Cheating

Cheating

Cheating has seemingly become an everyday phenomenon in exam
situations at most of Hungarian universities. Almost every student prepares
for the examinations making handy little bits of paper, contemplating on
where to sit and, during the exam itself, the most sophisticated even use
their mobile phones to surmount the numerous gaps in their knowledge. Day
after day in the exam period stories such as the following circulate in the
corridors of the School of English and American Studies, as well as other
faculties of ELTE and other unniversities in our country. It may seem
surprising, but the story is not fiction, in fact, a student at ELTE told
it to HVG last year. ‘I always elaborate on all the possible topics at home
and write them down on A/4 sheets of paper. My special ‘examination suit’
has an A/4 size pocket. I always put the sheets into it, and, at the
examination I wait until the topic of the essay is given out, then pick the
right sheet in my pocket, and hand thhat one in.’ 2.1. Research Questions Is
cheating really such an everyday phenomenon as it appears to be? Is
cheating so easy to manage? What about morals? 3.1. Theoretical Background
Brown, Earlam and Race reported in their practical handbook for teachers
that ‘Sitting written exams is on

ne of the most stressful parts of life for
many pupils’ (p. 44). The book also suggests that if candidates get away
with cheating, it is going to be regarded as the teacher’s fault. Most
teachers feel uncomfortable when encountering cheating and they do not
think it is their task to prevent pupils from doing it. At least, they try
to minimise the possibilities by telling students to leave their bags
someplace far from the desks, and before starting the exam they are
reminded to double check that they have nothing on their person that could
be interpreted as a crib (Brown, Earlam & Race, 1995, p. 44). But there are
always a few who take the risk. ‘Better safe than sorry!’ – say students
afraid of not knowing one single answer to the exxam questions. This is why
they invented their own means, the ‘illicit aid’, as termed by teachers:
the cheat-sheet. Students know hundreds of methods to avoid spending long
hours preparing for examinations and tests. Of these, everyone can choose
the one which best suits his cheating skills and of course the aim.
Cheating, in general, begins at senior primary school. The most widespread
methods at this age are hiding small bits of paper (which contain all
relevant information) in their pockets, under the question sheet or into
their pe
encil cases, and writing things on their palms. The creation of the
small sheets is quite time (and patience-) –consuming as kids do not use
computers to design these pieces. Writing on one’s hands is risky as there
is no way to remove the text when the teacher approaches suspiciously. As
you can see now, these methods are quite elementary, easy to discover and,
in fact, mostly done to amaze classmates rather than instead of learning.
The next age group, 14-18 years old, uses more sophisticated methods.
Modern technology is often of great help to the secondary school student:
the computer edited A4 page can be reproduced on a much smaller scale.
Experts on the topic say that the smallest font legible to the students’
eyes is the 3 pt size. The laziest do not bother with typing, they simply
photocopy the book at about 8 pages / A4 rate and cut the pages apart.
University students prefer the ‘previously-written-essay method’, which is
often much more dangerous than the others, that is why they use those as
well. Everyone tries cheating once. After that, he decides whether it is
worth it or not (Réka & Bunny, 1999). In September 1996 a research was
carried out at the University of Economics (BKE), Budapest for personal
purposes under the co-ordination of G. Vass (personal consultation, Ma
arch
3, 2000). A small group was interested in students’ opinion about honesty.
