Cheating - What is it?

Cheating - What is it?

Cheating is the general, catch-all term used for describing all forms of academic misconduct. Because it covers everything, it’s not possible to offer any single definition of cheating, hence our outlining of various forms of academic cheating, below.

First, some quick notes about Plagiarism and Collusion.

Plagiarism may be defined as ‘passing off someone else’s work, whether intentionally or unintentionally, as your own for your own benefit’ (Carroll, 2002, in Johnston, 2003) and Collusion can be defined as ‘any form of joint effort intended to deceive an assessor as to who was actually responsible for producing the material submitted for assessment’ (Johnston, 2003) They are seen as the two main forms of cheating at university.

However, not all plagiarism is cheating (though this is the subject of considerable recent and ongoing debate within academia, and all plagiarism is, at very least, poor academic practice that will urgently need to be addressed, as we can claim ignorance once, but if we don’t learn from our mistakes, it’s going to be difficult to claim any subsequent plagiarism was unintentional).

We may think understanding plagiarism is straightforward but, as Wendy Sunderland-Smith (2008) notes, there are considerable complex layers to understand and negotiate. Hence an entire section of this website addressed to exploring and developing awareness of plagiarism.

There are many legitimate, acceptable and expected forms of collaboration within academia; the term collusion specifically refers to improper collaboration between individuals with the intent to deceive. Yet, here too there are complexities that need to be understood and navigated, for example in understanding and setting appropriate boundaries when forming study groups to aid our learning.

The section devoted to Collaboration and Collusion addresses other forms of cheating or poor academic practice that involve two or more individuals but which do not so neatly fit within precise definitions of either ‘collusion’ or ‘improper collaboration’.

The relationships between cheating, plagiarism and collusion/collaboration are highlighted in the diagram below:

(Source: adapted from Johnston, 2003, & London Met University Academic Framework, 2012)

Crucially, the sections on Building an argument and Being ‘time-realistic’ highlight the effective practices we need to understand and embrace in order to ultimately reduce risks of committing academic misconduct and poor practice.

Let’s now look at other forms of cheating in the academic world.

Other forms of cheating in the academic world include (this list is by no means exhaustive):

  • The use of unauthorised notes or crib-sheets in exams or in-class assessed tests (including, for example, information stored on digital devices or unauthorised accessing of the internet in contravention of the examination rubric).
  • the possession of unauthorised notes, crib sheets etc. in exams/in-class tests, even if not used, may also be considered a form of cheating, or at least an intent to cheat.
  • unauthorised viewing of another student’s work during an exam or in-class test.
  • unauthorised communication during an exam or in-class test.
  • unauthorised access to materials such as exam papers, prior to sitting an ‘unseen’ exam.
  • FABRICATION: the faking of data claimed to be derived from experiments or other research conducted.
  • FALSIFICATION/MISREPRESENTATION: falsification of evidence claimed to be derived from experiments or other research; falsifying signatures of staff, or altering information on documentation to gain personal advantage.
  • DENIYING OTHERS ACCESS TO INFORMATION: for example, the stealing or removal of pages from library text books and journal resources.
  • IMPERSONATION: e.g., impersonating another student in an exam OR allowing someone to impersonate you.

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We can avoid cheating by:

  • Setting aside realistic amounts of time for revision purposes (see theRevision & Exams section of Being ‘time-realistic’
  • Exploring effective strategies for engaging with our evidence to aid building our knowledge of topics in a truly academic sense when revising (see the section on: Building an Argument and check out the advice on memory, revision and exam techniques on the Study Hub.
  • Checking what we can take in to the examination room and to our desk before starting an exam.
  • Keeping specifically authorised notes, papers or books far away from us while doing an exam.
  • Arriving early for the exam so we have time to make sure we don’t have any unauthorised material on us – not even material on our phone!
  • Leaving the question paper at the exam.
  • Keeping quiet in the exam and not talking to other students.
  • Submitting our own assignment, not a friend’s.

Again, it’s an issue of not putting ourselves in a position where one has to resort to hoping to get away with cheating, no matter how relatively insignificant we might perceive the misconduct.