Does Praying for Answers on a Test Equal Cheating?

This is sparked by a reddit thread. Here’s the scenario:

A professor is overseeing the final for his class. He notices that one of his students has their pen down, they have their hands over their face, and they are not paying attention to the test in any recognizable way. He goes to the student and asks if the student is ok. The student says, “yes sir, I was simply praying to God to help me answer the question”. The professor takes the test and rips in half. In horror, the student exclaims, ” why did you do that?!” The professor responds that, “asking for help on tests is cheating, and cheating is an automatic zero.”

I find this scenario very interesting, and after reading the discussion in that thread, I’m not sure which side I am on.

On the one hand, it seems reasonable to punish attempts at receiving answers through prayer. On the other hand, I don’t think prayer would be effective.

The more intriguing question, to me, is whether the student would accept the punishment or try to argue that he was not cheating. He could, of course, as a True Believer, accept the punishment or cry “religious persecution!”, but the latter would be ironic as the professor would have been taking his religion quite seriously and punishing him for using a tenant of it to be a bad student.

If the student tried to argue he was not cheating, what could he say that could protect both his religion and his academic integrity?

The main thing I can think of is simply, “I was praying, ‘Please let me remember, I know I studied this!'”

There is another angle I don’t think was really covered in the conversation on reddit: if praying for answers is cheating, how could teachers enforce that rule? Any prayer I did for help on tests back in my Christian schooldays was entirely internal; no one could have known I was thinking “to god”, as it were. Certainly no student would admit to prayer were it ruled to be cheating, as this scenario has the student doing.

Further, if prayer really counts as cheating, that is a religious reason to forbid prayer in schools. Ironically, only those who deny the effectiveness of prayer are being rational by allowing such prayer in the classroom.

7 thoughts on “Does Praying for Answers on a Test Equal Cheating?

  1. That’s interesting, and like you I could reason any of several answers to be correct. Here’s where I come down on this.

    Atheist teacher: No god, no harm, no foul. Identical to praying to the One True Gluten Free Flying Spaghetti Monster. Yum!

    Theist teacher: Recognizes this as an intent to circumvent the knowledge requirement – cheating.

    christian teacher: Joins in prayer. Teacher reasons her knowledge on test answers is a gift from god and passes the answers to the entire class. Students learn nothing from zealot teacher, as is the christian way.

    1. That analysis of the Christian teacher is hilarious.

      My question really is, and I think I did fail to express this, is prayer an attempt at cheating? If so, should even the atheist teacher be dishing out punishment?

      1. warebec,

        Thank you, and I apologize. I did understand your question. I just couldn’t resist the parody.

        Ask your question a different and you may discover your own answer. Can making a wish be considered cheating? Perhaps. We’re you wish harm to a person and that harm befell him, are you guilty of a crime? Should you feel remorse?

      2. Whether I should or not, I would feel remorse if I wished someone harm and they suffered that or really any harm. I don’t think any court in the world would convict me, though.

        I’m not sure there is a “100% True” answer to this question. I really don’t know what my answer is, because both policies with regards to cheating make sense to me; that is, the one where even an attempt that was doomed to failure from the start is punished, and the one where only attempts that might be successful are punished. After all, any teacher would punish a student for asking their classmate for the answer during a test, even if the teacher knows the student who was asked would never provide the answer.

        I just find it an interesting question, and as I will never be a formal teacher, the answer isn’t one I have a particular reason to find.

        A similar question: is it cheating on your significant other to go to a bar and ask others to have sex with you, if none of them say yes? It is clearly being unfaithful, but it can hardly be considered cheating, I think.

      3. It’s also about judgement, so answers will vary. Relationship cheating answers would likely vary based on how one related to a role in the scenario.

  2. It seems to me that it’s the same as asking for (divine) help with a difficult problem. I can’t count the number of times I’ve prayed for wisdom and understanding about difficult technical issues; and received answers!

    If it really is cheating (assuming the absolute), then one might argue God wouldn’t answer…

    1. It does open the door to the question of where morality came from. If God is willing to give an answer on a test to a student, does that make cheating moral in that context?

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