Similar to us, the research group used a questionnaire as a measuring
instrument, which had, beside 45 others, 5 questions about cheating at
university examinations. They asked about 100 participants from different
faculties to fill the questionnaire. However astonishing the results were,
the research has not been published in any way. The first two questions on
the topic had four possible answers: ‘Always’, ‘Often’, ‘Sometimes’ and
‘Never’. The first question concerning cheating was the most obvious one,
‘Do you cheat in exam situations?’. The results showed that the vast
majority of the participants were ‘regular cheaters’, in fact, 12% said
‘Always’, 53.5% ‘Often’, 26% ‘Sometimes’ and a strikingly low 6.5%
proportion said ‘Never’. It must be noted, though, that cheating was
defined as ‘making use of any source of information apart from the
student’s own mind’. The second question of their questionnaire was ‘Do you
get caught cheating?’. The answers partly explain the results of the first
question. Most of the students never get caught, the risks are minimal, ‘So
why not?’ – said youths at the University of Economics – ‘It’s much more
convenient than learning.’. Table 1.a – Questions and results of the 1996
research at BKE Question Always Often Sometimes Never Do you cheat in exam
situations? 12% 53.5% 26% 6.5% Do you get caught cheating? 0% 5% 18% 77%
The following three we
ere Yes/No questions focused on the fact that cheating
is something dishonest, something that should not be done, a fact which
they ought to be aware of. They were, as it was clearly shown by the
answers to the questions ‘Can you be proud of a mark which is the result of
cheating?’, ‘Do you feel uncomfortable when cheating?’ and ‘Would you say
that cheating is a ‘normal’ way of passing exams?’ (The answers given to
these questions are summarised in Table 1.b below.) Table 1.b – More
questions and results of the 1996 survey at BKE Question Yes No Can you be
proud of a mark which is the result of cheating? 8% 82% Do you feel
uncomfortable when cheating? 62% 38% Would you say that cheating is a
‘normal’ way of passing exams? 27% 73% The overall conclusion of this
survey was that students at the University of Economics are not as honest
as one would expect educated people to be but they are at least aware of
it. Another fact may be of some significance concerning the topic of our
research. It is the fact that Western European and U.S. Universities are
not experiencing the problem of cheating as a problem at all. Of course,
their students do cheat sometimes, but so few of them and so seldom that it
cannot be considered ‘general’. A quick survey of only one simple question
shows that, for example, at the Utrecht University only 3 out of 50
students would risk cheating at an exam (personal consultation with Tobias
Kulka, March 6, 2000). Much the same is the situation at the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology (MIT). Of the 20 students asked only one person
answered that he does cheat sometimes at examinations (personal
consultation with Sarah Thomson, March 2, 2000). Unfortunately, the
question ‘How can you manage so well without cheating?’ was not asked
either in Utrecht or in Massachusetts – in fact, Hungarian students might
have made good use of the answers for that. 4. Method 4.1. Participants As
our research group was interested in the opinions of students as well as
teachers, so there were two target groups of the survey. On the on hand,
the students at ELTE – SEAS irrespective of what year they are or whether
they are students at the Dept. of American Studies, the Centre for English
Teacher Training or the Dept. of English Studies. On the other hand, there
were the teachers at these departments. The only criterion was that every
participant should have taken part in some examination at SEAS. All in all,
40 people took part in the survey, 12 teachers and 28 students. It is a
relatively low proportion of the total number of teachers and students;
therefore it cannot be considered a representative research. 4.2. Measuring
Instrument As a measuring instrument our research group chose the
questionnaire. Some features of this instrument are of great importance
when dealing with a question of such great nicety as the one when a person
has to provide information about his own uprightness. One of these features
is anonymity, which obviously facilitates being sincere, and another one is
the time factor. Using a questionnaire requires much less time than any
other method in research. More people can answer the questions at a time,
and participants can take their time answering the questions. If someone
wants to, he can take the questionnaire home to fill it at a later time and
then give it back. This also promotes honesty: it is always easier to be
honest when nobody is paying attention. An interviewee asking the same
questions in person would have resulted in completely different results, as
participants would have answered affected by public opinion. Two
questionnaires were used for data collection; both are included in the
Appendix section. The two variants, the Students’ Questionnaire and the
Teachers’ Questionnaire share many features. In fact, the only difference
between the two is that four questions that do not refer to teachers were
left out and replaced by others. Both versions consist of ten questions.
