Cheating Problem Escalates as Schools Fail to Crack Down


52 percent of students say they cheat, according to the Johnson Institute for Youth Ethics. Photo by Bryan Shin.

It’s Friday morning, the day of the test. If you get above an 85 percent you’ll pass this quarter. Otherwise, you won’t. You didn’t go to bed last night until after 3:00, when you fell asleep into your notes. This morning you studied on the bus, before first period and in all of your earlier classes. But now it feels like you didn’t study at all. Your brain is foggy from the lack of sleep and words are jumbled in your head. All you can think about is that 85 percent. Slowly, you pull a pen out of your backpack and start writing formulas on your arm.

Modern technology has made cheating easier, with students’ phones offering almost limitless opportunities to cheat. Whether they’re “going to the bathroom,” putting the study guide as their lock screen, or simply Googling the answer with their phone in their lap, students use phones to their advantage.

While some students have evolved with this new technology, others prefer more “classic” methods. Writing information on wrists, desks, and sticky notes hidden cleverly within clothing is still commonplace and no less effective.

Despite the potential consequences, cheating occurs at every grade and difficulty level. A survey by the Johnson Institute for Youth Ethics found that 52 percent of American high school students admitted to cheating on a test at least once. With such a high percentage of students cheating, we’re left to wonder what their motivation is to cheat, and why the potential consequences of detention, suspension, and even expulsion seem to mean so little.

Many students feel that the increased access to cheating is at least partly to blame for its rise. In the past cheating took effort and forethought, but now it’s easy to spontaneously Google an answer or text a friend. Some students even feel that cheating is a harmless way to achieve the grades they want, without considering the consequences. “Cheating is just too easy,” a junior in honors level classes at Wilde Lake said, “when you do it, you’re not thinking of the future. You’re thinking of right now and how you’re about to fail this test, and it’s cheat or get beat.”

Cheating is rarely seen as an issue by students, and some even fail to see why cheating is wrong. Instead, they believe and argue that the education system is, in some way, failing them. Students will make any possible excuse to justify their actions, claiming that high stakes, their own inability to improve, and even the teachers themselves make learning impossible. A sophomore in honors classes said that, “I know that I shouldn’t do it, but there are so many opportunities to cheat that sometimes I do, and it really doesn’t seem that bad.”

Still, some students argue that, instead of raising grades, cheating can actually negatively impact the entire class. A senior in AP classes is frustrated because, “When other students cheat they don’t just cheat themselves, they cheat the whole class. If they don’t get caught and get a really good grade but everyone else does poorly, the teacher isn’t going to curve the test.”

Cheating is an undeniable issue at Wilde Lake. Students claim to cheat because, despite the stated serious consequences, teachers rarely catch cheaters, and if they do, there’s seldom punishment involved. “I know the consequences, but the teachers always give you a warning and then just lets you off,” a tenth grader said. “At least that’s what I’ve heard. I’ve never gotten caught.”

Although cheating is wrong, sometimes it’s too tempting to refuse. One freshman usually doesn’t cheat because she believes it’s wrong and is concerned about the potential punishment. However,  “sometimes if you cheat it’s okay, especially if you really need the grade,” but she also adds that, “if you try your best you should get a good grade, and if you don’t, well then you just don’t.” Students like these report feeling guilty about their actions, but they felt that their grades didn’t reflect their work and left them without other options.

When studying and working hard doesn’t result in better grades, students often become discouraged and resort to cheating. “I study ten times more than my friend, but she always gets better grades than me anyway,” a sophomore said. If a student wants to do better on tests, they’re told to study more. Logically, the more a student studies the better grades they’ll achieve.

When this isn’t the case U.S. History teacher Ms. Volpe said, “I ask students how they’re studying because it could be that the strategies they’re using are ineffective.” She recommends that students put down their phones while they’re studying. AP English 12 teacher Ms. Midgley reminds students that everyone studies differently, so what works for their friend might not work for them.