Center for Digital Education & Converge: research in education technology for K-12 and higher education

Why Students Cheat

on September 4, 2009

Academic dishonesty has become a rampant problem in high schools across the country, as statistics show that cheating among high school students has risen dramatically during the past 50 years, and now, it is at an all time high. There are many forms of cheating; our teachers most commonly define it to us as outright plagiarism, or representing someone else’s work as our own, or sharing answers to tests or homework between peers.

The previously held ideal was that cheating was only practiced by struggling students who were just trying to pass their classes. However, studies and statistics show that approximately 85 to 90 percent of high school students cheat — and that includes above-average students. This could be for a number of reasons.

Academic stress increases what feels like a hundred times over when we enter high school. Students who found even advanced classes in middle school easy can have an extremely difficult time adjusting to the higher expectations and heavier workloads in high school, and that puts them at a higher risk for cheating. Many students, especially those in honors and AP classes, definitely feel pressure — external, internal or both — to achieve high grades, and that, in turn, may increase their tendency to cheat in order to reach that goal.

I have friends who are taking five AP classes this year. They are high achievers and extremely motivated, and they want to challenge themselves and learn the most that they possibly can. This is a noble goal, but it puts an incredible amount of stress on them. I’ve been there — I took three AP classes last year and am taking two this year, and it is an extremely strenuous and time and work-intensive endeavor. Homework takes at least two or three hours per night. Stress becomes a daily part of life. Homework becomes a constant frustration, and the time that we can devote to our social lives, to even something as simple as hanging out after school or going out to watch a movie on Saturday, becomes limited. It is a strenuous schedule, to say the least, and some people are tempted to take the easy way out. It is much easier and frankly, more appealing, for teenagers, to hang out on Saturday, come home on Sunday and copy the 92 answers for the book you were supposed to read for your English class over the weekend, off the Internet, than to stay home all weekend, read your book and answer your questions.

Another major deciding factor in cheating rates is students’ personal feelings about the value of their assignments and what they want to get out of it. For example, schools across the country, including Empire, participate in Science Fair once a year, and in conversations with my peers over the past four years, it's become clear that this is an academic activity that is inherently more time-consuming and strenuous than most other projects or assignments. This can be especially stressful for students if they have to do Science Fair on top of other academic obligations. The most common forms of cheating that seem to occur during Science Fair include copying data from pre-existing experiments, or simply not doing an experiment altogether and falsifying results.

In an interview, a student who asked to remain anonymous admitted that he practiced some element of academic dishonesty regarding Science Fair every year since middle school. “Honestly, I don’t see the point to it,” he said. “Not only that, but especially when I have so many other classes to do huge amounts of work for, I just don’t have the time for Science Fair. I don’t want to go into a career in science, for sure, and therefore, I know that it’s never going to be applicable to my further education or my life. I think it’s wasting my time and is taking time away from working hard in classes that I actually have an interest in and will be helpful to my future.” While this is no real reason to cheat, students may use it as an excuse.

The majority of students who cheat say that they do so because they feel extremely overworked while simultaneously restrained on time. Some of them feel that cheating is the only way for them to get all their work done with satisfactory results, and others are simply lazy and unwilling to extend the requisite effort to actually do the work themselves. Regardless of the circumstances, cheating is purely a personal and ethical issue. There is no way to ensure that all students will be morally opposed to cheating and practice a good work ethic. It is a choice that all students make on a personal level. As a result of this, there can be no clear answer as to whether there can currently be anything done about the epidemic of academic dishonesty that is rampant in our schools.

Anushka Mohideen
Empire High School

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