Cheating on campus: 'In some way, everyone is afraid of failing'

Category:  News
Wednesday, April 27th, 2016 at 9:56 PM

“It is nothing less than an act of theft,” the Edinboro University catalog says about plagiarism.

It defines plagiarism as the “act of taking the ideas and/or expression of ideas of another person and representing them as one’s own.”

The penalty for those who disregard the rule may be a failing grade for the assignment or a failing grade for the course.

Cheating on exams can result in students failing the assignment and subsequently the related class. Students who cheat may also end up being brought before the judicial board.

So why would students cheat if the consequences are so harsh?

Why students cheat

“I think there are two main reasons why students cheat,” Dr. Laura Miller of the health and physical education department said. “[One group does it] because they are lazy by nature and want to take the easy way out to get a good grade.”

“Another group of students don’t necessarily want to cheat… but out of desperation and panic [they cheat] to save their grade,” she continued.

In a similar fashion, former Porreco College student Ryan Gracochea believes there are two main reasons why students cheat.

“The first is just ease,” Graychochea said. “Cheating is easier than buckling down and actually studying.”

“The second reason can be overload and prioritization.”

Graycochea provided an example of an engineering student. He said that the student might prioritize high level math courses over general education requirements.

“In some way everybody is afraid of failing, especially in college where the stakes are so high,” Edinboro University art student, Ryan Connor said.

“Exams mostly just test how much you’ve memorized rather than how much you know and writing the answers on your hand is easier and less stressful than cramming all night.”

Cheating on online exams

Dr. Irene Fiala of the sociology department exclusively uses online tests. She is also aware that sometimes students may use their books or other sources to find the answers.

“I am not ‘policing’ students to ensure that this does not occur,” Fiala said.

“There is something to be said for knowing where to find information but I deter the ‘look it up in the book’ scenario by having exams based heavily on lecture.”

Fiala went on to say that because the exam questions are randomized, one must really know their textbook well to know where to locate answers. She said this concern is why she employs multiple assessment measures.

Fiala explained that online exams are only a part of a student’s grade, “with papers, homework or other assignments” as other forms of assessment.

“Multiple assessments also help students who are not ‘good test takers’ as well,” Fiala said. “But if students are using their book, it will often show in their writing.”

Connor believes the format of online tests welcomes cheating a bit more because “even with the time limit students will often try to take advantage of the openness of an online exam.”

Graycochea believes teachers have already taken into account the fact that students may end up cheating on their exams.

“Essentially, I expect teachers to expect students will use their materials on online exams, unless explicitly told not to.”

However, do students really listen to teachers when explicitly told not to cheat on online exams?

“I’d say it’s probably 50/50,” Gracochea said. “This may be my idealism talking, but I think most people would listen.”

“However, there will always be those people who didn’t study, those who don’t want to fail, [and] people who want to get the exam over with as quickly as possible.”

He continued, “If people have the will to cheat on an online exam, there really isn’t a way to stop them other than not having an online exam.”

Student values

“I think the stress to pass any given class overpowers the desire to learn,” Connor said. “Even if one really enjoys the class and cares about the subject, there is still that overwhelming need to maintain a steady GPA.”

Connor believes that failing even one class and not receiving all your credits for the semester can “really screw with financial aid,” something he relies on in order to continue college.

“When faced with a particularly difficult class, especially one you’re not sure you can pass, the loss of one’s financial aid gives yet another incentive to cheat on exams just to stay afloat,” said Connor.

A former student who wished to remain anonymous agreed with Connor. She said, “students definitely value grades over education because the grades are what keeps you in school.”

“It keeps that financial aid coming, and nobody can get through all the years of school without some sort of help.”

Graycochea mentioned that he’s felt (with exceptions), what he refers to as the “or else” or “the downward spiral.”

The “or else” Graycochea referred to is the necessity that comes with passing a test. The “downward spiral” is the train of thought that follows the “or else.” Failing in the class could land you in academic probation and then you’ll be kicked out of school.

“That’s what I imagine when I imagine someone needing to pass a test so badly they’d cheat. I’ve felt that, but never to the extent where I’d resort to academic dishonesty.”

According to Miller, as of this year academic dishonesty is something professors at Edinboro University are required to put in their syllabus.

“Certainly there are going to be some professors who don’t do that,” Miller said. “But in an effort to make students more aware…it refers students back to the university catalog.”

Imagine a scenario where you show up late to a class and you realize upon entering the classroom that students all have their heads down and are working on a test.

You remember suddenly that you haven’t been studying. What will you do: fail with your dignity intact, or cheat your way through? It’s up to you.

Will Stevens is the Campus Life Editor for The Spectator and he can be reached at

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