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Preserving Academic Honesty: Who Cheats and Why, and How to Prevent It

"Where I grew up, learning was a collective activity. But when I got to school and tried to share learning with other students that was called cheating. The curriculum sent the clear message to me that learning was a highly individualistic, almost secretive, endeavor. My working class experience...was disparaged." -Henry A. Giroux, Border Crossing, NY: Routledge, 1992

Defining Cheating/Plagiarism

  • According to LCC's College Catalog "cheating" includes but is not limited to:
    1. Use of any unauthorized assistance, including electronic devices/media or on-line resources, in taking quizzes, tests, or examinations;
    2. Dependence upon the aid of sources beyond those authorized by the instructor in writing papers, in preparing reports, in solving problems, or in carrying out other assignments such as those involving sounds as well as moving or still images; or
    3. The acquisition of tests or other academic materials without permission of the faculty or staff to whom the material belongs. Any interaction with any person other than the instructor or proctor in a testing situation may be interpreted as cheating.
    4. Academic honesty is twofold on the part of the student; first, not to cheat, and second, not to enable others to cheat. (LCC's College Catalog, 2008)
  • "Cheating is referred to as a variety of behaviors generally considered unethical." (Barnett and Dalton, 1981)
  • Plagiarism is the presentation of work as one's own that originates from some other, unacknowledged source.
  • The theft of intellectual property is considered cheating. (Nilson, 1998)
  • Examples of cheating include the following: plagiarizing a report, copying answers on a test, paying a student to write a term paper and passing it off as one's own, and taking an exam for someone else. (Nilson, 1998)

Who Cheats, Why, and Under What Circumstances?

  • "According to a 1990 study by Rutger's anthropologist, Michael Moffatt, 45 percent of the students questioned reported having cheated at some time in their careers, while an additional 33 percent admitted to being habitual or "hard-core" cheaters—i.e., cheating in eight or more classes over their four undergraduate years (Collison, 1990a)." (Nilson, 1998)
  • "Moffatt examined the likelihood of cheating by majors and disciplines and found that economics majors are most likely to cheat, with 50 percent reporting hard-core cheating, followed by communications, and psychology majors, with 42 percent qualifying as hard-core. Among science majors only 5 percent engaged in hard-core cheating." (Nilson, 1998)
  • When comparing traditional and Internet cheaters, the researchers found, "Internet cheaters and traditional cheaters did not differ significantly on the following variables: age, marital status, year in college, percentages in fraternities or sororities, percentages of scholarship or grant recipients, percentages who reported using their own savings to finance their education or the percentages who reported they would be likely to report the cheating of others. They did find that Internet cheaters do justify their behavior to a greater extent." (The Teaching Professor, January 2003)
  • Mature students are less likely to cheat than traditional students.
  • "Students' motivation for cheating include the desire for good grades, grade competition, and peer pressure..." (Nilson, 1998)
  • Barnett and Dalton (1981) researched the impact of several variances on the cheating behavior of college students and found the following:
    1. Stress from grade pressures, test anxiety and taking several courses at one time may drive some to cheat.
    2. Cheating is more common in an environment where the classrooms are large and where multiple-choice questions are the predominate type of question.
    3. Students with a high need for approval may cheat more and some studies indicate that males are more likely to cheat, but females are more likely to lie about cheating.
    4. Students and instructors often disagree on what defines cheating.
    5. Students cheat more under low-threat, low-supervision conditions, regardless of their level of moral reasoning. (Nilson, 1998)
  • Difficulties with language may also be a reason students cheat.
  • Fear of discovery and punishment are not typically given as reasons for not cheating. (Franklyn-Stokes and Newstead 1995)
  • Institutions that report the existence and enforcement of an honor code report less cheating. (Collison, 1990a; Gordon, 1990)
  • The first year of college is an important time to develop students' understanding of and adherence to academic standards.
  • "Cheating by looking at a classmate's paper was the most common method practiced by a third of all cheaters in Moffat's study." (Nilson, 1998)
  • Possible signs of plagiarism include the following:
    1. An average student hands in a sophisticated and error free paper.
    2. Footnotes don't mach the cited text.
    3. There isn't a single footnote or quotation mark.
    4. Topic of paper isn't on something you assigned.
    5. Student hands in paper late or asks for an extension on the due date; is the reason valid?
    6. Certain passages sound familiar (e.g., They came directly from the text. It happens!).
    7. Type face on title page doesn't match type in body of paper.
    8. Student's paper is a photocopy, but the title page is typed.