Four of them are yes/no items including sometimes an ‘I cannot decide’
option; there are some questions referring to frequency or proportion, and
one multiple-choice question. The last item of both variants is an open-
ended question where a short (five-line) answer was expected but, in fact,
only 3 of the participants answered that one. Apart from this drawback,
choosing the questionnaire as our measuring instrument was a good choice.
(See Appendix A & B for the two questionnaires.) 4.3. Procedures of data
collection We began data collection with the students. They were all very
helpful and enthusiastic; no one refused filling in the questionnaire
because, as one of them told us afterwards, ‘it took only about five
minutes and when I saw the topic I got curious’. It took only two days to
collect the 28 questionnaires. The situation with teachers was quite
different. It was rather difficult to find them and they were not as
helpful as students. I cannot believe that they do not have five minutes to
fill in such a questionnaire. Most of them were mannerly, though, they took
one and promised to bring it back later. But this way out of the 20
questionnaires we distributed we got only two back. We managed to collect
the other 10 by standing beside them while they filled it. It was rather
surprising that generally about 15% of the teachers had the willingness to
help us in this research. 4.4. Procedures of data analysis Apart from
summarising the collected data and reckoning the percentages, there were
some interesting results that we further analysed. In some cases teachers’
and students’ general opinion was much the same, in others they were in
contrast. These cases required further analysis, the results of which shall
be discussed in the next chapter. 5. Results and discussion 5.1. What is
cheating? Why do students do it? Question 1. – How detailed is the material
students have to learn for a SEAS examination? One participant told us, ‘I
only cheat when the material is too detailed. Dates and other small details
are rather hard to memorise and quite easy to confuse. Stress mixes me up.’
The aim of the first question was to find out whether the students think
they have the argument ‘material is too detailed’ as a bogus excuse for
cheating. The teachers’ questionnaire included this question as well to
check if there is a contrast between the two opinions. It occurs sometimes
that teachers do not realise how much they overload students; this often
abets cheating. But that does not seem to be the case at the SEAS. In fact,
the responses of the two groups are quite parallel. Most of both students
(68%) and teachers (59%) told us that what students have to learn is ‘quite
detailed’, and only one teacher and three students think the material is
‘very detailed indeed’. The only significant difference between answers’ of
the students that no student chose ‘not detailed at all’ which was the
opinion of only one teacher, and, the answer ‘very detailed indeed’ was
chosen by only 11% of the students and no teacher. (See Diagrams 1/ Student
& 1/ Teacher below.) Question 2. – What is cheating? Everyone thinks about
cheating differently, according to their values. Some consider every little
thing illegal, even ‘looking at the neighbour’s paper’, which I cannot
accept. It is a psychological fact that a person is not able to look in the
same direction for hours. Looking at the neighbour’s paper not always
serves ‘cheating purposes’. Some argue that it is just a compulsive
movement of the eye because it is not used to situations when part of its
field of sight is visible but should not be focused on. However, this
activity is considered cheating by most participants (77%). The most
controversial result was that more than 60% of the students said ‘asking a
neighbour a question’ is not cheating but taking a look at his sheet is.
‘Using a pre-designed cheat-sheet’ is considered cheating by all
participants. But it is also a good way of preparing. If one has written a
cheat-sheet he has half learned the material. The rest of the results are
represented in Diagrams 2/ Student and 2/ Teacher below. 5.2. Is cheating
an everyday phenomenon? Question 3 – How many cheat? The third question
referred to the proportion of cheaters at an average written examination.
Exactly it was ‘Imagine a written examination where 100 students take part.
How many of them would you expect to do any of the activities mentioned in
the previous question?’ There were six possible choices: ‘no one’; 0-25; 26-
50; 51-75, 75-99 and ‘all of them’. In this question the teachers were much
more optimistic about the possible proportion of cheaters. The vast
majority estimated the average number of them between 0 and 25.
