This Type of Student Is Most Likely to Cheat (It’s Not Who You Think)

Parents may worry about the pressure their college-going kids feel as they compete for the best grades in the hardest classes. For good reason, it turns out.

studentsJacob Lund/ShutterstockOf all the bad habits kids pick up in school, cheating arguably has the most serious consequences. (If you suspect your child of cheating, here’s how to put a stop to it.) Yet it’s still prevalent in all levels of education. Over 50 percent of all university students cheat at some point—and those are just the ones who were willing to admit it to researchers. What you may not realize is that it looks as if the students who are most likely to cheat on exams are the competitive high achievers who take the toughest courses, according to a new study in the September issue of the journal, Advances in Physiology Education.

The study came about for obvious reasons: A group of professors at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada had begun to suspect that their students were cheating. Specifically, the professors thought that some of the students were abusing a system by which students who were unhappy with an exam grade were allowed to resubmit the exam—unaltered—for another look by the professor. The professors were beginning to think that some of the students were altering their exams before resubmitting them.

In response to their concerns, the professors assembled a research team. The team electronically scanned 3,620 midterm exams from 11 undergraduate science courses. Of these, 448 ended up being resubmitted. The researchers then reviewed the 448 resubmitted tests for alterations consisting of additions and deletions. It turned out that 78 of the resubmitted exams had been altered—about 17 percent of the students. Almost half of the altered exams came from “repeat offenders”—students who had cheated on more than one test during the study period.

The researchers then analyzed the characteristics of the students who had altered their exams, as well as the subject matter of the courses in which the exams were given and the contents of the exams themselves. They discovered that 60 percent of the students who engaged in this form of cheating were high achievers (they had an average grade of 80 percent or higher on their exams). Female students were slightly more likely to cheat, though the gender difference was not statistically significant.

Although the tendency to cheat was low overall—less than 3 percent of the total midterms had alterations—the tendency was higher in the large, competitive classes. In fact, two-thirds of the cases of academic misconduct were identified in a one particularly tough course.

The results surprised the professors who had expected that lower-level students were more likely to cheat because they had more to gain in the form of higher grades. “Our results point to high-achieving students as a specific group who may be more likely to commit these acts and show no indication that men are more frequent offenders than women, which goes against much of the existing [academic misconduct] literature,” the researchers wrote in a press release issued by the American Physiological Society.

Considering the fact that even honest people can lie, perhaps it’s not surprising that good students might cheat. Instead of giving into that temptation in hopes of boosting grades, check out these secrets of straight-A students that everyone can steal (without guilt).

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Lauren Cahn
Lauren Cahn is a New York-based writer whose work has appeared regularly on Reader's Digest, The Huffington Post, and a variety of other publications since 2008. She covers life and style, popular culture, law, religion, health, fitness, yoga, entertaining and entertainment. Lauren is also an author of crime fiction; her first full-length manuscript, The Trust Game, was short-listed for the 2017 CLUE Award for emerging talent in the genre of suspense fiction.