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What exactly is ‘cheating’ … and why do students do it?

Photo: Sam Robison

Technology has made cheating easier than it used to be, but some standard methods -- such as writing on an arm -- remain popular.

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When high school students fall behind in classes, some worry more about maintaining good grades than actually learning the material. To get these good grades, students sometimes resort to cheating. 

Throughout the years, students have figured out many different ways of cheating on homework and tests. These methods include writing answers on arms and legs, using the Internet to take shortcuts in reading, copying homework answers from classmates and simply sneaking a peek at someone else’s paper.

According to the Josephson Institute of Ethics, 74 percent of 12,000 high school students surveyed in 2007 had admitted to cheating on an exam or test within the past year.

But what exactly does it mean to “cheat”? The definition of what constitutes cheating varies widely among students and staff alike.

Read the novel … or the Sparknotes?

Take Sparknotes and Cliffsnotes, for example. These guides to major pieces of literature can be found on the Internet, and while some think using them is cheating, others see no harm in it.

“I don’t think using Sparknotes is considered cheating because it’s just summarizing the story,” said one sophomore who nevertheless wished to remain anonymous. “You still get the main point of the book, and that’s usually what teachers want.”

But not all students agree. “I think if you read the Sparknotes first, then it should be considered cheating,” said sophomore Gabrielle Norrod. “But if you read it just to review or help you understand more, then it shouldn’t be considered cheating.”

English teacher Penni Meyer thinks these websites can be good reference points, but she feels students often use them incorrectly and irresponsibly. “I hate Sparknotes, because they’re used in the wrong way,” she said. “I don’t mind when students use them to review a section they read or to review for a test, but they shouldn’t be used in place of reading.”

When time is short, cheating is tempting

However, some students who are active in extra-curricular activities say they sometimes just don’t have time to do their homework. “I’m so busy with sports, school and hanging out with friends on the weekends, it sometimes seems like the only way to get my work done is to cheat,” said another student who wished to remain anonymous. “Extra homework from honors classes doesn’t help that feeling either.”

Meyer offers an alternative to cheating that she hopes her students will take advantage of. “I offer students the option to come in before school if they need help because I think this will motivate students to not cheat on their homework,” she said. 

Math teacher Janet Johnson, however, says she figures karma will come into play for students who cheat on math homework. “I don’t look for cheating on homework very much because I think that if students cheat on homework, then it will come back to bite them on the test,” she said.

Another anonymous Fairmont student agrees with Johnson, but that doesn’t stop him from cheating sometimes. “I don’t cheat on homework unless I don’t have enough time at home to finish all of it. I do this because cheating won’t help me for a test or exam,” he said.

And if you get caught?

Teachers have different ways of handling cheaters caught in the act. The most common consequence for cheating on homework is probably getting zero points on the assignment. Meyer, however, says she may take a gentler approach, depending on the circumstances. “I generally tap kids on the shoulder and tell them to look at their own paper if they are looking at other’s papers,” she said. “But if they have an answer sheet, I will give them a zero on the test.”

New technology also has presented new ways for students to cheat on tests.  According to Meyer and Johnson, it makes cheating easier than it used to be, whether it is texting answers to friends or looking answers up on the Internet.

Despite people’s different views about the morality of cheating and about what constitutes cheating, most people agree that cheating will always happen. It’s inevitable.

However, Johnson maintains that students who cheat are actually cheating themselves. “Students who actually care about learning and not only about their grades will not cheat,” she said.

1 Comment

One Response to “What exactly is ‘cheating’ … and why do students do it?”

  1. Clay Boggess on October 15th, 2010 8:55 am

    If you have become proficient at not getting caught and have been successful at it so far, just wait. The decisions that we have make over time will always end up catching up with us at some point. There is always a price to pay because every action has its consequence. That is simply a rule of life. The moral of the story is to not start cheating in the first place and to take the highest road possible.

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The school newsmagazine of Kettering Fairmont High School.
What exactly is ‘cheating’ … and why do students do it?