Cheating is tempting, easy, and costly. It's also on the rise, perhaps because certain websites and networks of students portray academic dishonesty as an inevitable part of college life, just another tool to use. Some students who have misgivings about cheating find themselves in situations where it seems like the only option. The costs depend on the situation, but could include zero credit in a course or expulsion from school. Of course there are other, unquantifiable consequences, such as an uneasy conscience.

In this chapter we will:

  • define academic integrity and academic dishonesty
  • discuss the pressures or attitudes that encourage academic dishonesty and how to handle them
  • outline some of the possible consequences of academic misconduct

What is Academic Integrity?

The core value of higher education is academic integrity. The Center for Academic Integrity, a consortium of institutions based at Clemson University, defines academic integrity as "a commitment, even in the face of adversity, to five fundamental values: honesty, trust, fairness, respect, and responsibility."

Students need to trust professors to teach and evaluate honorably and fairly, and professors need to trust their students to behave and act honorably and respon- sibly. A college without such standards would have no purpose: The interactions between students and professors would be pointless and a degree from such an institution would be meaningless.

Administrators, instructors, and students all have a responsibility for promoting and supporting academic integrity.

What is Academic Dishonesty?

Academic dishonesty encompasses a range of misdeeds, most of which involve taking credit for work, words, or knowledge that is not yours. Cheating includes:

  • Turning in an assignment completed by someone else
  • Obtaining an exam or exam questions before your exam time
  • Giving or receiving answers on an exam (during or before the exam itself )
  • Unauthorized storing of information in any form that may assist you on an exam
  • Arranging to have someone take an exam on your behalf
  • Aiding another person in an unauthorized manner (e.g., taking an exam on that student's behalf, writing a paper or sections of a paper on the student's behalf, etc.)
  • Using unauthorized notes, study aids, or technology
  • Collaborating without prior approval (e.g., completing an assignment with another student in class)
  • Fabricating data, results, or sources
  • Submitting work done for one instructor to another instructor (e.g., turning in the same essay to two different instructors)
  • Falsifying records (e.g., forging a signature on a prerequisite form, breaking into the computer system to change a grade)
  • PLAGIARISM:Robbing other students of resources (e.g., tearing pages out of an academic journal in the library, hiding a book in the stacks of the library)
  • Plagiarizing a book, article, Web site, or other source

While all of the examples listed above would be considered academically dishonest behavior at any school, it's a good idea to read over your school's honor code and/or academic honesty guidelines for more specific examples and information.


Let's go into detail on this one, as it's the source of confusion for some students. Plagiarism is copying someone's work and pretending you wrote it (definition from If you paraphrase, summarize, or directly quote another work you must cite your source! Not citing a source is the same thing as claiming the ideas and words are original to you; thus, it's plagiarism. A recent New York Times article on plagiarism in the digital age explored how some students consider web content free, open, and therefore something one can use without giving credit. That is a dangerous presumption: Whether the source material has one author or a gazillion authors with none listed (e.g., Wikipedia), it needs to be cited.

Collaboration or Cheating?

Why do Students Cheat?

Students decide to cheat for a variety of reasons. The most common reasons are feeling overloaded, insufficiently prepared, or overwhelmed by personal issues. Other reasons include:

Environment. If the people around you consider cheating acceptable behavior, it can be easy to slip into the same mindset.

Poor pacing or preparation. Students who get behind sometimes consider cheating a means to an end. They see it as a lifesaver that will help avert an oncoming disaster. Other students feel underprepared and lack confidence in their own abilities, so they cover up their weaknesses by taking other people's work.

Pressure. Some students put enormous pressure on themselves to be successful, then feel they have to cheat in order to live up to their performance standards. Other students have pressure from parents or within their program to meet a certain grade point average.

Inability to say 'No.' Some students find it difficult to say no to friends who ask them to help cheat. They would rather avoid the awkwardness of denying a friend a favor and risk damaging their own academic credibility.

How to Maintain Your Academic Integrity

The key to maintaining your credibility and academic honesty is to be vigilant. Scrutinize your own actions. Avoid justifications, such as "This professor is too hard anyway" or "I knew the material, I just didn't have the busywork part of it done" or "The deadline is unreasonable" or "Just this once."

Always ask yourself, "Will I be proud when I look back on this?" and "Would I do this if my professor were right here?"

