January 22, 2018

To cheat or not to cheat?: What a dumb question!

To Cheat or Not To Cheat

Last week I caught a student cheating during an exam. She was using her cell phone to look up answers. When she saw me walking to her, she slyly slipped her phone into her bag, but it was too late. I walked up to her desk, pulled the exam off her desk and pointed to the door. When she met me in the hallway, she feigned shock and denied cheating : “I was texting my boyfriend!” she said, as if that improved her predicament, considering that cell phone use results in immediate expulsion from my class. But she was caught red-handed.

It is still mind-blowing to me that college students cheat. Aren’t you supposed to get over that phase sometime in high school, when you realize that there are no short cuts in life? Apparently not, because some students continue to look for the easy way out when exam time comes around.

According to recent studies, about 22% of college students cheat at some point in their college career.  And that’s just dumb!

But students certainly aren’t dumb when it comes to methods of cheating. In addition to the time-honored methods of looking at someone else’s exam and writing answers on your shirt cuffs, here are some common student cheating methods observed in today’s college classroom. New technology certainly plays a role, but some methods are almost quaint in their sweet, old-fashioned, delusional hopefulness:

1. Bad Hair Day: Students write information on the inside brim of their baseball caps. They then contort their necks and roll their eyes upward during the exam, turning themselves into real-life visions of the possessed child Regan in The Exorcist. No, that’s not noticeable at all.

2. Hydrate and Educate: Students write crib notes on the inside labels of water bottles and paste them back on. When they need an answer, they take a drink and squint through the water. This might work—if it weren’t for the constant need to use the bathroom that tips off us professors.

3. Scan and Snack: Similar to the Hydrate and Educate method, candy bars, cookie wrappers, etc, are scanned into printers and printed with exam information, which students can then read during the exam.

4. Phone a Friend: There’s always the quick trip to the rest room to refresh a student’s mind during an exam. In the privacy of the Ladies’ or Mens’ room, students pull out their cell phones and text or call a friend who is on standby with a copy of the textbook. While a trip to the rest room can certainly bring relief for some needs, professors are always suspicious when you return looking more chipper than ever.

5. The Throne of Knowledge: Last semester one of my colleagues caught a student cheating by sitting on her notebook, on which answers were written, and peering between her legs whenever she needed an answer. He figured out what was going on when he realized that not even the most immature man is as fascinated by his crotch as this student was by hers.

What always impresses me is the ingenuity and determination of students who go to great lengths to cheat. As I told a colleague after I caught my midterm cheater last week, it’s as if cheating students are always looking for a magic formula for academic success. What they don’t realize is that there IS a magic formula, and I can sum it up in one word: Study. If cheaters spent half as much time studying as they do on their elaborate cheating schemes, they wouldn’t need to cheat in the first place!

Jill Rooney, Ph.D. is an Education Writer for OnlineColleges.net.  She earned a Ph.D. in History from the University of New Hampshire and has taught History, Political Science, and Film Theory for over twenty years. Dr. Rooney’s work has been published by the Smithsonian Institution, Oxford University Press, and the Chronicle of Higher Education. Her teaching experience has taught her that all students really just want one thing: To learn. And that isn’t always easy, so she’s here to help! @JillRooney2jill@onlinecolleges.net.


  1. Millicent St. Claire says:

    Professor, this is one of the most poignant and amusing articles I’ve read on cheating. Thanks for letting students know that you know exactly what’s going on. And I loved your closing point!

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