Nevertheless, the students’ opinion may be closer to reality as they are
the ones who ‘live’ it. Many of them (43%) said 26-50, but 76-99 was also
estimated by 25%. The other three variations were less frequent. This
difference between the teachers’ and the students’ estimation can be
accounted for in two ways, One possible explanation is that teachers are
naive or they just do not see people cheating; the other is a bit more
complicated. A story about a lucky cheating goes round the corridors of the
building, changes several times. When somebody was not cheating, that is
not a story. Much is heard of cheaters; this might explain why students
think more people are cheating at examinations. (See Diagrams 3/ Student &
3/ Teacher below.) Question 4.a – How often do YOU cheat? (Included in
Students’ Questionnaire only) In this question we tried to check how
realistic the estimations of students were about the proportions; this
required some mathematics. A student has an average of three written
examinations per semester. Lets say that people who never cheat (I do not
believe such a person exists) cheat on no exam out of the three. The people
who said ‘seldom’ do it once, and those who told us ‘quite often’ do it two
times. Nobody said that he always cheats but that is also relative. If 11%
cheats on one exam and 75% on two exams out of three, that means on an
average exam one third of the 11% (which is 3.7%) and two thirds of the 75%
(which is 50%) cheat. That makes a total of 53.7%, which means that the
students were closer to reality when estimating the number, not the
teachers. But this also suggests that the gap between the teachers’
estimations and reality, which is at least 28.5%, are those who cheat
unnoticed. Further analysis reveals that more than half (53%) of the
cheaters remain unnoticed. 5.3. Is it easy to cheat? Question 4.b – When
you were a student, did YOU do any of the activities listed in 2) above?
(Included in Teachers’ Questionnaire only) It seems, according to the
teachers’ answers, that decades ago cheating was a much less common
phenomenon than it is today. Only ‘looking at a neighbours’ paper was
something most students (83%) done. Using pre-designed cheat-sheets was not
a possible method for the students at that time. There was only one teacher
who admitted using one. For the results see Diagram 4.b/ Teacher. Question
5.a – Would YOU do any of the activities listed in 2) above? (Included in
Students’ Questionnaire only) Looking at the neighbour’s paper is the most
common method which students use. 71% said they would do it when in need.
Asking a neighbour a question is less common, but still many students (60%)
risk it; the third most popular method, which is used by 46%, is the pre-
designed cheat-sheet. This suggests that students consider ‘looking at the
neighbours’ papers’ the least risky. Question 5.b reveals that teachers see
this differently. Question 5.b – Which one of the above could a student
actually do? (Included in Teachers’ Questionnaire only) Teachers estimated
that 92% of students could use a pre-designed cheat-sheet; 83% could look
at the neighbour’s paper and 67% ask a neighbour a question, which means
that students consider some of the methods less risky. Teachers think that
the situation today is best for the cheat-sheets instead of looking at the
neighbour’s paper. Maybe youths should change their methods according to
these results. See diagram 5.b/ Teacher. Question 6.a – Do you think any of
those activities are accepted by teaches in general? (Included in Students’
Questionnaire only) There is a common opinion among students that there are
some teachers who think cheating is the attribute of examinations. In fact,
there are teachers in every school who pretend they have not noticed
anything and students do whatever they want to. They do not do anything to
prevent cheating. Question 6. in the Students’ Questionnaire refers to this
problem, and the results are rather interesting. The answers show that
students are still ‘afraid of’ being caught. Only 43% said that there are
some teachers who might accept looking at the neighbour’s paper. More-
evidently-cheating methods have really low percentages such as 7% and 10%.
Consequently, if the students still fear, the situation may not be so bad.
Question 6.b – How often, in exam situations, do you encounter cases when
teachers overlook cheating? (Included in Teachers’ Questionnaire only) The
aim of this question was finding out teachers’ opinion of their colleagues.
Surprisingly, most teachers (59%) claimed that they face such situations
quite often. But, as you will see in question 7. (See diagram 7.b/
Teacher.), only one third of these people admitted doing it ‘quite often’.
