundreds of honor codes. To me, it’s conceivable that you could get in trouble at your school and it’s just not clear to you that you could. Commented Sep 3, 2022 at 11:19
  • 2
    @BCLC I’d like to remind you of the highest voted answer here: academia.stackexchange.com/questions/27872/… Particularly, the answer to "If the CoAI in fact fails to mention it while [accessing previous test information] is wrong, can students be faulted for doing such?" is yes. Commented Sep 3, 2022 at 11:25
  • 3
    @BCLC I just rewatched the E5 & E6; they do not present this as universally wrong. Wallace refers to it as "cheating" colloquially without refering to the specific policy. We don't see much of the discussion between him and administration. Wallace seems to realize throughout that what he is doing is sketchy and doesn't fight much at all once discovered; rather, he asks for leniency, ends up taking a zero on that exam, and eventually drops his basketball to focus on school. This portrayal could absolutely be consistent with a school that had a policy against getting answers from previous exams.
    – user96544
    Commented Sep 3, 2022 at 11:32
  • 1
    @BCLC Agreeing with you about what? Are you asking for information or putting forth an agenda about what should and should not count as cheating? The answers on Academia are generally provided by experienced academics who know the actual answer. Maybe you don’t think it should count as cheating, but what your opinion is has nothing to do with the facts. The facts are, it does count as cheating at many (possibly most) US universities. That should answer your question about Veronica Mars. Any opinions you have about that are irrelevant on Stack Exchange - except maybe in the chat rooms. Commented Sep 4, 2022 at 4:23
  • 4
    I’m not sure why you keep mentioning that it seems like laziness and gaslighting to you. If you’re here seeking understanding about Veronica Mars, then whether you think it’s bad or not is irrelevant. If you’re here to try to convince other people that it’s laziness and/or gaslighting, then you’re in the wrong place. That’s not what stack exchange is for. To put it in your terms: who cares if you think it’s laziness and gaslighting? Who cares that you didn’t accept that answer? Commented Sep 4, 2022 at 4:37

This is just artistic license

Generally speaking, the university is not responsible for creating exams as some kind of monolithic entity: individual instructors write their own exams. One instructor might (hypothetically) re-use the exact same exam repeatedly, while another instructor creates a fresh exam for each section. These are both extreme examples, but the point is that individual instructors are largely in the driver's seat. I doubt you could find a university anywhere where all exams in all courses are re-used, whether as a matter of policy or coincidence.

To be sure, each instructor tends to teach a repeating slate of courses, so you might think there is an incentive to re-use exams. Furthermore, test design is in fact a hugely difficult art form -- it is very hard to create a good test -- and very many stakeholders, not only students, have a vested interest in exams being high quality: if an instructor creates a bad exam, even good students can do poorly, and Hell hath no fury like a young person who believes their future depends on maintaining a > 4.0 GPA and who feels they have been unfairly denied that by a lazy or incompetent instructor. In turn, poor assessments can harm the whole department over the longer term as their degree-completion, placement, and enrollment rates drop. So, department leadership has a vested interest in making sure that the exams created by their instructors are indeed reliable.

It has been a long time since I saw Veronica Mars, so I have to rely on your description of events, but if it's accurate then the episode in question is also mistaken. This is probably because the people making the show decided that this detail really didn't matter: the show is not really worse for presenting an oversimplified picture of how this stuff works. What the episode needed was a superficially plausible opportunity for some mild criminality by college students in an academic setting.

  • Thanks Tom I didn't downvote you but (1st question) are you indeed siding with me in that it's wrong for them to portray it so simplistically (I actually haven't seen this episode in awhile. Last I saw was maybe a decade ago. Lol) that they can just make reused tests and consider it cheating if students get their hands on past papers? (2nd question - And additionally you agree if universities do it then they are wrong to do so?)
    – BCLC
    Commented Sep 3, 2022 at 7:43
  • 3
    It's not "wrong" for VM to present things this way. VM is not a documentary about assessments in a post-secondary educational context, it's a family-friendly detective adventure comedy. They took liberties with this element of university life to further their narrative goals, which is permissible and very normal. And I'm not going to sit in judgment of the assessment practices of real-world universities. Teaching is something that looks deceptively easy from the outside but is in fact terribly difficult. I assure you that real instructors and universities are doing whatever they think best.
    – Tom
    Commented Sep 3, 2022 at 17:38
  • Tom, are you sure? Sounds like laziness and gaslighting 'I don't have to make a new test. I can just be lazy and use old test and say any students who get hands on previous copies are cheating. Mwahahahaha' ? I thought you were agreeing with me?
    – BCLC
    Commented Sep 4, 2022 at 4:01
  • 3
    Yeah, pretty sure. And no, I wasn't agreeing with you. College instructors are not the vicious tyrants you seem to be looking for evidence of. As a rule, they are very intelligent, hard working, well-meaning, underpaid, and under-appreciated. Veronica Mars is just a TV show (and not a particularly serious one at that), and you should not use it as a basis for beliefs about the real world. My advice is to get over this one sketchy plot device and focus on the good characters and writing.
    – Tom
    Commented Sep 4, 2022 at 7:02
  • 2
    If that is on topic anywhere, it would be at Academia
    – user96544
    Commented Sep 4, 2022 at 10:53

Heavily upvoted comment by gnipmuffin on reddit:

I don’t think they were previous exams… didn’t Max talk about how much work it was keeping them current when defending his slacker profession?

  • 4
    You quoted something suggesting your own question is based on misunderstanding the story and then accepted this answer? Why not just edit your question to make it line up with the story? Commented Sep 7, 2022 at 17:52
  • @ToddWilcox There's no edit to make I think...unless like 'oh were they actually not previous exams?' you mean?
    – BCLC
    Commented Sep 8, 2022 at 0:46
  • 4
    Exactly. If he’s selling questions and answers for upcoming exams that have been leaked or stolen, that’s obvious cheating and the question answers itself. Commented Sep 8, 2022 at 0:56
  • @ToddWilcox But people make mistaken assumptions all the time...? esp in SE sites like say maths SE. You think people should edit their question posts after someone in answer says 'ah the problem in your argument is that you assumed X implies Y when this is not always true' ?
    – BCLC
    Commented Sep 29, 2022 at 11:55

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .