Why Students Cheat: Reasons, Motives?

Subject: Psychology
Pages: 14
Words: 3697
Reading time:
13 min
Study level: College



In definition, cheating can be said to be an activity that involves lying, deception, trickery, fraud, imposture, and other means which are inverse to the correct. Cheating is defying the law of truth and mostly leads to the breaking of rules. It is a way of getting an advantage over others for personal gains and in unfair means. According to Green (2006), cheating is against the moral laws of human beings and is punishable.

It is thought that it is our moral obligation to live a straight life and everyone should consider telling truth as a moral obligation. The aspect of cheating has not surfaced in modern times. Even in the days of early Greek philosophers like Socrates, incidences of cheating are recorded. Socrates is recorded to have worked tirelessly and even by sacrificing his own life in order to show the world that cheating is bad and telling the truth is our moral obligation. He was executed for standing by the truth although he had other ways of cheating his way out of the case. But he stood the ground to express to the world that telling the truth is better than dying.

Cheating is punishable by law?

However, it is not entrenched in the constitution of many countries of the world since it is considered less offense. It is only considered serious in the business cycle especially when it involves brand deception or cheating in weights and measures. It has turned out to be a serious offense in the world business cycle with the rise of counterfeit products in the market. Callahan (2004) argues that deception, whichever direction it takes, whether in social life or in business life is considered as cheating and should be punishable. In countries with strict rules, especially in Islamic countries, cheating is punishable by law.

Many institutions whether government or social institutions consider cheating as a crime. Perhaps the religious institutions are entrusted with the mandate of ensuring that citizens learn to tell truth. Telling the truth is entrenched in many religious teaching. Religious institutions play a major role in molding growing children and grown-up adults, to tell the truth. They take the second role of the family in inculcating the values of telling truth to individual persons.

They have the duty of informing the grown-up adults that telling truth is a moral obligation and good for the cause of human life. Parents can always check on the behavior of their children and make sure that they learn to tell the truth. On the other hand, religious institutions are the best place in teaching grown-up adults the value of telling the truth.

Education institutions are very strict when it comes to cheating. Going by their mandate of bringing up upright citizens, they usually have a very hard task of molding students to become upright citizens in the future. As such they must entrench strict rules and regulations to make sure that students learn to tell the truth. Going by the researches that have been carried out education institutes engages in cheating activities more than any other institution in the world.

This illustrates that these institutions have a very big task to play in order to bring up an upright citizen who inculcates the values of telling the truth. Learning to tell the truth early in life can be the remedy for many illnesses that the world is facing right now. In the whole world, the problem of corruption is a big issue, especially in developing countries. This problem arises from growth deficiencies in early life where individuals don’t learn moral values and entrench them in their life.

Why does a student cheat?

Student cheating has been a subject of research by many scholars. It has disturbed many people who wonder which is the exact reason why children engage in cheating. Being people who are so much exposed to the need, to tell the truth, and being the ones who are reminded most of the time that they have to tell the truth, it baffles many people why students continuously engage in cheating. Many surveys that have been conducted about cheating by students show that a massive number of students cheat especially in exams. A survey that was carried out in 1997 reported that 88% of students in American schools admitted to cheating in exams.

The study dubbed Who’s who among American High School Students surveyed a total of 3,120 students with the 88% majority showing that cheating was common among their peers. The study also revealed that 76% of the students admitted that they were themselves cheaters and had engaged in cheating previously especially in the exams. The study listed copying of other people’s work as the most practiced form of cheating with 65%, closely followed by cheating on a test with 39%.

Copying from summarized work follows with 29% while plagiarizing published work comes last with 15%. A more recent study conducted in 2006 among the MBA students revealed that 56% of students had cheated, 54% of engineering graduate students admitting to the same fate, and 48% of education and 45% of law students also cheating in their exams and research work.

It is amazing how these recent studies show a large number of high school students engaging in cheating. Compared to earlier data that have been collected on cheating, it is evident that the vice has continued to grow among students. In another study that was carried much earlier in 1985 in the 6th-grade students of California showed that 39% of students cheating in exams by copying from their fellow students. 41% admitted that they plagiarized their research work.

In the same research, it was revealed that 75% of high school students engaged in cheating in exams while 51% admitted to cheating by engaging in plagiarism. Data collected in the 1940s revealed that only 20% of students admitted to having been engaged in cheating. It has worried educators that this vice seems to grow now and then. It has taken diverse dimensions but it seems to be gaining ground on all dimensions. William Wovers wanted to have tried to attribute cheating in exams due to the hard nature of exams.

To ascertain this he engaged in another research in which he wanted to survey other dimensions of cheating. In 1963 he found out that 11 percent of the students in a college admitted that they collaborated with others in doing work that was assigned to individuals. The same findings were replicated in another study carried out in the same school in1993 which revealed that 49 percent of the students admitted to the same dimension of cheating by doing group work on work that was supposed to be done by a single person.