It does not seem very likely that they lied about their experience;
instead, they might not have been honest about their own behaviour. (See
diagram 6.b/ Teacher.) Every teacher faces situations when he knows one’s
reasons for cheating and understands them or he simply does not care and
lets students do it. The easy way to account for this is obviously by
saying ‘they cannot cheat me, only themselves’. Theoretically it is right
but what about morals? This behaviour on the part of the teacher often
results in students thinking cheating is the way. They will never learn it
this is not the method to cope and will go out into ‘real life’ in the
belief that cheating is a normal and accepted way of solving problems.
Question 7.a – How often so students see teachers overlooking cheating?
(Included in Students’ Questionnaire only) It is interesting to note here
that students are rather critical concerning this question. He, who has
once been caught, will remember every other case when someone else is
caught and thinks of the problem differently from others. Most students
(68%) said that teachers are seldom so generous, generally they punish the
cheater instead of ‘not noticing him’. (See Diagram 7.a/ Student.) Question
8. – Why do you think students cheat? Strikingly, answering this question,
all except for two students admitted that ‘They are too lazy to learn
everything for an examination’, which was in fact the opinion of every
teacher. Many students also chose ‘They have to many examinations’ and
‘They have too much to learn for one particular examination’ but the
majority was honest enough to us and also to themselves that the case is
simpler than anyone would expect it to be. Being lazy is not the teachers’
fault; it is something isolated from any other factors, and also maybe the
only thing that depends entirely on the student himself. 5.4. What about
morals? Question 9. – Do you think cheating is sin? It is not surprising
that all teachers, except one, claimed cheating is sin. Students regard
this question differently, which indeed causes some controversy. We argued
in the previous questions that students are generally afraid of getting
caught cheating, which is, psychologically speaking, an indication that
they are aware of its being bad. But if they know it, why then do they say
that it is not sin? Majority of the students say so, as Diagram 9.a/
Student below indicates. 6. Conclusion The aim of this research was to find
out how widespread cheating in the School of English and American Studies
is, and what people think about it. We agreed that the main reason for
cheating are the numerous details in the material. Teachers and students
both think that the material students have to learn for a SEAS examination
is ‘quite detailed’, which suggests that quite many people use such illegal
means as a cheat-sheet in exam situations. 6.1. Is cheating so common as it
seems to be? At an average written examination 53.7% of the participants
use illicit sources such as the neighbour’s paper, which is almost the same
number as the number of those who ‘often’ cheated at the University of
Economics in 1996. Of the cheaters about 28.5% remains unnoticed every
time. 6.2. Do students find cheating difficult? ‘Looking at the neighbour’s
paper’ or asking him a question are the methods, which the majority of the
students would use in exam situations. According to the teachers, the
methods which a student could actually do are ‘using a pre-designed cheat-
sheet’ and ‘looking at the neighbours’ paper’ rather than the others. There
are students who think some teachers do not mind cheating at their exams.
42% of them consider ‘looking at the neighbours’ paper’ is ‘permitted’ by
many teachers. What is more, 59% of the teachers even admitted that they
sometimes do look over cheating. 6.3. What about morals? In the light of
the results discussed above we can say that most of the students do not
think of cheating as sin, whereas teachers do. But neither group seems to
behave according to their opinions. Teachers, 92% of whom believe that
cheating is sin, sometimes pretend not having seen anything and let
students do it. Students in general do not regard cheating as sin but when
they say that there are teachers who allow it, they question teachers’ .
The psychology of the situation is obvious: Students do not want to admit
that what they do is wrong, that is why they say it is not sin but they
feel it inside. It is always more comfortable not to accept morals but form
an opposition against the authorities. Students reinforce each other in the
belief that cheating is really ‘not that bad’, inducing this way a false
idea that makes them feel more comfortable while being aware of doing
something they should not do. This way, students and teachers complement
each other; there is no clash of interests in this case. Students want to
minimise their efforts and choose the easier way; teachers want to avoid
conflicts and walk along as if everything were all right.

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