Preventive Measures

Like other kinds of problems related to classroom management, it is best to address cheating through prevention. Many of these suggestions come from Linda B. Nilson's book, Teaching At Its Best: A Research-Based Resource for College Instructors, 1998.

  • Spend time at the beginning of the semester explaining to students what is considered cheating and what isn't. Give specific examples of cheating.
  • "Communicate your (and/or the college's) exact definition of cheating, being aware that plagiarism and collaboration are the most misunderstood forms of cheating." (Nilson, 1998)
  • Clarify teh differences between plagiarism, paraphrasing, and direct citation.
  • "State in writing and verbally you and your institution's policies on academic dishonesty, and as applicable their application to each assignment and exam you give." (Nilson, 1998)
  • Include statements in your syllabus regarding academic honesty, and articulate these statements within the first few class sessions. Northwestern University has developed "Eight Cardinal Rules of Academic Integrity for Students," which they include in syllabi: "1) know your rights and responsibilities, 2) acknowledge your sources, 3) protect your work, 4) avoid suspicion, 5) do your own work, 6) never falsify a record, 7) never fabricate data, 8) and always tell the truth." (NEA Higher Education - Advocate Online - Best Practices)
  • Encourage students to protect their own intellectual property. (Nilson, 1998)
  • Remind students that a poor grade can seriously affect their chances for admission to a transfer institution or their entrance into a career program. A "0" on a transcript may be interpreted by some Admission Offices to be result of cheating.
  • These are suggestions for avoiding academic dishonesty from Oregon State University's website (2009) at
    1. Attend class - you won't feel as stressed (and like you need to cheat) if you attend class and regularly review the material.
    2. Do not look around while taking an exam - if you don't look around, you reduce the risk of someone thinking that you were looking at their exam.
    3. Do not give your assignments to other students - once you hand over your assignment you don't know if the person will use it as a guide or just turn your work in as their own.
    4. Cite your sources appropriately - it is important that you give credit to the person whose idea you are using.
    5. Talk with your instructor - ask questions about what your professor expects on assignments, exams and group work.
    6. Manage your time - plan study time so you avoid last minute cramming and the temptation to cheat.
  • Seek ways to reduce stress. Create an environment where students won't feel the need to cheat. Students should feel like they can succeed without cheating and they should feel like they can comfortably seek your assistance in and outside of class. (Nilson, 1998)
  • Should you notice signs of stress, make students aware of resources on campus (i.e. counseling, tutoring services, etc.).
  • If you are new to teaching, be more assertive in this area because students may think they can get away with cheating in your class, especially if they perceive you as less self-assured. (Nilson, 1998)
  • Make your exams as original as possible so that students cannot rely on old exams. Consider soliciting potential test questions from your students. (Nilson, 1998)
  • Use multiple versions of a test and/or mix the order of questions but make sure the ordering is logical for all versions.
  • "Alternate forms of multiple-choice tests. Scramble questions and color-code the forms." (Nilson, 1998)
  • Have students keep the exams face down until you signal them to start.
  • The following is from Education World at Tell students at the start of the test, "During the test, cover up your answers." You might even let students know that any student who helps another cheat will also face repercussions. By encouraging students to cover up their own papers, you will probably be giving most students permission to do what they really want to do. But now, since you directed the action, they'll be able to do this without risking peer disapproval. Also, the students most likely to follow your "cover up" instruction are usually the ones who studied for the test -- and the ones who will have the most correct answers. Thus, you've cut off from view the major sources of correct "cheatable" answers.
  • Proctor tests. Try to avoid working on other projects while students are taking a test. (Nilson, 1998)
  • "If the room permits, seat students with space between them and with personal belongings away from them (e.g., at the front of the room)." (Nilson, 1998)
  • Spend some time in the back of the room. Students who might consider cheating will have to see where you are.
  • "Supply scratch paper if needed." (Nilson, 1998)
  • "If bluebooks are used, have students turn them in early and randomly redistribute them." (Nilson, 1998)
  • Grade exams in ink so students cannot erase your comments and marks.
