Cheating is a major problem on college campuses across the country. About 75 percent of college students admit to cheating in some form. Students use a variety of cheating methods to gain a competitive advantage on their assignments—from using prohibited materials to copying another student's work. Academic institutions are fighting back against these deceitful strategies. In addition to setting up academic integrity policies, universities also invoke strict penalties for students caught cheating.

Defining Cheating

Although academic institutions each have their own academic integrity policies, their definitions of cheating are mostly uniform. Cheating occurs when students attempt to get an academic advantage through dishonest, deceitful, or fraudulent tactics. A common example of cheating involves a student copying another student's work—on exams, homework assignments, and other graded work. For example, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology prohibits the following forms of cheating in their academic integrity handbook:

  • Changing the answers on an exam for a re-grade.
  • Misrepresenting a situation to get an extension.
  • Using prohibited resources during tests or other academic work.
  • Forging a signature on forms, such as permission forms or add/drop forms.
  • Falsifying data, such as claiming to have conducted research done by others.
  • Claiming work of others as your own, including failure to properly cite them.
  • Assisting a student in doing any of the above examples.

Forms of cheating omitted from academic integrity policies are not exempt from punishment. Students caught or suspected of cheating will be investigated for academic misconduct.

Methods of Cheating

There is no shortage of cheating methods that are punishable by universities. In an Academic Dishonesty of Undergraduates: Methods of Cheating, researchers set out to evaluate the trends and strategies of cheating in colleges. They surveyed 186 undergraduates to monitor their cheating behavior on campus. The study found that most students cheat at least occasionally, with a small minority of students being flagrant cheaters.

The most common types of cheating were as follows:

Cheating in the Classroom

The highest proportion of in-classroom cheating was cheating on examinations. Strategies include using “cheat sheets” on tests, stealing tests, and taking exams for classmates. Other in classroom cheating methods include forging names on attendance sheets and falsifying lab data.

Cheating Outside the Classroom

Cheating frequently occurs when students are outside the classroom, such as when they copy another student's homework. Methods include writing a paper for another student, collaborating on assignments without permission, failing to attribute work, or purchasing a paper that someone else wrote.


Plagiarism involves taking credit for someone else's work. Since it is a prevalent form of cheating, schools often have separate policies for dealing with plagiarism. Tactics include stealing material from another source, submitting a paper written by someone else, copying sections of content from sources and deleting the full reference, and paraphrasing material without providing attribution.

Contemporary Methods

Cheating has evolved in recent years with the rise of the internet. Students commonly use technology to gain an unfair advantage. Examples include cheating with the help of the internet, calculators, cell phones, and Personal Data Assistants.

Cheating and Academic Misconduct

Cheating limits an academic institution's ability to assess students fairly. Students who cheat misrepresent their knowledge and skills. Schools strictly forbid cheating as a violation of academic integrity policies. They may charge the student with academic misconduct and invoke sanctions.

Whether or not a student may be punished for cheating depends on if they participated in academic misconduct. Misconduct rules vary from school to school, though it is common to prohibit forms of cheating. The University of Washington's student governance policy defines academic misconduct as:

  • Cheating.
  • Falsification.
  • Plagiarism.
  • Unauthorized collaboration.
  • Engaging in behavior specifically prohibited by an instructor in the course of class instruction or in a course syllabus.
  • Multiple submissions of the same work in separate courses without the express permission of the instructor.
  • Taking deliberate action to destroy or damage another's academic work to gain an advantage.
  • The recording of instructional content without the express permission of the instructor.

School faculty typically report academic misconduct allegations to the dean of the school or college. The dean's representative or board members then take steps to investigate the allegations.

Punishment for Cheating

Since it is a violation of academic integrity, students guilty of cheating face strict sanctions. The punishment depends on the severity and circumstances of cheating. Discipline may result in failure of a course or assignment, probation, suspension, or dismissal from the university. For first time violations, it is common to receive a reprimand or probation. However, a university may impose more serious disciplinary action for repeat offenders.

Students have a right to defend themselves against allegations of cheating. Most universities will conduct an investigation and a hearing to determine if the student violated school policy. It is also common practice for schools to offer the student the right to an advisor for their hearing. The student can select from a number of advisor options—including faculty members, friends, students, and attorneys. In most cases, choosing an attorney as an advisor is the best course of action.

Choosing a Knowledgeable Advisor

It's no secret that universities take academic integrity seriously. Students who violate conduct policies put the school's reputation at risk. As a result, it's common for schools to invoke harsh penalties for academic misconduct—even for first-time defenders.

If you're accused of academic misconduct, it's essential to contact an attorney right away. They will use their knowledge and experience to help you prepare your defense. They will also provide insights about presenting evidence and stating the facts of the incident. Unlike faculty advisors, attorneys will be on your side. They can protect you in case the school infringes upon your rights. If you are found responsible for violating the school's code, they can also guide you on the next steps, such as filing an appeal.

You need experience on your side to fight allegations of academic misconduct. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm have spent many years defending students accused of cheating, plagiarism, unauthorized collaboration, and more. Don't take these allegations lightly—your school certainly won't. Give the Lento Law Firm a call today at (888) 535-3686.

Contact Us Today!

If you, or your student, are facing any kind of disciplinary action, or other negative academic sanction, and are having feelings of uncertainty and anxiety for what the future may hold, contact the Lento Law Firm today, and let us help secure your academic career.

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