Shelley Long quotePace yourself to avoid a crisis situation where cheating seems like a good alternative. If you do procrastinate—and many of us do—turn in your own original work, even if it's poor. You can also try discussing the situation with your instruc- tor to see if he or she would be amenable to accepting late work.

Get help when you don't understand a concept or just can't seem to master a skill. The tutoring center, the writing center, and your academic advisor should be able to help you or point you to the resources you need.

Be part of the solution. Hold yourself and others to high standards, and do your part to uphold the values of your college. Sometimes this means having to have an awkward conversation with a friend who has asked you to cheat. Sometimes it means informing an instructor when you know that classmates are cheating.

Because academic integrity is so highly valued, you will find that in general instructors and tutors respond very positively to students' requests for support and guidance in this area.

When a Friend or Classmate Cheats

What should you do if you suspect or know that a friend or classmate is cheating? Situations you might encounter include being asked to share exam questions and answers with somebody who hasn't yet taken the exam; learning that a friend has hired an essay writing "service"; and witnessing a classmate using unauthorized materials (such as a cell phone or notes) during an exam. There are so many potential hypothetical situations that it's impossible to give just one answer.

A student who senses a classmate peering at her desk during an exam might simply shift positions to better hide her answers. We know at least a couple of students who dealt with similar situations by pretending to mark incorrect answers correct. While that might be an extreme response, it does stem from strong feelings that students need to earn their grades, not steal them.

Here are some possible steps to take if you strongly suspect or know that a friend or classmate is cheating. Not all situations are equal, so use your judgment as well as any guidelines provided by your school.

Review your school's honor code or academic honesty policies to see if there are recommended or required procedures to follow.

Communicate directly to the student(s) who is contemplating cheating or who has already done so and express your concerns.

Inform the instructor privately. A face-to-face conversation is best, but email will do if you have no alternative.

Telling on a fellow student seems distasteful to most people. However, knowing about an incident of academic dishonesty and not doing something to prevent or reveal it makes you complicit. Deal with the situation honorably and you will be able to balance your loyalty to your classmate and your loyalty to your school.

Consequences of Academic Dishonesty

Cheating in college is a serious offense that could result in significant conse- quences. In some cases, the instructor alone may reprimand a student who is caught cheating. However, many colleges require instructors to report any form of cheating to the college's administration.

Students who are accused of cheating usually are provided the opportunity to defend themselves to the department head, college administration, or even a student court. If the student is found guilty, he or she could face a variety of punishments, including failing the course, being put on suspension, or even being expelled. Tip - Some colleges have revoked degrees after determining that students had cheated.In addition to these punishments, the student may experience added stress, embarrassment, and loss of credibility. Additionally, in most cases, if a student is found guilty of cheating, the incident will be documented in the student's school records, which may cause considerable difficulty if the student applies to another institution to pursue an advanced degree.

In some cases, degrees have been revoked well after the students have graduated. In one famous case, a physics professor at the University of Virginia was informed that many students in his introductory physics classes had cheated on their term papers. When he investigated the accusation, he found that 122 of his students from the previous five semesters had indeed plagiarized. As many as half of those students were expelled from the university and several students who had already graduated had their degrees revoked.

Academic Integrity Excersises 

  1. Obtain a copy of your college's policy on academic dishonesty. Summarize the process a student would go through if accused of cheating.
  2. According to the honor code of your college and/or its policy on academic dishonesty, what are you required to do if you know another student is cheating?
  3. Imagine you are taking an exam or working on a class assignment. As you write your answers, you sense that the person behind you may be cheating by looking at your answers. Describe what you would do in this situation.
  4. With a partner or group, read the following paragraph and answer the questions. Be prepared to present your answers as part of a class discussion. 

    Your friend, who is sitting near you during an exam, pulls out his cell phone surreptitiously and refers to it frequently as he works on his exam. It's clear to you that he is cheating.

    What do you think most people would do in this situation? What should you do?

    Are your answers to these questions different? If so, explain.
  5. With a partner or group, read the following paragraph and answer the questions. Be prepared to present your answers as part of a class discussion.

    Although she is a dedicated student, Claire has struggled to keep her GPA above a 3.0. She needs to maintain a 3.0 or better in order to continue to qualify for a tuition scholarship. This semester she is enrolled in a class with a professor who is a notoriously hard grader. Her roommate offers her a copy of a test from last year's class with that same professor.

    What should Claire do?

    What variables in the scenario are most relevant to answering the question above? (Claire's dedication as a student? Her GPA pressure and scholarship? The professor's reputation?)


for more resources and exercises.