All the above studies show that cheating is highly practiced in all levels of education. It is clear that this problem has been there for a long time since it is even recorded in the 1940s. But what is worrying is that the vice appears to be gaining ground and is practiced more and more with time. Although many efforts and strict rules have been put in place to try and curb the vice, they seem not to be working. The biggest question, therefore, remains to be, why do students cheat? What motive is there behind cheating?

According to Niels, (2007), there are a number of laid down reasons why students cheat. Some of these reasons are concerned with the growth and development of the child while others are merely concerned with the pressure in school. Pertaining to the growth of the students, we saw earlier that telling the truth or doing what one is supposed to do is a moral obligation. Hence this is a moral issue that stems up from the environment in which a child grows.

The environment is a combination of many factors which can range from the way a child is brought up as determined by parental care and parental guidance. However, this is only an influence of early life. In the environment, there is also the school atmosphere. This has to with the peer group at school and the culture of the school. Peer group is a major determinant of the moral values of a student. A student may engage in cheating merely because his/her peers are doing so.

This is perhaps one of the leading factors that are contributing to the rise of cheating cases in school. This can be shown clearly by the data collected in which it shows that cheating is rampant in high school student than an institution of higher learning. The data we have revealed above show that incidences of cheating in 6th grade were less compared to cheating in high school. Peer group influence in high school is stronger than in tertiary institutions.

Peer group determines the behavior of individuals not only in school but also the moral behaviors of a student. An upright student will always change his/her behaviors in order to fit into the peer group. It is amazing that all those interviewed know that cheating is morally bad and knows that it is harshly punished in school. This is compounded by the fact that the student believes that even if caught cheating, he/she will not be punished alone but rather will suffer the punishment as a group.

They are also very confident that they will get away with it. In the Who’s Who study, 92 percent of those who confessed to having cheated said that they have never been caught. This may be a great motivation behind cheating since students know that they will get away with it and also even if caught, they will not suffer the consequences alone.

Another reason why students cheat is that they are afraid of failing. Every student is bound to do anything to make sure that they will not fail. This is contributed by the grade pressure put on students in order to qualify to the next level of learning. This is ramified by the belief that one must pass well in order to succeed in life. Studies have revealed that close to 88% of students believe that a college education is a key to a successful life.

They also share a belief that they are bound to perform well in life if they attend prestigious colleges. This could be a driving force toward achieving an entry grade to college despite the means to use with the knowledge that the end justifies the means. However, it is shocking that of the 80 percent students in high school who wishes to attend college education, only 50 percent of student make it to colleges. The pressure put on students by their parents on the need to perform well in school is a leading factor of cheating, especially in exams.

Many students acknowledge that sometimes the level of education is beyond their capability but they have to pass as a way of fulfilling their obligation to their parents. Many parents complain about the amount of money they use on their children’s education which they equate with the success of the student. But there are many avenues of success in life. It is not all “A” students that make up a successful life and it is not all “C” students who lead a miserable life. It all depends on personal talent and the effort one makes to realize their dreams and ambitions.

Another cause of cheating especially in colleges is due to the student’s alienation from the education system. It has been revealed that about 20 percent of students in high school in the USA face some kind of alienation from the system. Many students skip classes because they are committed somewhere. Some of them are working on extra work for many hours to be paid or to cope with the needs at school. Others are trapped in the net of drug use or other substance abuse.

Others do not attend classes in order to attend to family problems. The dynamic nature of life in America has brought along with it a lot of family woes. Take an example a single mother with only one and who gets sick. Life in the urban center is very hectic and everybody has their own businesses to attend to. As such the child of the single mother will be forced to skip school in order to take care of the sick mother. Since at the end the student will have to sit for the exams, he/she will not have prepared well and there is a high probability he/she will be tempted to cheat in order to be at par with others in performance.

The problem of substance abuse and crime is very serious especially in the black community of the United States. More and more students are being trapped in the net of drug abuse and crime and most of them will not attend their classes. This problem has been fought by the concerned authority from government quarters to enforcement of strict rules at school. Researches show that students caught in the drug net have less time for their education as they are engaged in income-generating activities to enable them to afford the cost of drugs.

These students have acknowledged engaging in cheating since they have to meet the moral obligation to their parents of rewarding them with good passes to the money that has been spent in their education. They are likely to result to cheating in order to pass their exams.

There have been amazing revelations that parents are helping their children in cheating. It has been revealed by teachers that they have caught their children cheating by downloading home works from the internet only to realize that their parents downloaded it for them. In one case a child confessed by saying that her mother has told her that everybody cheats. The issue of cheating is compounded by the fact that there are no innocent parties in the saga.

Both those who copy and those who allow others to copy their work are all cheaters. It is the same way if a parent will confidently tell her child that everybody cheats. This gives another dimension and reason for cheating: the moral values of the community. It appears like the American community has lost the moral values that make a community.

It seems that teachers who are the ones who are supposed to be inculcating moral values to the students are shying away from their role. There have been testimonies from both the students and teachers that teacher sometimes is not so keen on whether the students are cheating or not. Teachers often shy away from confronting students when they know that they have cheated partly because they have nothing they can do against it and also because they are trying to avoid confrontation with the students and their parents.

