Why Students Cheat: Causes of Cheating

The problem of academic cheating has become endemic. A growing number of high school and college students all over the world are tending to opt for easy ways to get good grades, thus breaking the ethical rules of their educational institutions. Although the honor codes are getting stricter, the number of students putting their academic integrity at risk remains extremely high. According to a popular study conducted by Dr. Donald McCabe, 95% of the students polled (graduates and undergraduates) admitted to cheating in one form or another. 

While trying to protect the reputation of your institution, it is important not only to develop a robust anti-cheating strategy and impose new rules and restrictions, but also to investigate why students cheat in college or school, and what their true motives are. Once having found the roots of the problem, you will be able to eliminate it more time- and cost-effectively. Continue reading and find out the most common reasons for academic dishonesty and ways to prevent it.

Common Reasons Students Cheat

Academic misconduct is not a recent concept; it has been a part of our life for centuries. However, nowadays the percentage of students tempted by an easy way to get a better grade has significantly increased. Why do kids cheat? There are many causes of cheating in school and college. Let’s consider the most significant ones.

Technological Development

One of the fundamental reasons why the practice of cheating has become widespread is worldwide digitalization. The internet makes information more accessible, thus often undermining the value of ownership. Many students have become accustomed to using ideas or information found on the web as their own. Apart from fostering digital plagiarism, the internet and other technologies facilitate other ways of cheating as well. For example, it’s easy to find answers to homework assignments on the internet, and it’s possible to use various devices on an exam to search for information and communicate with other students.

Pressure to Succeed

Pressure to succeed is one of the most common reasons for student misconduct. Modern education is focused more on performance rather than the learning process itself. Therefore, understanding that their success will be evaluated mostly by GPA, many students, especially the ones who can’t manage their time efficiently, decide to find easier ways of getting good grades. Society offers us a stereotype, according to which every successful person is intelligent and performs well at school and college. Anxiety caused by the desire to live up to these ideals often makes students cheat.

Disinterest in the Assignment

Many students cheat because they don’t consider the task useful for their learning process. Why behave ethically and spend a lot of time and effort on tasks that seem to be irrelevant? Modern students are more practical and career-focused. They tend to pay less attention to subjects or assignments that won’t bring any value in their future working life. This idea is supported by a survey carried out in 2017 by Eric Anderman. It revealed that students who are not interested in a particular subject feel less motivated and are more prone to cheating behavior.

High Schools Aren’t Teaching Research

Why do high school students cheat? When it comes to cheating in the form of plagiarism, many of them were never instructed how to do a written assignment and how to correctly cite sources. Moreover, many students don’t know how to paraphrase and express their thoughts in written form. As a result, to avoid spending a lot of time studying, they opt for shortcutting and fill their papers with cut-pasted text found on the internet. 

Social Comparison

Since cheating has become deeply integrated into our lives, our perception of it has also changed dramatically. A growing number of students not only admit to acting unethically but also find it acceptable. Moreover, according to statistics, the majority of cheaters don’t get caught. This fact makes honest and even high-achieving students reconsider their behavior and follow the lead of their classmates. It’s hardly surprising that they lose their motivation when seeing that cheating allows their peers to achieve better results while spending much less time and effort.

When Cheating Is Acceptable

As mentioned before, many students find it acceptable to cheat in certain situations. Here are some of them:

  1. High-stake assessments. Many students believe that it’s okay to cheat during life-changing assignments, for example, when an exam determines whether they will proceed to the next academic level, receive a scholarship, etc.
  2. Boring and irrelevant subjects. Being more career-focused, students are likely to cheat without any remorse if the subject has no value in their future life. Moreover, they find it acceptable to behave dishonestly if teachers have failed to awaken interest in their subject.

Despite these justifications, cheating is unacceptable. Not only does it compromise academic integrity, it also undermines the core idea of education: the spread of knowledge. It’s crucial to understand that cheating is unethical. Therefore, even if in the short term, students may not feel guilty for their acts, in the long run, they may suffer from low self-esteem and face challenges in their career, family life, etc.

How to Prevent Students From Cheating

When trying to prevent students from cheating, it’s important to dive into the reasons that make them choose this path. A clear understanding of their motives will allow you to choose the most effective strategy to improve academic integrity. Here are some of the most common techniques:

  1. Encouraging a collaborative community. A cheating climate at school or college should be substituted with a climate of collaboration. Teachers should not only be considered the ones who evaluate performance, but also the ones who are ready to share their knowledge and answer questions to provide students with a better understanding of their subject.
  2. Developing academic culture. In their attempts to reduce academic dishonesty, educational institutions should provide their students with both horizontal and vertical support. Whereas the latter implies developing an honor code, comprising models and standards of ethical behavior, horizontal support can be explained as an environment where students show a good example to each other, thus underlining the unethical nature of cheating. One possible way to bring this idea to life is to establish honor councils, where students can take responsibility for spreading integrity within their institution.
  3. Using thoughtful language. There is a significant difference between praising a student for great results and their efforts. The former focuses on performance and may stimulate students to cheat while they are trying to meet teachers’ high expectations. The latter, in contrast, serves as a stimulus for further progress. Thus, it’s recommended to use phrases based on the formula “praise for achievement/effort + note what could be done better”.
  4. Reduce student overload. As mentioned before, students are more likely to cheat when they don’t have enough time to get into the details of a subject. Therefore, teachers should analyze their program to spot repetitive homework assignments, excessive tests, etc.

What Can Administrators and Faculty Do to Help?

When a student is found guilty of cheating, the most important thing administrators should do is find out the reasons for such behavior. It is not always about laziness and poor time management. The causes could be hidden much deeper and concern the personal life of a student. Thus, faculty members and administrators are advised to consider each unethical act more individually, not being afraid to ask questions. This will help them not only prevent further academic dishonesty within their institution, but also form a strong bond between authority figures and students.


Academic cheating is a serious challenge for modern society. However, should only the students be blamed? There are many reasons why they decide to break the honor code, but many of these unethical acts could be prevented if the faculty were more responsive, flexible, and paid more attention to student voices.

Once having decided to reduce academic dishonesty, one of the most important things you need to do is to analyze the teaching program and learning load. What’s more, think of ways to encourage collaborative community and build the relationship between students and administrators. Last but not least, develop a strong academic culture, thus forming a base for academic integrity and a high reputation for your educational institution.


What are the reasons why students cheat?

There are many reasons why students decide to cheat. One of the most common is pressure to succeed. That means that to get better grades and stand out among their peers, students are ready to behave unethically. Other causes include poor time management, laziness, academic overload, lack of interest in a particular subject, and others.

Why do students cheat? Cause and effect

Academic cheating has become an integral part of our life. Students cheat because they don’t like the subject, they don’t have enough time to complete all their assignments, or they don’t want to lag behind their cheating peers who boast of better grades. However, even if in the short term, students don’t usually find any drawbacks to such behavior, in the future it can lead them to significant consequences such as lost career opportunities, low self-esteem due to constant remorse, etc.

In what ways do students cheat?

Students can cheat in numerous ways. One of the most widespread is plagiarism, meaning that the work of other people is used without their agreement. Students often copy some ideas on the internet and paste them into their paperwork without citation. Another popular form of cheating implies using any type of information or device that is not allowed during an exam or other type of assignment, for example, phones, calculators, personal notes, etc.