To Cheat: Not A Simple Decision

To Cheat: to deprive of something valuable by the use; to practice fraud or trickery of deceit or fraud  (   If deprive means to withhold, what is missed in the end by both the withholder and others?  What possibilities could have been realized or ideas built?  In a student’s mind, what is the value that comes only through cheating?  And, why is that more valuable than being honest?

Some students will take large risks in their cheating, and make it okay in their minds to take the risk.  The New York Times, recently reported that 19 students were arrested for both taking money to completing the SAT for others and for paying for the test to be taken on their behalf–some payments as high as $3500.  Clients regularly mention their frustrations at seeing others cheat and earn high grades without being caught, while they themselves “earned” a lower grade for actually doing the work.   In my own experience, the higher a student achieved the more likely they were to cheat–which for most is counter-intuitive.   Aren’t the top of the class students supposed to represent greater talents, and smarter abilities?  So, why do students cheat, if they’ve got the natural talent and intelligence?  How can a seemingly rational, logical, smart student rationalize cheating, even when the consequences are jail, as the NYC kids are finding out?

At the top, students may feel they have the most to lose, and in light of “losing” (perhaps a college acceptance, which creates status or something more subtle like approval and confidence), they gamble on the cheating.   The sense of self-preservation may win over logic and reason.   For other students, they may see the assignment as mere busy work, “boring” and not worth their time, so they copy someone else’s work or collectively complete the assignment, as a group, in some subtle protest.  Also, for students taking the most “rigorous” coursework at their schools, in order to be competitive for the “right” colleges, they amount of work can be difficult–at best–to manage.  A copied assignment here and there can relieve the pressure.  And, for smart students, they’ve calculated the risks to their grade if caught, and choose “cheated” assignments accordingly.   There are greater issues that are masked, when all we do is punish the cheaters.  What understanding is gained?  And, what responsibility do societal norms, schools, teachers and parents have to helping create conditions where the student feels they must cheat and deceive?

We’ve so ingrained students about doing their own work to prevent cheating, that they can learn to distrust their peers.   Group assignments become a calculated jostling to see who’s going to work and who’s not, usually dominated by one kid’s vision.  Collaboration isn’t easy to begin with; yet, for those teenage students used to competing against one another, shifting gears to work together, may be further complicated by inexperience and habit.

Cheating isn’t merely a lapse of judgement.  Looking closer at the circumstances, the consequences, the pressures to achieve (real or perceived), the lack of an open dialogue to address issues that lead to cheating.  Yet, how often does that happen?

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Jill Yoshikawa, Ed M, is a University of California and Harvard trained educator and Partner at Creative Marbles Consultancy. You can contact Jill at or, read her short biography.