You Decide. Is It Cheating or Clever Studying for Tests?

Look at the following scenarios. As you read through the list, make a mental vote for each one. Is it cheating? Vote yes, no, or it depends. Consider sharing one or more of your thoughts in the comment area.

  1. A student finds a publicly posted version of the unit test online and studies from it.
  2. A student find a free collection of answers to questions in a textbook test bank, and uses that to study for the test.
  3. A student pays a fee for membership to a web site that posts answers to text bank questions for textbooks, using it to study for tests in one or more classes.
  4. A student has a friend who took the class before, so he/she interviews that friend to get tips on what to look for on the test.
  5. A student hires a tutor to help study for a test (I realize most would not consider this cheating, but I include it to set up for the next two).
  6. A student hires a tutor to help study for a test. The tutor subscribes to a web site with answers to textbook test bank questions to use as a resource in tutoring the student.
  7. A student hires a tutor who took the class before (and has copies of the old tests) to help study for a test.
  8. A student buys an instructor copy of a course textbook to gain access to the test bank.
  9. A student uses copies of old tests from the same class to study for a test.
  10. A student uses copies of old tests from the same class to study for an open-book test.
  11. A student steals a copy of the test and studies from it before test day.

Here is my concern with many of these scenarios. There are contexts in which most of these are considered cheating, and others where the instructor is alright with them. In addition, most academic integrity policies do not explicitly address these types of nuanced situations. Context is important. What is considered acceptable in one class is defined as cheating in another. This is often true even when there is a school academic integrity policy.

So, how do we deal with this? I suggest three great places to start.

1. Create Better Assessments

The best way is to create new types of assessments, to be more creative in how we go about tests and measurements in learning organizations. Look at test banks from publishers and you will often see poorly written and often confusing questions. Well-trained educators can usually create better tests on their own.

2. Revisit Grade-Focused Teaching and Learning

Our ultimate goal is to ensure that students maximize their learning, not that they earn a specific grade on a test or quiz. As long as we persist in making courses and school about earning grades, and not about learning new knowledge and skill, we will continue to run into these conundrums. Or, the other option is to create a massively detailed list to do’s and don’ts, but who wants to enforce such a thing and how would they do it?

3. Teach about Academic Integrity and Dishonesty

The reality is that the connected world is changing the way we think about teaching, learning, studying, sharing, collaborating, and cooperating. We live in a world of crowd-sourced knowledge generation, and this impacts how people think about issues like academic integrity. If you were teaching a group of students and gave them a quiz with the 11 statements above, I guarantee you that there would not be consensus on whether each constitutes cheating. At minimum, this means that we need to be more explicit and intentional in teaching about our expectations and the overall concept of academic integrity and academic dishonesty.

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About Bernard Bull

Dr. Bernard Bull is an author, host of the MoonshotEdu Show, professor of education, AVP of Academics, and Chief Innovation officer. Some of his books include Missional Moonshots: Insights and Inspiration for Educational Innovation, What Really Matters: Ten Critical Issues in Contemporary Education, The Pedagogy of Faith (editor), and Adventures in Self-Directed Learning. He is passionate about futures in education, educational innovation, alternative education, and nurturing agency and curiosity.

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