Cheating consequences need uniformity

According to various statistics, cheating has dramatically increased within the last few decades. This is true of both cheating in high school and in college. (Photo courtesy of

Over the years, society has given cheating a variety of definitions — definitions typically swayed by age, experience or occupation. For example, a student may view cheating as blatantly copying someone’s test answers, whereas a teacher might see it as sharing homework with friends via Twitter.

Cheating is foundationally defined as “act[ing] dishonestly or unfairly in order to gain an advantage, especially in a game or examination.” So no matter what actions people qualify as cheating, there is a universal understanding that cheating is a dishonest practice…yet people still do it.

However, the consequences of cheating vary from place to place. In an elementary or middle school setting, consequences may include a phone call home or a deduction of points on a given assignment. High schools and colleges deal out more serious punishments, although colleges tend to handle cheating with more dire consequences.

This is perfectly exemplified by the Harvard cheating scandal of 2012. According to Boston, 125 students in an introductory government class at Harvard University were accused of coming up with joint answers on a take-home final exam. Although the students didn’t plagiarize their essay answers and short responses from outside sources, they plagiarized each other–some down to typographical errors.

Each of the 125 students had to individually interview with Harvard’s Administrative Board to decide whether or not they were guilty of violating the no-collaboration policy on the actual exam.

At the beginning of 2013 when all students had been interviewed, The New York Times claimed that more than half of the students the board talked to (around 70) were expelled, while others either received academic probation or no punishment at all. This was a major blow to the reputation of such a prestigious university, which on average requires about 15-20 of its students to leave due to academic dishonesty each year.

Boston also mentioned that Harvard is not the only “elite” school with such scandals. In 2007, North Carolina’s very own Duke University was faced with a similar situation–students explicitly helped each other on a take-home exam, resulting in the expulsion or suspension of 24 students. In New Hampshire, Dartmouth College advisors suspected 78 students of cheating in a computer science course, but struggled to distinguish between those who cheated and those who didn’t. This particular case, due to its confusing nature, resulted in no suspensions or expulsions.

But all three of these cases prove that cheating is still an issue and colleges take academic dishonesty perhaps the most seriously of them all.

So, school officials are forced to ask an important question: What can be done in schools to prevent such “criminal” cases of academic fraudulence?

A possible solution could be to teach kids exactly what cheating means early on. With so many different interpretations and consequences, the exact definition is fuzzy, especially for young students. It would be the most helpful to create a nationwide definition with consequences only varying depending on the severity of the situation.

Without a firm understanding of what cheating is and the negative repercussions it holds, middle and high school students will never understand the severity of the act.

It might also be worthwhile to develop a broader understanding of why students cheat in the first place. According to a cheating fact sheet from Stanford University, “statistics show that cheating among high school students has risen dramatically during the past 50 years” and it’s not hard to understand why. Think of all of the technological advancements, even in the last 10 years. Cell phones have advanced to the point where users can easily access information. Looking up and copying answers has never been easier, nor faster.

This same fact sheet lists primary reasons for cheating according to research: “Campus norm; No honor code; Penalties not severe; Faculty support of academic integrity policies is low; Little chance of being caught; Incidence is higher at larger, [and] less selective institutions.” Most of the reasons for cheating listed have to do with the campus itself–it’s not that students necessarily have a difficult or overwhelming workload (since that reason is also included in the fact sheet), it’s more about how the school handles cheating. Most schools, whether they be primary or secondary, might be too lenient in their policies. Students don’t feel as though cheating is a threat.

These particular findings support the idea of developing a nationwide policy for cheating, one that clearly defines both what it is and the punishments involved.

Leesville High School is attempting to define and outline consequences in its new honor code. These kinds of codes should be something all schools have that students can easily comprehend and follow.

Hopefully, through its schools, society can reverse the high statistics and make academic cheating less rampant.



  1. Hi Lindsay, nice article! Sloane and I were talking about how rampant cheating has become — probably because of this article. Have a good day.


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