This shows that laxity in disciplining the students for cheating could be another cause of increasing rates of cheating among students. We have already seen that 92% of the students who cheat get away with it. This shows that we do not have a working mechanism that deters students from cheating. The concept of teachers sympathizing with the student who has been caught cheating is creating a lenient system that does not enforce the need for the student to tell the truth. It is highly likely that students do not follow rules when they are not obliged to do so. We should not blame the student alone for the proliferation of cheating in school and giving teachers a clean bill of health on the issue. Teachers are the one who is giving cheating students amnesty which encourages them to continue cheating.

Students have given various reasons as to why they cheat. Students have argued that they have a lot of workloads that they are not able to cope with. They argue that they are faced with a lot of academic pressure. When students are faced with the problem of coping with multiple assignments with little time, they result in cheating. However, this is not a good reason to cheat since students have a lot of time at their disposal which they can use to complete all the assignments. It is also amazing that researchers have found out that some students regard cheating as necessary. They see cheating as a normal way of going around the academic journey. These are the lazy students who consider the school as a holiday camp.

Other students have said that they cheat because they know their teachers are not concerned with whether they cheat or not. This means they are not deterred from cheating by their teachers. They attribute this to poor anti-cheating measures imposed on students by their schools and teachers. But perhaps the main leading reason why students cheat is due to influence from their friends. Many students have shown that they are likely to cheat if their peers are cheating not because they find the academic work too difficult for them but just because their peers are cheating.

What are universities doing to deter cheating?

According to Pope (2007), cheating is a serious crime, especially in universities. The most prevalent form of cheating in universities is plagiarizing of published work since copying is a bit tricky in university exams. Many universities have enacted honor codes that are meant to deter students from cheating. However, these honors have been criticized for not being effective in deterring cheating in universities.

Many have claimed that the moral emphasis for doing the right thing in honor does not match the student’s undeterred desire for good grades. Alexander (2006), emphasized that the whole issue of cheating in universities has been attributed to the fact that much emphasis has been created on the need to acquire good grades for one to be successful. Although many people have accepted the notion of following the laid down honors, most of them think that following them could make someone end up as a loser since not everybody will follow them. The vice has been difficult to eradicate since the students already believe that most successful people have earned their present status through cheating.

The effort by all universities to create a fair society around the campus which is thought to be an example of the society the students will live in after university has been thwarted by the understanding that the idea of equal opportunity is threatened in this era of rising inequality.

How to deter cheating in school

To deter cheating in schools, there is a need to revert back to help the student acquire the moral values that go together with being truthful. This calls for consulted efforts from teachers, parents, and students. There is a need to make the students realize that cheating is not the way to success and success does not come only with a good education. It comes with the personal effort in whatever one is doing.

Inculcating the values of telling the truth to the student may go a long way in preparing upright citizens for the future of this nation and to an extent of the world. This could help to fight many woes that are currently facing the world which is stemming right from childhood since we are bringing up a selfish generation that has no moral obligation for this world. The role of fighting cheating begins with the school itself since it is the one that is in close contact with the students. Parents can only play a great role in educating their children but only when they are young before they fall into the trap of peer pressure.

Schools have a role to play to sensitize the student that education is not all about personal competition. We can accept that the world is becoming more and more individualized even in schools. No student wants to be defeated by the other. Teachers have to make the student realize that a test is not a competition but a means for individuals to gauge themselves and understand how much they have learned from what they have been taught. Many students take exams as a means of expressing their education prowess. We have said that not all “A” students live on the first lane of life and it is not all “C” students lead a miserable life.

There is a need to explain to the students that we have different educational capabilities and cheating in order to be at par with others may be frustrating at the end as it may end one in a career that they don’t like. Since the student is under the jurisdiction of the school at the time of the study, there needs for the school to become more responsible in the growth cycle of the students. As such teachers should not only act as teachers but should also act as parents to the students. Schools should have rules that bar cheating and which should be enforced. Teachers should stop sympathizing with the students when they are caught cheating but should instead punish them according to the laid down rule. The role of stemming down cheating starts with the teachers.

Students must be made to understand that learning is meant to help one acquire a general knowledge of life. It should not be too much center on achieving the best grades. It has been seen that the end result of education is shadowing the intended result. Much attention is being paid to the grades that students get instead of the values that should be inculcated to the students. Schools are no longer producing upright citizens they used to produce one.

It is clear that there is so much pressure on students from teachers and parents to deliver what they are not able to. Hence there is a great need to reevaluate the education system to find its overall goal and to restructure it to become more relevant to the social life of the citizens. Determent of cheating will be achieved when the teachers and students will embrace the notion of having a fair learning atmosphere and realize that cheating is not the way to success in life.


Alexander, H. (2006). Copying, cheating rife at Unis. The Sunday Morning Herald. Web.

Callahan, D. (2004). The cheating culture. Harvest Books.

Green, S. P. (2006). Lying, cheating, and stealing: A Moral Theory of White Collar Crime. Oxford University Press.

Niels, G. (2007): Cheating 101 for private schools: a closer look at the 3 main reason students cheat. Web.

Pope, J. (2007). Higher education sees rise in dishonesty. Web.