If we are going to study cheating as a way to promote a culture of academic honesty and integrity, then it is valuable to agree upon some definitions. This Wikipedia article does an excellence job providing us with some initial definitions for academic cheating, dividing it into eight distinct categories: plagiarism, fabrication, deception, cheating, bribery, sabotage, professional misconduct, and personation.
The purpose of this short article is to offer yet another definition, “successful cheating.” If the goal of cheating is to earn a higher grade, then what is successful cheating? Before answering this question, I should explain that I’m not condoning cheating. I’m simply defining successful cheating in comparison to unsuccessful cheating. I propose a simple working definition for successful cheating that has three important elements. Successful cheating is an academic act that requires minimal effort, entails little to no chance of getting caught and results in a higher grade than one would have earned without cheating.
- It requires minimal effort. If it takes more effort to cheat than it would have to study or complete the assignment, then why cheat? Interestingly, some people invest enormous amounts of time striving to subvert the system, when it would have been much easier to simply complete the assignment or study for the test/quiz.
- There is little to no chance of getting caught. If there is a high risk of getting caught, then the risk is greater than the small chance of being rewarded with a higher grade.
- One’s grade is better than if one had not cheated. Consider the scenario where students plagiarize or buy a paper only to discover that they earned a low or even a failing grade. Chances are that the students could have earned a higher grade with minimal (perhaps close to no) effort.
Again, I’m not arguing that one should cheat or use this as a guide for how well you are cheating. Instead, it is simply a proposed definition for successful cheating. If you have to spend hours on end cheating, then studying or doing the work offers you just as much potential for a good grade. If you have a very high chance of getting caught, then you don’t simply risk a low grade. There may be even more severe consequences. Or, if the cheating doesn’t give you a better chance of getting a higher grade, then why do it?
Of course, all of this misses the arguably larger fact that cheating reduces one’s chance of learning.