How to Cheat

So I came across this Wikihow site the other day.  It details 120 ways to cheat on a test.

Does this say something about:

a) kids these days?

b) human nature?

c) the inevitable descent into absolute amorality/immorality for which the internet will prove responsible?

d) a revolution in human thinking that I’m too old and prissy to understand?

e) all of the above?

My favourite part is the introduction:

Cheating is considered dishonest. It counts as stealing and lying. There are some cases, however, where cheating on a test might be argued to be acceptable. Sometimes there are tests that are the result of politics, rather than practicality.

The wiki is in fact helpful for teachers, whose minds will pop at some of the instructions.  Write on your hands with skin-coloured gel ink?  Use a compass to scratch answers into the cover of a metal binder?  Tape a paper inside your hood and then put your hoodie on backwards? (Seriously? Like no one will notice?) Score an eraser down the middle and write notes on the inside?  Wouldn’t studying be easier?

Many of the methods involve using a cell phone.  This brings up the inevitable question: in a world where everyone has a cell phone with them at all times (everyone except, ahem, me, as I would prefer to save my money and NOT be reachable every second of the day, thank you), does it make sense to give tests for which a quick internet search or a text to a friend will turn up an answer?

I know that if I cared to look, I’d find plenty of things online that would horrify me more than this wiki.  I know there’s no use in being morally outraged about school cheating – students who cheat find this outrage amusing.  I hear students in the hallways all the time saying things like, “Why didn’t you just cheat, you idiot?” or “This calculator is perfect for cheating – the bottom slides right out.”

What’s a teacher to do?  Is cheating more rampant than ever, or is it something that always has been and always will be?  I – most of us, I think – approach cheating as a moral problem, as if we could solve it by teaching students right from wrong.  This clearly isn’t working.  Is it school, and tests, that have to change?

Image by David Hartman

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27 responses

  1. I am inclined to think that its the perceptions of the students towards examinations (and education in general) that need to be changed. They need to know the true spirit of an examination, and that the purpose of an education does not lie in the grades but in development of mental faculties and character.

    Oh yes, and they must know that the value of their qualifications will suffer when the integrity of the examinations have been compromised.

  2. I think the question you posed about internet searching is correct. What do you want them to know and what are you testing them for? I’ve never thought that tests that measure your ability to recall pieces of data were useful. I want to test their critical thinking ability, ability to summarize, ability to coherently state their opinions and although they can often find suitable things on the internet for those skills too, I think most teachers would notice if a student was copying his/her phone.

    • Cat:
      I mostly agree with you. At the same time, it’s difficult to find ANY sort of test question that can’t be answered by an internet search. A couple of years ago, a science teacher expressed surprise when she learned that students cheat for their English classes. “How is that possible?” she asked, and I had to explain that analytical essays can be found online for every popular text imaginable.

  3. I don’t think cheating could ever be eliminated once and for all… I am really against cheating myself but I can’t say I have never ever brought a tiny cheat sheet “just in case”… sometimes there are things that are just too hard to remember, no matter how much one can study.

    A very different issue is the “cheat culture”, which is more a high school thing, in my view. The level of cheating depends greatly on the kind of tests and exams are used, and even going to a different room and depositing all cellphones in a basket or leaving bags on the side can make a significant improvement. Oral testing is great, especially if short and repeated over time. I remember having in high-school history and philosophy at least 8 marks every semester, between written and oral tests (never planned in advance). It is quite a brutal approach, but it worked – they were basically the only subjects I studied regularly.

    In my opinion, is the “study-for-the-test” effect that needs to be overturned. Performance should be encouraged and evaluated throughout the whole course or school year, not only at the end.

    • Chiara:

      I have often wished that I could have oral follow-up exams alongside class exams. The number of students I deal with makes this difficult, but maybe someday when I am independently rich and can downgrade to part-time status, I can have each student give an oral “defense” a couple of times per term. I can see how it would inspire everyone to really know the material…

      I do meet with students after they do an in-class essay and before they rewrite it at home. This is useful when I suspect someone has cheated, but doesn’t prevent some students from cheating later (for example, getting someone else to revise their essay for them.) It’s an endless battle.

    • They may be more aware than you think, Paulette! I spend a LOT of my energy trying to make cheating difficult; sometimes teachers give up in despair, or at least try to channel their energies more productively into helping students who want to learn. I don’t think we’ll ever eradicate cheating, but the extents students will go to to avoid just learning the material are quite surprising.

  4. I think it is e. all of the above. Students today seem to think that all that matters is the answers, not the learning. They want the quickest route from point a to point b and don’t care about anything in between. That’s the fault of the system, the ease of access to information, and a general decline in what society accepts as a learned person. Now, to be considered intelligent, you simply need to know how to access information, rather than how to interpret, understand, or discover. That’s why, when I teach at a college level, I rarely give tests, or if I give them I only give essay questions. It’s harder to cheat if you actually have to think.

    • Lisa: I think you’re saying what I am also inclined to think: that human beings have always looked for the quickest route, and that the only thing that’s different now is that there are more, quicker routes than there used to be. I also rarely give tests, and those I do give are open-book and involve more thinking than memorizing, yet students sometimes still find ways to cheat! It’s exhausting.

  5. This is so interesting….I agree that testing just to see if the student can “recall” data is no indicator of their intelligence…this is something I struggle with as a Latin teacher. How can I make sure my students are learning what I want them to know, while still making room for different kinds of learners in my classroom? What other forms of assessment are appropriate for my subject? I’ve been working harder on figuring this question out this year…

    I want to inspire my students to learn because they love to learn and see the value in it; not just cram to get a good grade. I agree that we do have a culture that thinks grades are the most important, not the process. And also peeves me how much energy students will pour into figuring out a way to cheat versus actually studying. Its like people who figure out ways to hack into my credit card account…they are clever enough to do that, just get a real job to take pride in!

    • Rachel: Wow. You may be the first Latin teacher to visit my blog – welcome! I meet some of the same challenges you describe when I teach English grammar. I now make grammar tests open-book affairs, and look mostly to their essays to evaluate their application of grammar rules. This must be a great deal more challenging when it comes to Latin, however… What do you see as the fundamental reasons that students should study Latin? Is it possible to measure those objectives directly? I would be VERY interested to know what you feel the place of Latin study is in contemporary education, and how you measure their achievement.

      • Is there a prize for being the first? :)

        Last year what I ended up doing for assessment, which I think I will again this year, is making the midterms and finals open book reading translations…they have access to all the vocabulary and charts, but still need to put the information together themselves. It worked really well. They had a limited amount of time (a normal class period is 53 minutes) so they didn’t really have the luxury during to test to look up “how” to do anything they didn’t already know, ie parse and diagram sentences.

        Their minor tests are quizzing the memorization of the ending charts and shorter translations. I focus on vocabulary that will provide the most English derivatives for their use later on in life.

        I never took Latin before teaching it…I’ve learned on the job. I studied Spanish in high school, college, and traveled a lot, so I was fluent in Spanish, which I also teach.
        I’ve come to think that Latin should be studied because:
        1. 60% of English is derived from Latin
        2. Lends itself to study of other Romance languages
        3. Studying another language helps one better understand their own language. I’ve had many former students tell me that their Latin experience has helped tremendously in English classes in high school.
        4. Connects us to our Greco-Roman roots – we cover a lot of culture and history in my class, and make connections to modern life on a daily basis.
        5. It is an amazing discipline, and the process of learning it can transfer to most other areas of study.

  6. I don’t think it’s the school’s problem. Tests are there to help you make sure that you know the material. If you don’t want to learn the material, then I don’t see any point in taking that course. If someone is thinking of cheating on a test, they need to reexamine their motivation for taking the course in the first place.

    • DISR: Here’s the thing, though. Our traditional test models often make sure that we memorize the material only long enough to get through the test, and then it evaporates, to make room for whatever we have to cram for tomorrow. And students have all sorts of motivations, including the simple fact that a course (maybe one that they have absolutely no interest in) is required, and they can’t graduate without it. If my goal is to be an industrial engineer but I have to take humanities course on Enlightenment era thought and have to write quizzes in which I reel off a bunch of random dates, I may feel less than motivated to “learn” the material, whereas I would be unlikely to cheat on a physics test because I know what that knowledge will mean to me in the long run. This is oversimplifying, of course, but maybe it IS the school’s problem in that schools don’t do a good enough job of helping students understand why they need to learn certain material…which reminds me of a post from a couple of weeks ago: http://siobhancurious.com/2011/10/13/students-need-to-know-why-theyre-in-school/

  7. Very interesting discussion. I was brought up with a strong sense of ethics and a respect for learning.
    I have never cheated on any kind of assignment or exam. I recall a time in elementary school when I was taking a spelling test and felt so frustrated over having forgotten how to spell a particular word that my curiosity got the better of me. I peeked at a neighbor’s paper – but I followed this action by deliberately spelling the word INCORRECTLY on my own paper to ensure that I would not receive credit for the word.
    The mindset of those who expend more energy trying to cheat than they would have expended in learning may be based on the fear that they cannot otherwise succeed.

    • Rayme: “The mindset of those who expend more energy trying to cheat than they would have expended in learning may be based on the fear that they cannot otherwise succeed.” I agree that this is sometimes the case. I have definitely encountered students who cheated out of simple laziness, but in many cases, the cheating has arisen from desperation.

  8. As a high school student, I encounter cheating very often. If you ask the students if cheating is wrong, they’ll say no – the answer they were taught. Yet, they don’t actually see anything wrong with it. It’s just another way to get from point a to point b. After all, once they’re out of high school, they don’t need to explain the passive voice or remember the quadratic formula for anything. Students don’t understand that the purpose of school is not so much to learn things and remember them, but to learn how to learn and remember things. Unfortunately, the way to measure these two are the same. Cheating on a test will make it seem like you’ve learned it, yes, but that isn’t the point, and students don’t really understand that.

    A good example of this is my Latin classes (go Latin!). Many students signed up for Latin because they were tired of taking Spanish from elementary school and didn’t want to take French, and Latin is the only other option. Once they realized it was hard they didn’t think it was such a good idea. Anyway, once the foreign language credit is out of the way, they won’t have to know Latin again, so why bother learning word endings or vocabulary? Just cheat. Some of the teachers in the language department are relaxed enough in the classroom to let cheating occur, making it even easier, and even more appealing.

    So it is essentially about motivation. The amount of people that use the “parents/government makes me go to school” reasoning for being educated reflects the lack of motivation people have for becoming educated. If they wanted to go to school for the sake of learning and learning how to learn, then it may be different. But kids will be kids – I don’t think we’ll ever, as a whole, enjoy going to school.

    • Pwlandoll:
      “If they wanted to go to school for the sake of learning and learning how to learn, then it may be different. But kids will be kids…”
      I agree – a lack of motivation is definitely at issue here. No one who wants to learn is going to cheat their way through school, but the connection between grades and learning is lost on many students – this is something we’re failing to teach them. Thanks so much for this articulate comment – I was just wondering this morning if any students would weigh in!

  9. In my opinion, it’s very easy to know what a teacher should do. No one is allowed to have any cell phones, or any books or papers at all. One is allowed two pencils and an eraser, and that means even no water bottles or clothing items next to the desk (yes, even those can be used to cheat). Furthermore, the teacher needs to sit on a stool in front of the class and WATCH students the entire time (not grade papers or anything else). Yes, I did this myself, year-after-year, even in Grade 3. Teachers who don’t do this can expect nothing but trouble from the students who are choosing to be dishonest. Sad, but true.

    Lynne Diligent, Dilemmas of an Expat Tutor
    expattutor.wordpress.com

    • Lynne: It certainly helps when teachers are vigilant, for sure. However, I’m not sure these measures are always possible. For example, if I am having students write an in-class essay, I don’t think it’s fair to ask them to work without the text they’re writing about, but this means I must check texts diligently for notes, and even then, where do I draw the line? Highlighting? Post-its? What’s more, there is the argument that students will almost never find themselves in life situations where they will have no access to reference material. What, then, are the tests meant to measure?

  10. These are good points, Siobhan.

    I’ve had some other thoughts today. I’ve dealt with this problem of cheating for years. I spent years and years talking to my Grade 3 students each time an episode came up that was inside or outside of our classroom that affected their lives. Sadly, I’ve seen more than half go on to become cheaters in high school, where it is rampant in our school, and in our society. When I talk to them about it, they say, “Everyone is doing it,” and sadly, they are right (at least in their school) that the majority is indeed, cheating.

    Unfortunately, I think people’s moral compasses are pretty well set before the age of 10, coming both from their family of origin and the society around them.

