Welcome to Scam Academy, where you’ll find stories of schemes and cheats from within the high schools and colleges of America. If you cheated and want to share how you did it and why, please email us here.
This week we head up North to hear from an engineering senior at college in Canada. He had a near-perfect GPA but nonetheless built an ingenious device to help him and his buddies talk during tests.
I was the president of the engineering club at my large university in Canada. We already were used to talking about what we got wrong on tests and what we could have done better. But about five of us were interested in cheating. We were just thinking: How can we really get away with it? Some people in our program would use sticky notes and things like that. Stupid stuff. I wouldn’t try and do anything like that. If you’re gonna cheat, you really should try and think outside of the box.
We thought about hacking a calculator so it could send text messages. But the pen just seemed like an easier idea. It was actually my own. I did a rough sketch of it and my friend, who’s an electrical engineer, took a regular pen and hollowed it out. He cut down the stem that holds the ink so it could hold more space inside. We inserted a vibrator connected to a small battery the size of a pinky nail. They were connected via radio signal. If you held the vibrator, it would steadily vibrate, and we could speak in Morse code, which I already knew from doing radio in Boy Scouts. Anyway, we used that device to speak in Morse code to each other during exams.
We built a prototype kind of like in the Iron Man movie. It looked like shit at first. There was a wire hanging out of it. But then we made a version 2.0 that looked really nice and natural less than a week later.
It absolutely worked. Our grades improved on every test. We corrected each other on problems we got wrong. We didn’t really need to cheat, because we already had 3.9 GPAs. But we did get away with doing it for two years—until we didn’t.
My friend put the pen on his desk so he could write something down, and it started vibrating. Someone else was trying to send a signal. The teacher heard it and thought it was a phone at first. Then he saw the pen and took it away. It was really upsetting; my heart completely dropped right to my feet. I knew it was over when he pushed the button on the pen and the other one in the room clearly started buzzing.
He wasn’t sure how it worked, so he sent it to the dean of technology, who took it apart. They never figured out we were using Morse code, just that the pens could talk to each other. We appealed the offense and lost the appeal. They said we cheated, although they weren’t sure how.
Two of us received academic offenses, which meant we couldn’t get grants or any other kind of money and weren’t in good academic standing with the school anymore. So next year I won’t be getting anything for college. You also go on a warning list, which means that if you get caught cheating again, you will be suspended or expelled. It’s also on my transcript, though I don’t think it will affect my job prospects. If an employer asked me about it, I would just lie and say there was a misunderstanding. Not everybody likes it when people don’t play by the rules.
It was worth the adventure, but, really, I didn’t need to cheat at all, so it wasn’t worth it in that respect. But school is measured on such a linear scale. Sit down, regurgitate information that’s been told to you a week previous, and write it down. I don’t think school is very fair in how it’s set up, so if you can cheat and get away with it, you might as well. But it’s a huge risk, and a lot of people aren’t willing to roll the dice.
The above has been edited and condensed for clarity. Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of VICE delivered to your inbox daily.
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