Cheating Culture

College students know all too well the blanket of fear that covers the class as the teacher reads “zero tolerance policy for cheating” from the syllabus. Whether it is writing a paper, taking a formula based math exam, or conducting a science oriented lab, cheating comes in all shapes and sizes. The question is; is it the fear of getting caught cheating, or the fear of not passing the class without cheating that sweeps over the students? Eventually that blanket is lifted and unfortunately cheating is taking place in the majority of college/university classrooms. A student may simply be too lazy to study for an exam, they may understand the classroom procedure well enough to know they can cheat, they may be desperate due to the high stakes tests that determine their overall grade, or the material may not seem relevant to them or is not something they see as a memorization fact. All of these reasons are why cheating is taking place in college classrooms from the National Honors Society student to the borderline drop out student; everyone is involved at some time.


We all know that student that just does not study, for whatever reason the student just does not put forth the effort to learn the material. As an instructor, unless you are deeply involved in your student’s lives, it will be hard to change their study habits outside of the class. Considering many college instructors barely take the time to learn a student’s name, how does one expect to have an influence on their study habits? Since reaching out to individual students and changing their habits is so hard, we have to start by looking at the classroom where the students take the exam. Does it promote a non-cheating environment? If the student knows they can get away with cheating then they will find a reason to not study at all. They may glance at the person’s exam next to them because students are in close proximity to one another, or even bring a cheat sheet because they know the instructor really doesn’t pay attention to the class during the test. Students will use the classroom to their advantage, unless all of their resources are taken away from them. If students are placed in every other seat in a class they cannot exactly look over to their neighbor nonchalantly. If a teacher or teachers are constantly moving around a classroom the student will be on edge thru the whole exam and be intimidated by the fear of being caught. Simply glancing up every now and then, even at a room of twenty students, will not do the trick. Someone has a cheat sheet under their test, the answers in an electronic device or is eyeballing their neighbor’s test every time the teacher is done looking. By controlling the classroom the teacher can send the signal, “you have to study because cheating will not work in here” and in turn may influence their study habits.


There are also the students who will study a week or two before an exam and still find themselves in a position to cheat. (Assignments such as papers, research and projects may be substituted for “exams”) A student may understand the material; however, many college courses make each exam a large portion of the overall grade. So, why would a student want to leave twenty-five percent of their grade up to rote memorization when they can cheat to guarantee a good grade? Courses can cover textbooks that are 200-400 pages of material and the instructor crams it all into two to four exams. That is a lot of material to cover for one high-stakes test with little guidance. Instructors expect the students to understand all the material and as a result rarely give a study guide, or even hints toward the specific topics on the test. This leaves the student with a lot of material to study while still running the risk of focusing too much on one topic and not enough on another. As a result they find a way to cheat.


Can you blame them though, when they have so much on the line? Not only do they have this one test to worry about but also the pressure of their overall GPA. If they leave this test up to what they know and the memorization of facts and they fail it has a negative impact not only for that class but also their overall GPA. Many students rely on their GPA for scholarships, or to get into/remain in a specific program. Students will do whatever it takes to keep your grades up. Maybe if the material was related to the student’s area of study more directly the student would not feel like they had to memorize, but instead would understand and immerse themselves in it.


One of the biggest frustrations that comes to the minds of students is “when am I not going to have access to this information in the workforce?” All the formulas, rules, and procedures are just a quick Google away now-a- days. That is why students struggle to just regurgitate the same formulas, rules and procedures on a test and therefore decide to cheat. In the work force they will have access to the specific knowledge they need for their job. Over time they will apply this knowledge again and again until they understand it so well that they no longer need outside resources. If time allowed, this would be the most effective way to instruct a college course, but sixteen weeks doesn’t exactly allow that. So why not give students access to the information that they will have at their finger tips in the “real” world? Instead students are forced to know many facts, rules or formulas and also when and where each one applies. This creates a lot of pressure to the point where it is easier to cheat by just having the facts in front of them. By having the rules/formulas available during the test the student only has to worry about where and when to apply theses rules, instead of thinking “was that supposed to be a plus or a minus?” which can make a world of difference.


There should be a zero tolerance for cheating in college and university courses. But it is up to the instructor to decide how easy or hard they can make it for the students to cheat. If the student knows they can not get away with cheating then they would study more, if they had more opportunities for grades other than large percentage exams they may not feel as desperate, and if they had access to the factual information that is present in the real world they may not feel the need to regurgitate rules/formulas they should be able to apply. Cheating does not just occur in just one classification of students.  The question is what can one do to make it harder to cheat and easier to LEARN?