    In North Africa (where I live) people are always complaining about “corruption” among government officials, and petty officials where people have to go to get papers and constantly pay small bribes to get anything done. But I say the problem starts at home and in Kindergarten. Here, the whole society gives the message, “It’s all about not getting caught.” Parents punish their children and scold them in front of the teacher if the teacher brings it up to the parents. They make a very public show about it. Then the child goes home and witnesses the parents behaving just the same way in other circumstances. So of course they grow up thinking it’s okay to cheat. This is really what causes the problem of corruption in adult life.

    Teachers should try, and never give up, but our odds of success against families of origin and society in general are unfortunately, not very likely.

  11. When I was in high school, I had never cheated on a test. Even if I knew I was going to do poorly on it. But it always amazed me that kids would go through so much effort to cheat, when in truth, studying would have consumed much less of their time. And it baffles me that some of them think that the teacher wouldn’t realize that they did really bad on the homework, then scored a really high mark on the test.

    It just seems that kids these days are way more distracted by social media and pop culture than the kids that were their age five to ten years ago were. Most of them leave everything to the last minute just because it only takes a few seconds to look things up on the internet and jot them down.

    I think the requirements for post-secondary schools should be changed. They need tougher requirements, and high school students should be constantly reminded of that. They need to realize that if they want to be successful, they need to use their brains rather than rely on a piece technology.

    I will admit that I do use my cell phone in class, but I don’t let it completely distract me. I would rather learn all of my information once, and ask questions from my instructor while I can. I find that sometimes the internet isn’t so helpful. There are always different pages that have completely different information on the topic that I’m looking up, and that just causes a lot of confusion.

    • Shallwemosh:
      One problem for teachers is that we sometimes suspect that students have cheated because of big differences in grades, but it is often difficult to deal with the problem. If we don’t physically catch students cheating, it becomes a question of “I don’t believe you can have improved this much.” That can be tough to prove, and very stressful for the teacher to argue. Just yesterday I had a conversation with a student about the difference between his in-class essay and the one he did at home – I have not penalized him, but have made him realize that I noticed a difference. Whether that matters to him, or whether it will affect his behaviour in the future, is difficult to know.

  12. “Wouldn’t studying be easier?”
    Got behind on reading your blog entries and am catching up tonight. This comment made me laugh out loud because it is SO TRUE!!!

    “Students today seem to think that all that matters is the answers, not the learning. They want the quickest route from point a to point b and don’t care about anything in between.” (Lisa Wields Words)

    “But I say the problem starts at home and in Kindergarten. Here, the whole society gives the message, ‘It’s all about not getting caught.’ Parents punish their children and scold them in front of the teacher if the teacher brings it up to the parents. They make a very public show about it. Then the child goes home and witnesses the parents behaving just the same way in other circumstances. So of course they grow up thinking it’s okay to cheat. This is really what causes the problem of corruption in adult life.” (Lynne Diligent)

    These comments are very insightful. It IS a moral problem; it does start with the parents and the messages they communicate to their children–be it “do as I say, not as I do” or simply “I don’t care enough to keep tabs on you and teach you what is right; I don’t care about you as a person.” Both of those things messages contribute to the problem of cheating.

    “I – most of us, I think – approach cheating as a moral problem, as if we could solve it by teaching students right from wrong. This clearly isn’t working.”

    The truth is that this issue, though hard to deal with IS about right and wrong. That’s what makes it so hard to deal with! If it were simply about preference, we could change our preferences to allow cheating and everyone would be fine.

    But it isn’t about a preference. Cheating is wrong, and like all things that are wrong, its consequences damage both the doer of the wrong and all those around him. And the consequences get bigger the older the person grows. The consequences of high school cheating are more devastating than the consequences of elementary cheating, but the consequences of corporate cheating or political cheating are even greater. The circle of influence gets wider every time. The worst thing about the problem is that it’s like carbon monoxide poisoning–those who “have it” worst don’t realize the problem. They think that they are fine.

    That’s why we as teacher, even though it feels like we are fighting a losing battle, MUST keep fighting it whenever and however we can.

    Thanks for posting on this topic!

    • ATWB: “The worst thing about the problem is that it’s like carbon monoxide poisoning–those who ‘have it’ worst don’t realize the problem. They think that they are fine.” I love this – it is so entirely true. None of us think we are bad people, but maybe an education can help us recognize when we’re making poor moral choices.

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