  • The following is taken from the University of Washington's website on "Guidelines for Faculty and Instructors on Preventing Academic Misconduct" at "Ask students to sign an honor statement on the front page of every exam. This statement should say something to the effect that they have not given nor received any assistance in completing the text. If signatures are gathered from students at the beginning of the class, this also acts to prevent students from having another student take the test for them."
  • During an exam, collect any suspicious paper versus telling the student to put it away. It alerts the student to the seriousness of the issue, and it is evidence should a second incidence occur.
  • "Cheat notes have turned up in rest rooms, the underside of ball caps (have them turn the ball caps around), on skin through the hole of a pair of jeans, etc." (Nilson, 1998)
  • Cell phones and pagers can transmit and receive information by voice, e-mail, message function, or pager code. Pictures can be transmitted via some of the new cell phones, which would make it possible for a student to take a picture of the exam and send it to someone else.
  • "Collect tests individually versus a mad rush at the end." (Nilson, 1998)
  • "Mark each incorrect answer with an x or a slash and put a mark at the end of each answer to prevent add-ons after you return the tests." (Nilson, 1998)
  • "If exams are ScanTroned, have the students put their names and mark their answers on the exam questions as well as on the answer form. Collect all the exam question forms and hold onto them until all questions regarding grading have been addressed. Use the test forms to double check all the answers."
  • "Change assignments often." (Nilson, 1998)
  • "Take the time to discuss the difficulties of assignments so that students don't feel like they are alone." (Nilson, 1998)
  • "Assign paper topics that require original critical thinking. Don't make them too challenging or too trivial." (Nilson, 1998)
  • Guide students through the process of researching and writing a paper or essay. Refer students to the following sites to help them understand what cheating and plagiarism are:
    1. Academic Integrity at Princeton
    2. Avoiding Plagiarism by University of Purdue Online Writing Lab This is a usefule site to refer students to or as a source for a comprehensive and thoughtful discussion of plagiarism. It has clear and well-organized advice to students about how they can avoid plagiarizing.
    3. How to Recognize Plagiarism, at Indiana University (2009)
    4. Plagiarism: What it is and How to Recognize and Avoid it." at This is a helpful resources for both students and faculty.
  • This is a fantastic interactive test on plagiarism and correct citation practices. Extremely useful as an activity to require of students or to go through with them.
  • Another educational activity on plagiarism for students "Take the Plagiarism Test" from Center for Research on Learning and Teaching at the University of Michigan. This website has several additional resources on academic integrity.
  • Have students turn pieces of assignments, such as research papers, in at different dates to gauge their development of ideas and to prevent procrastination.
  • "Require students to submit first drafts." (Nilson, 1998)
  • To deter the purchasing of papers, give specific guidelines for the format of papers and assignments and base part of the grade on their adherence to these guidelines. (Nilson, 1998)
  • To reduce the use of purchasing papers and other forms of plagiarism, Galles (1997) recommends the following:
    1. Graded oral presentations of papers, with students required to answer questions and defend their arguments, forces students to learn their material better.
    2. Assignments could require a description of the research process, including how the utilized sources were found. Some part of the paper could involve a personally conducted interview or survey.
    3. Since the minimum length of most paper mill papers is six pages, assign papers less than six pages.
    4. Restrict references to holdings in the school library.
  • Be consistent in your treatment of students. For example, if you check for plagiarism using the internet, check several students' papers.
  • Cultivate a love for learning. Your enthusiasm and passion can be contagious!
  • Get to know your students.
  • Model respect and fair and reasonable policies.
  • Make your standards clear and adhere to them fairly. (McGlynn, 2001)
  • Create a trusting environment by using assessment tools that actually measure what is emphasized in class. (McGlynn, 2001) In other words, test to what you teach.
  • Give in-class assignments so that you are familiar with your students' work and writing styles.
  • De-emphasize grades as much as possible. Emphasize non-judgmental feedback instead. Let students have some say in the evaluation of their own learning. (McGlynn, 2001)
  • Provide lots of opportunities for students to cooperate versus compete (i.e., small group work, take-home exams, open-book exams, group exams, and group projects.) (McGlynn, 2001)

