Imagine what our world would be like if researchers reported fraudulent results that were then used to develop new machines or medical treatments or to build bridges, airplanes, or subway systems. Integrity is a cornerstone of higher education, and activities that compromise that integrity damage everyone: your country, your community, your college or university, your classmates, and yourself.

What is Cheating

Institutions vary widely in how they define broad terms such as lying or cheating. One university defines cheating as “intentionally using or attempting to use unauthorized materials, information, notes, study aids, or other devices . . . [including] unauthorized communication of information during an academic exercise.” This definition would apply to looking over a classmate’s shoulder for an answer, using a calculator when it is not authorized, obtaining or discussing an exam (or individual questions from an exam) without permission, copying someone else’s lab notes, purchasing term papers over the Internet, and duplicating computer files.

On most tests, you don’t have to credit specific sources. (Some instructors do require it, though, so when in doubt, ask!) If your instructor expects you to credit your sources when taking a test or exam, failure to do so could be considered plagiarism.

Many schools prohibit certain activities in addition to lying or cheating. Some examples of prohibited behaviors are intentionally inventing information or results, earning credit more than once for the same piece of academic work without permission, giving your work or exam answers to another student to copy during the actual exam or before that exam is given to another section, and bribing in exchange for any kind of academic advantage. Most schools also outlaw helping or attempting to help another student commit a dishonest act.

Why Students Cheat and the Consequences of Cheating

Some students develop a habit of cheating in high school and believe that they cannot do well without cheating. Other students simply don’t know the rules. In a survey at the University of South Carolina, 20 percent of students incorrectly thought that buying a term paper wasn’t cheating. Forty percent thought that using a test file (a collection of actual tests from previous terms) was fair behavior. Sixty percent thought that it was acceptable to get answers from someone who had taken the exam earlier in the same or in a prior term. What do you think?

Cultural and campus differences may cause some students to cheat. In other countries and on some U.S. campuses, students are encouraged to review past exams as practice exercises. Some student government associations maintain test files for use by students. Some campuses permit sharing answers and information for homework and other assignments with friends. Make sure that you know the policy on your specific campus.

Pressures from others—family, peers, and instructors—might cause some students to consider cheating. And there is no doubt that we live in a very competitive society. In truth, however, grades are nothing if you cheat to earn them. Even if your grades help you get a job, it is what you have actually learned that will help you keep the job and be promoted. If you haven’t learned what you need to know, you won’t be ready to work in your chosen field.

Sometimes, lack of preparation will cause students to cheat. Perhaps they tell themselves that they aren’t really dishonest and that cheating just “one time” won’t matter. But if you cheat one time, you’re more likely to do it again.

Cheating in college is not uncommon, and researchers have found that first-year students are more likely to cheat than students in their sophomore, junior, or senior years. Although you might see some students who seem to be getting away with cheating, the consequences of such behaviors can be severe and life-changing. Recent cases of cheating on examinations have caused some college students to be suspended or expelled and even to have their college degrees revoked.