Why Students Cheat and How to Stop Them

student cheats off other student's test
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On the last day of the term, I needed to grade a set of papers while my class was taking the same test in order to distribute exam waivers by the end of the day. Suspecting that students coming to my desk might accidentally see answers on the key for the one multiple choice page, I coded the answers on my answer key the multiple choice responses so that I A=B, B=C and so on and proceeded to grade papers.

My suspicions were correct: Of the fifteen or so students in the room, six came to my desk once or twice, returning to his seat with a smug smile. I felt a twinge of guilt as I watched them quickly scribbling answers, considering the situation had a flavor of entrapment, but decided these students might learn an unexpected lesson.

The slickness of their moves was dismaying, but I felt worse seeing which students were cheating-- only those I had held in highest regard. When all papers finally were in, I said I had bad news for all those people who had cheated. Innocent cries of "Who cheated," ensued, loudest from those who had. But they ceased when I said the cheaters had reproduced a perfect pattern of wrong answers.

I had believed cheating in my classes was tightly controlled. I rarely gave credit for "rechecked" answers, I kept assignments until students can no longer get credit for turning in copied work, and I rarely gave multiple choice tests.

Nevertheless, during final exam week I found a little crib sheet stuck on a shelf and another lying on the floor. Perhaps more telling, a few students who rarely complete their work left the room once they realized cheating on the essay exam would be impossible. Apparently, their experience had given them confidence that they can get away with cheating.

I wondered if this confidence made studying seem a waste of time.

A Nationwide Problem

Survey results about the prevalence of cheating in high school taken by Who's Who Among American High School Students in 1993 revealed that an alarming 89% of high school students thought cheating was common and 78% had cheated.

It seems logical to assume that successful cheating in high school inspires cheating at the college level, for surveys taken in 1990 indicate as many as 45% college students cheated in one or two courses and 33%, in eight or more courses. The problem, however, is not just with the students themselves, in a recent U.S. News Poll 20% of adults felt there was nothing wrong with parents completing their child's homework.

Resources That Help Detect Cheating and Plagiarism

While, discouragingly, there are many internet sites that give examples of slick cheating techniques and sell pre-written term papers, there are many other online resources to help teachers catch cheaters. One of the best is Grammerly, which has a plagiarism checker as well as providing strong grammar checking tools.