As college becomes more competitive, the pressure students feel to cheat increases. Cheating is a reality that every school faces. Especially with the increase of technology, students have gotten creative in discovering a number of ways to cheat on tests, essays, assignments, and even college applications. But why do students feel the need to cheat? And how do they do it?
How Students Cheat
Students have gotten creative over the years and have found numerous ways to cheat on their exams. There are even Youtube tutorials devoted to cheating effectively. Here are some ways that cheating happens, although there are plenty more than this list, so teachers and administrators should always be aware of what is going on in the classroom.
- Parents do the work. Although students may shirk the work by getting their parents to write admissions essays or complete other assignments for them, admissions departments can tell the difference, so you won’t be fooling anyone.
- Faking Scores on Applications. Essays, recommendation letters, awards, and financial aid statements are falsified on some college applications. However, admissions officers look for these discrepancies and getting caught ruins the chances of ever getting accepted. It’s not worth it.
- Teachers aiding students. Some teachers try to boost their test scores by giving answers or doctoring exams. They also give extra time on standardized tests to help them boost their scores. Once again, this system is only setting students up for further failure in the future.
- Using unapproved materials on take-home exams. Many teachers trust their students to do the right thing with take-home exams. However, without supervision on take-home assignments, students are using materials like notes, textbooks, each other, and internet resources on the test.
- Selling tests and answers. Some students hold onto tests and sell them later to other students simply to make a few bucks. Or, they take pictures of the test discreetly and later post them on social media or send them to friends.
- Using phones. Just about every college student has their own cell phone, many of which are smartphones. With this technology students can look up test answers or text answers to their friends.
- Online classes. Students who enroll in online classes hire other students or organizations to complete their classwork for them.
- Passing signals. Some students have developed systems of tapping or coughing to signal test answers.
- Bathroom breaks. One way to cheat is to ask to go to the bathroom during the middle of the test. Students will then look at their phones or other notes that they have stored away to figure out answers to tough test questions.
- Writing notes on small or hidden objects. Some students write notes on the inside of their water bottle label. There are other sneaky places to write notes too, like under bandages, stored in graphing calculators, or in mechanical pencils. They even squeeze small writing onto erasers or rubber bracelets.
- Recording notes. Another way students cheat is by recording notes on an MP3 player and listening to them during the test discreetly.
- Plagiarism. When writing essays, it is easier to search than research. Many students plagiarize, whether intentionally or accidentally by not citing the information.
Why Students Cheat
There have been many studies done to determine which students cheat and why. There have been several factors that influence whether or not a student cheats. None of these factors are an excuse for cheating, but being aware of these influences can help prevent cheating in the classroom.
- Pressure to do well either academically to get into colleges, or to maintain a certain GPA causes some students to cheat. Students also face other pressures from external sources like parents, jobs, or other responsibilities that prevent them from devoting time to studies.
- Competitive impulse can be another motive for students to cheat. Wanting to out-perform others can increase the impulse to cheat.
- Unfair grading or harsh professors can cause students to feel like the only way to perform well in a class is by cheating.
- Lack of preparation and effort. When students don’t go to class or don’t study they are more likely to cheat.
- Helping a friend. When students feel loyalty towards their friends or other classmates, they may be more likely to cheat.
- Opportunity. Whether the teacher left the room, other students don’t cover their papers, or no one ever gets caught cheating, students are more likely to cheat when an opportunity presents itself.
- Group mentality. If students feel that everyone cheats, then they may feel that it is okay to cheat on an exam or assignment.
- Ethics. Some students may simply lack the ethics and don’t care if cheating is right or wrong, which in some cases can turn the whole thing into an adventurous game.
- Finish school. Cheating may happen because students want to get a class over with and finish school.
There are also a number of ways students can unintentionally cheat. For example; not knowing how to cite a source properly in an essay, or not understanding copyright information. The expectations for an assignment may not be clear to them, so teachers should thoroughly explain instructions to avoid this confusion.
