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Elements of correspondence (“coincidences”) between a student’s solutions to an assigned set of quantitative problems and the solutions manual for the course textbook may suggest that the student copied the work from an illicit source. Plagiarism of this kind, which occurs primarily in fields such as the natural sciences, engineering, and mathematics, is often difficult to establish. This paper derives an expression for the probability that alleged coincidences in a student’s paper could be attributable to pure chance. The analysis employs the Principle of Maximum Entropy (PME), which, mathematically, is a variational procedure requiring maximization of the Shannon-Jaynes entropy function augmented by the completeness relation for probabilities and known information in the form of expectation values. The virtue of the PME as a general method of inferential reasoning is that it generates the most objective (i.e. least biased) probability distribution consistent with the given information. Numerical examination of test cases for a range of plausible conditions can yield outcomes that tend to exonerate a student who otherwise might be wrongfully judged guilty of cheating by adjudicators unfamiliar with the surprising properties of random processes.


Originally published under Open Access terms as:

Silverman, M.P. (2015) Cheating or Coincidence? Statistical Method Employing the Principle of Maximum Entropy for Judging Whether a Student Has Committed Plagiarism. Open Journal of Statistics, 5, 143-157.


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