What to Do If you Suspect Cheating

  1. Challenge cheating when you see it. Otherwise you send a mixed message that contradicts your stated values and sends the wrong message, particularly to the honest students. (McGlynn, 2001)
  2. Know your institution's policy on cheating.
  3. Talk to your Chair, your Instructional Leader, or the Director of Student Judicial Affairs for specific guidelines and due process procedures.
  4. Be prepared to take whatever action the institution prescribes. If you have qualms or hesitation, talk with your Department Chair before you meet with the student. (Davis, 1993)
  5. Take any evidence to your Department Chair and let them know you will be talking to the student. Let your Chair know, that once you have spoken to the student and have determined cheating and/or plagiarism, you will follow up with him or her. Make sure your Chair supports your actions. (LCC's Director of Student Judicial Affairs)
  6. Do not put off dealing with the problem. Talk with the student about your suspicions and listen carefully to what the student says.
  7. When you meet with the student, explain the problem as you see it. (Davis, 1993)
  8. Describe why this is a problem in grading or evaluating the student's work. (Davis, 1993)
  9. Avoid using words like cheating and plagiarism. (Davis, 1993) Instead, use words like alleged and suspect.
  10. Let the student know you are concerned and communicate the seriousness of the situation. (Davis, 1993)
  11. Listen to the student's explanation. (Davis, 1993)
  12. If a student denies any wrongdoing, question him or her about specific aspects of the paper by asking for the definition of terms or interpretations. (Davis, 1993)
  13. Keep any evidence of cheating.
  14. If the student acts distraught, refer him/her to a counselor on campus. (Davis, 1993)
  15. Explain the next steps you plan to take. (Davis, 1993)


Barton, D. C. and Dalton, J. C. (1981) Why college students cheat. Journal of College Student Personnel (November): 531.

Collison, M. (1990) Apparent rise in students' cheating has college officials worried. The Chronicle of Higher Education (January 17): A33-34.

Davis, J. (1993) Tools for Teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Inc.

Education World, "Cheating in the Classroom: How to Prevent It and (How to Handle It If It Happens),"

Kansas State University, "Strategies to Promote Academic Honesty,"

McGlynn, A. P. (2001) Successful Beginnings for College Teaching: Engaging Your Students from the First Day. (1st ed.) Madison, WI: Atwood Publishing. "Internet Cheaters: Who Are They? Why Do They Do It?" The Teaching Professor, January 2003.

NEA Higher Education - Advocate Online - Best Practices, "Thriving in Academe,"

Nilson, L. B. (1998) Teaching At Its Best: A Research-Based Resource for College Instructors. (1st ed.) Bolton, MA: Anker Publishing Company.

University of Leicester, Teaching & Learning Unit, "Avoiding Plagiarism,"

University of California, Berkley, Tools for Teaching, "Preventing Academic Dishonesty," by Barbara Gross Davis,

University of Oregon, Academic Success, "Academic Dishonesty"

University of Washington, "Guidelines for Faculty and Instructors on Preventing Academic Misconduct",

Most of the above references are available in the Center for Teaching Excellence library (TLC 324) on a lending basis.

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