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 universities 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 that 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 one 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 exam 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 pencil 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, March 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
were 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.

Bibliography

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Appendices: 1. Appendix a – Students’ Questionnaire 2. Appendix b –

Teachers’ Questionnaire