This essay is excepted from Gary K. Clabaugh & Edward G. Rozycki, Preventing Cheating and Plagiarism, 2nd Edition pdf. (2009) Oreland, PA: NewFoundations Press.


Cheating Trends

"Who will not be deceived must have as many eyes as hairs on his head."
-- Proverb

edited 2/16/12

Cause for Alarm

Instructors often are reluctant to take many precautions against cheating. They fear this will undermine the comfort and trust they want to foster in their classrooms. So, perhaps after taking the most basic precautions, they cross their fingers and hope for the best.

This is unwise. An abundance of research shows that academic dishonesty is epidemic. Gregory Cizek (1999) author of the comprehensive book Cheating on Tests: How to Do It, Detect It, and Prevent It summarizes the body of research this way.

"Nearly every research report on cheating -- whether the data were obtained by a carefully designed study, a survey of self-reported behavior, an RRT (randomized response technique) approach, or questionnaire regarding perceptions of cheating on the part of another -- has concluded that cheating is rampant."

Evidently such cheating begins early. In 1986 sixth graders attending 45 California elementary schools were asked whether they had ever seen other students cheat on a test. (Brandes, 1986) A surprising 86% said that they had seen cheating; and 30% said they had witnessed cheating "many times." Only 14% said they had "never" observed cheating. The following chart summarizes all 1,037 responses from the survey.

The situation worsens in secondary school. When Brandes surveyed over 2,000 California public high school students, for example, almost 97% said that they had seen others cheating. Here is a summary of the behavior reported in the study.

Behavior Reported

Percent reporting

Seeing another student cheating.


Copying from another student.


Using crib notes.


Gaining prior access to test questions.


Using signals to cheat on a test.


Trends over time also are discouraging. Schab (1991) surveyed thousands of high school students in 1969, 1979 and 1989, asking them if they agreed or disagreed that three -fourths of the students in their high school were guilty of cheating. The results reveal a depressing trend that is summarized in the following chart.


Percent Agreeing that 3/4 of their
classmates cheated







In 1994 Who's Who Among American High School Students conducted a survey that asked thousands of the nation's best high school students if they cheated. Nearly 4 out of 5 of these very successful high school students said that they had. When asked, "How common is cheating at your school?" Ninety percent said that it either was "common" or "nearly universal." The following chart details their responses.


How common is cheating in your school?


College cheating research results are similarly gloomy. See

In his excellent rundown of the research on college cheating Cizek summarizes the results by saying that dozens of studies made at different times by a wide variety of researchers in dissimilar places all concur that more than half of college students responding admit to having cheated. (Cizek, 1999) Of course, it is reasonable to suppose that many cheated but did not admit it.

Interestingly, college cheating seems to vary by major. When, in 1992, Meade surveyed 6,000 students attending 31 different universities, business students reported cheating more than any other majors. (Whether they are more larcenous or simply more honest in reporting their dishonesty we can only speculate.) The chart below summarizes the reported rates by major. (Meade, J., 1992) Note well that taken collectively the students self-reported cheating rate in this 31 university study is a startling 74%.

High Tech Cheating

Contemporary technology makes cheating a great deal easier. Students use web-based cheat sites to plagiarize with ease. They use powerful calculators and technical trickery to secretly store equations they will need on tests. They ask to be excused to go to the lavatory then use their cell phone to get outside help. They get answers from a test file or someone who took the test earlier in the day, then store them in easily retrievable form in their Personal Digital Assistants (Palm Pilots, Visors, etc.). They also beam answers to one another using their machine's infrared transmission capabilities. One instructor even discovered a student using her numeric pager to have answers phoned in to her while she was taking his test.

In most cases the high tech cheater's confident expectation is that the instructor will be at least one step behind them. They might be right. The young often take to high tech quicker than adults.

Cheat Merchants

In the "good old days" cheating schemes spread by word of mouth. Today there are web sites specifically intended to aid academic swindlers and how-to cheat books are routinely sold over the web. Michael Moorer's Cheating 101: The Benefits and Fundamentals of an Easy A is one of the most successful. The New York Times, (Sunday, April 4, 1998), reports that Moorer, a middle-aged former journalism student, has sold tens of thousands of copies of his handy guide to academic larceny.

There also are hundreds of plagiarist "paper mills" on the World Wide Web each offering thousands of different papers on hundreds of topics. Swindlers search files of previously written papers for one that suits their need, download the paper, add their name and print it out. Some of these papers are free, Making them easier to trace. Others can only be accessed for a fee, making tracing extremely difficult. For still more money, plagiarists can hire papers custom written for them by expert s who boast of Ph.D.s.

A Tension

Despite the abundance of research evidence confirming that cheating is rife, many instructors are still reluctant to acknowledge the full extent of the problem. Perhaps this is because of the tension between the teaching many of us aspire to and the suspicions one has to entertain in order to effectively deal with cheating.

Most educators want to foster comfort and trust in their classroom; and they want to eliminate obstacles that interfere with the joy of learning. They worry that taking precautions against cheating, might confound these goals. Some reluctantly resolve this tension by trusting their students and hoping that they will repay that trust with honesty. Too often that doesn't work.

Positive Preventative Strategies ...

(See full text)

Summing Up

No positive preventative strategy guarantees student honesty. But positive measures can and do minimize temptation. And unlike other cheating counter measures, positive strategies actually improve one's teaching.

Now let's learn more about how students cheat and some practical countermeasures.