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Saturday, November 12, 2011

Is Cheating Accceptable?

As final exams approach, the ugly word `cheating`seems to be on many people`s lips.    According to a recent Globe and Mail article `the disproportionate number of international students accused of plagiarism or cheating on exams is raising red flags in university administrations and legal aid offices. It also raises questions as to whether schools should be doing more for stressed-out foreign students who are grappling with new educational standards, often while coping with a language barrier.
All over Canada, the U.S., Britain and other countries educators and institutions are raising the question about what is causing international students to cheat.  I would like to expand that question to what makes any student, including immigrant ESL students  cheat in high school, academic ESL programs and colleges.  
As a long time ESL instructor, I would love to say that none of my students have ever cheated,  but I would be lying. Over the past 20 years I have caught students cheating on exams, in-class essays, hand-in assignments and research papers.  Some methods have been creative, involving entire sets of signals with different coloured pens, or nose scratching, hair pulling, and ear tweaking.
Throughout the years students have openly whispered the answers to each other, looked at each other`s papers, or allowed others to look at theirs, written on their arms, used `crib sheets, or hidden electronic dictionaries in their arm sleeve.  I`ve had students memorize a complete essays out of well known composition textbooks for in class essays, or use previous essays they or someone else has written in previous classes that I have taught myself.  In these cases, students have blatantly denied having done any such thing until I produced the original essay they copied from.  

I`ve often wondered if the students think we`re too stupid to notice or care, or if they assume that nothing will happen to them if they`re caught. Every time I have caught a student cheating we've had a discussed the issue of academic dishonesty and told them the penalty for their first time offence, as well as what it will be for further offences. Some students who plagiarize directly off the Internet for research essays, or memorizing compositions plead that they didn`t know that this was not allowed, or wrong.  Others have said they were sorry and would never do it again, fully expecting that an apology would be sufficient and that they would not be penalized in any other way.  Still others have open admitted they cheated, and laughed saying that everyone does it in their country,k so why should Canada and my school be different. 

Now, I want to stress that cheaters have been in the minority in my classes. The majority of my students have been as honest as the day is long when taking my exams, or department exams. It is the cheaters who are the exception. However, they are the reason I now set up my class with all desks facing the walls , and large dividers between students dividers during exams. Why take chances, or allow the students to "accidentally help each other if I can avoid it?
Plagiarism is a much different and far more complex issue and deserves a complete post of its own. Some plagiarism actions involve genuine dishonesty. Others involve a variety of factors including students`lack of ability to paraphrase, lack of vocabulary, cultural expectations among others. If you want to know more read the following report.

"Overcoming the cultural issues associated with plagiarism for International students"
Authors: Dr. Charles Juwah, Centre for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching, The Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen; Dr David Lal, Dept. of Business and Management, Aberdeen Business School, The Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen; Ahmed Beloucif, Dept. of Marketing, Aberdeen Business School, The Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen 

Getting back to cheating on exams, Topics Online Magazine for Learners of English. a publication, has devoted an entire issue to the topic of cheating.  Since this is a magazine  in which  English learners express their ideas to an online audience, it offers a student perspective as well as a photo essay on cheating. Some articles were written by students who go caught cheating. Others focus on the consequences of cheating. All of the articles are interesting.Topics Online Magazine Cheating

 1   What do YOU  think about cheating ?
 2. What do you think should be done about cheating?   

 Let me know what you think. Post your answer in the comment box. 


  1. Many students cheat on exam because they think it is an easier, fast, and direct short-cut to get good scores if the teacher don’t catch them. They don’t want to study hard because it is too tired. On the other hand, they waste so much time to enjoy life that they don’t have time to prepare their exam. When the exam approach, they have to cheat, plagiarise, and deceive.

    Sometimes our educational system usually evaluates a student in his exam scores but his real ability. Because one final exam decides everything in many countries, all students want to get a good score, so cheating is an option for some students.

    Some students want to reap where one has not sown. They want to good score but don’t want to put efforts in their studying, so they had to cheat to get good mark.

  2. Cheating is a habit for some cheaters because they think that is a easy way to get their goals. They could be successful in one text; however, they could not be successful in their whole life. In my opinion, it is not a clever idea to cheat during texts because if you got a good mark in your text,your teacher would believe that you have already known what you have learnt from class. Therefore,your teacher would not give you more advice. That would be a real stupid thing for the cheater. The cheater would learn nothing in their whole lives. On the other hand, cheating has same meaning---- stealing that means the cheaters stolen the fairness from other students. In one word, if you want to become a successful person, please never cheating in your text.

  3. I hate cheating on examinations. We learn for ourselves, not for teachers or parent even though they have much higher expectation than what we can achieve. Why we cheat for pleasing others while they look our higher scores? Examination is a way to check how much we have learned and how much we can understand. Also, for student, they can know how much effort they should put on their studies. I remember that one of my colleague who studied in a part time college. When he prepared his examination, he made small piece of paper with the answer of the questions that he assumed may appear in exam in order to use on the examination. I told him you could use this time to learn what you were taught. In China, it seems that everything depends on examination for students. It is unfair for students who didn’t cheat but got lower scores compare with some students who get higher scores by cheating on the examination. Although getting higher score is important, it is more important to be honest as a man.

  4. From my point of view cheating is worst way that some students intent to do to get good marks. I think that who do this just wasting time, when someone wants to learn something has to commit oneself giving the best one. However there are a lot of students who only care about spending the semester regardless of whether they learned or not.

    I think it should be strict when someone is cought cheating at the university level such as expelled from the university in this way will learn to take things seriously.

    Students should understand that cheating will never take the path of success.

  5. Thank you for these wonderful comments. They have all raised some different issues that I did not even mention.
    They are all worthy of their own responsess, so I'm going to post my own reply in a real post.
    I hope other people join in the discussion by posting their own comments. Anyone who has suggestions on how to prevent the need for cheating, please let us know your ideas.


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