How to Prevent Cheating
Knowing how students cheat and why can help teachers and test proctors prevent it. Here are some tools and tips on how to prevent, or catch, cheating on tests.
- Organize the environment. The testing environment can prevent some cheating. Have students test in well-lit rooms that are clean and free from clutter. Spread desks apart and separate students. Assign different seating so students can’t sit by people they may have planned to cheat off of.
- Explicit instruction. Teachers should give explicit instructions especially in take-home exams. Be clear in expectations. Explain what resources are acceptable to use and which ones are not. Clearly explain the guidelines for citations to avoid plagiarism.
- Disciplinary action. Remind students of the university’s policy on cheating and make sure that you enforce it when you catch a student cheating.
- Carefully go over the instructions for test answers and essays. To avoid confusion and to clearly establish expectations, review directions and what is acceptable and what is not.
- Prohibit electronics. Do not allow electronics or other unacceptable materials to be used on tests. Make sure students put their backpacks and other items under their desks or in another location so they cannot be used to cheat.
- Proctor exams. Be vigilant and have proctors to monitor exams, especially in large classes. Walking around a classroom and watching for suspicious behavior will deter students from cheating. Be careful though because it cheating is not always easy to catch. Look for signals, whispering, and class disruptions.
- Academic honor code. Include an academic integrity statement on your syllabus and tests, then ensure that it is emphasized in class. Have students sign their own Honor Pledge to take it more seriously. Students are less likely to cheat when they were reminded of an honor code.
- Do not post the exam answer key. To prevent sharing answers before a test has finished, do not post an answer key until all students have taken the test.
- Check for plagiarism. Utilize an anti-plagiarism checker like Turnitin. Get to know each student’s writing style to recognize plagiarism as you read their papers.
- Create more than one exam. Use different versions of the exam to distribute to students to eliminate the possibility of students looking on their classmates papers.
- Allow cheat sheets or notes. Some teachers reduce cheating by allowing students to bring in an index card with notes on it to the exam. But be wary because some students may bring in extra cards. Allowing students to use notes keeps them from sneaking them into the test.
- Rewrite test questions. Use different tests each year. Create more open-ended questions that require students to explain their answers. This will make then demonstrate their knowledge of the subject, or lack thereof.
While most universities don’t conduct and publish studies on cheating, there are many studies that reveal cheating patterns. There are also several scandals related to cheating that have occurred over the years. Here are some general findings:
- At a study done at UT-Austin, it was found that a third to a half of cheaters have a GPA of over 3.0.
- The most common form of cheating is plagiarism.
- In a Harvard study, it was reported that nearly half of their students cheated on take-home exams in 2012.
- Three-quarters of students cheat on online exams.
- Most students who cheat now have cheated in the past.
- In 2009, Common Sense Media published a national poll that found that more than 35 percent of teens admitted to cheating.
- Students tend to cheat more when they are tired, physically or mentally.
- 36 standardized test questions from California exams were photographed and posted publicly on social media in 2012.
- New York City has a ban on cellphones in high schools, thanks to Mayor Bloomberg.
- Since 2006, over 100 teachers in public schools in the U.S. have been caught cheating.
- Foreign students attending school is common. 70 percent of foreign students have someone else write their college essays and 50 percent of them doctor their transcript.
Some cheating trends were published in the 2012 Josephson Institute of Ethics Biennial Report Card on American Youth. This survey included over 23,000 American students in both private and public high schools. While these results do not include college statistics, all college students started out in high school, and people who cheat early on are more likely to continue to cheat later.
- Over 50 percent of students admit to cheating at least once.
- A higher percentage of females admit to cheating than males.
- 57 percent of students disagreed with the statement “In the real world, successful people do what they have to do to win, even if others consider it cheating.” 45 percent of males agreed while only 28 percent of females agreed.
Cheating is a serious offense. College students should understand the consequences and recognize how cheating only leads to more cheating, and eventual failure.