There are a number of reasons why students will cheat both in exams and for coursework.  But what leads students to make these compromising choices?  We talk to some real students at Nottingham’s universities and colleges to find out what makes them cheat.

Many students are aware of what is classed as cheating in their exams or coursework – things such as plagiarising, bringing notes to exams and so on. There are strict guidelines for cheating that all students are made aware of, and its important to recognise that the vast majority of students know that cheating is wrong. So what leads a student to act in ways which they aren’t proud of?

“I’m feeling the pressure…”

Cut and paste no big dealThere are many students with families who have high expectations about their grade achievements and future career. Therefore some students cheat when feeling the pressure in order to get competitive, marketable credentials to impress their family or friends.

“I did really well at college but when I got to University, I was trying so hard on every assignment, spending whole weekends putting together just a thousand words but I never got more than 60%” says Lindsey (not her real name), a student at New College Nottingham.  ”It was so frustrating as no matter how much effort I put in, it didn’t feel like I was getting anywhere”.  Lindsey admits using a ghost writing service to try and get ahead.  ”I got my work back and for the first time I’d hit the 70 mark.  My Mum and Dad were so proud and I was so happy because it felt like all the money they’d put into my education was worth it.  I also picked up a lot about structuring an essay from looking through the work and although I’ve never used the service again, I’m doing much better”.

Students may also be trying to uphold a job as well as trying to cope with a heavy academic workload – their job may leave no time for sufficient study, therefore they turn to cheating because they feel they can’t cope.  Mark (another NCN student) told us: “I work Saturday and Sunday nights in a bar in town as I can’t afford to live otherwise.  It doesn’t leave much time for writing.  I take any short cuts I can but it’s not because I’m lazy, I just don’t have time for everything, something has to give”.

“I don’t get it…”

Another common reason why students cheat is because they lack understanding of the material or their assignment. It can seem impossible to complete a task if you are unaware of how to go about it.  This can be avoided by using the available resources, such as speaking to your instructor/lecturer or research and writing assistance.

Anna is studying a joint honours course in Psychology and Philosophy at Nottingham University School of Pyschology; she says “I don’t like asking for help as I feel stupid.  Everyone else seems to know what they’re doing.”  Raj (not his real name) is an international student studying law at Nottingham’s Law School (NTU).  ”It’s not the concepts I struggle with”, he told us.  ”As English is my second language, I find it quite hard to follow what the lecturer is saying in class.  If things are explained to me slowly, I pick them straight up.  It’s the language, not the course, but I’m getting better all the time”.

Remember, if in doubt – ask! Tutors and lecturers are paid and it is part of their job to assist students in understanding the assignment they have been set.

Sloppy note taking!

Plagiarism dialogueIt is often the case that sloppy note taking can lead to accidental plagiarism.  Jen is a former Associate Lecturer with the Open University’s Law School.  ”Now and then you see a chunk of the course material find its way into a student’s work.  The OU give you the course materials electronically and the students paste paragraphs into Word when they’re putting together their draft answer.  When you see those paragraphs, it usually means the student has simply mixed up their writing with their notes.  As I was teaching first years, I was pretty sympathetic to this but it can get students into a lot of trouble”.

Although this form of cheating is unintentional, it is still taken very seriously. This can be avoided by developing simple but effective not taking habits; annotate your notes, making clear other peoples’ quotes along with the details you’ll need to reference it. Many students recognise the obvious forms of cheating, such as copying someone’s work in an exam or not citing a quote, but many students are less certain of how much collaboration is allowed, appropriate paraphrasing and how to correctly cite a source.

“Cheating is part of academic survival”

bilborough1-150x150For a few students, some cheating is seen as acceptable – part of academic survival. By poll, it has been found that the vast majority of students cheat at least once in their academic lives – “so why shouldn’t I, just this once?.”  Lee is doing his International Baccalaureate at Bilborough College.  ”Usually you find the answer to what you’re writing about using Google.  The answer to everything’s on Google.  And you just paste it into Word and then rephrase everything.  Job done.”  When asked if he felt like he’d be earning the marks for those assignments, he said “Everyone does it, it’s not because you couldn’t do it the hard way, but why bother? Everyone cheats, why take the hard option?”.

Cheating offers an ‘easy way out’. Recently, there has been more evidence to suggest that ‘beating the system’ is seen as an admirable academic skill in the student community.  What do you think?