Cheating on an exam: who does it, how they do it, why they do it, how they get away with it, and the consequences

Cheating on an exam: who does it, how they do it, why they do it, how they get away with it, and the consequences

Smuggling a phone into an examination hall, or writing an essay on your legs? It may be tempting, but any student who cheats on a test is jeopardising their reputation, honour and future

We have all asked ourselves this question: can I get away with something without any cost, backlash or consequences?

With rapid advances in technology it is easier to get away with cheating at school compared to decades ago. We learnt from students that pulling off some of the classic methods of cheating are quite easy. These include placing notes inside a pencil case, typing notes onto calculators or leaving engraved text on blank sheets of paper.

Some of the more extreme and absurd methods we have gathered from students and teachers include communication with friends using a hidden earpiece, being “excused” to the bathroom to study notes and even going to the cubicles to recover previously hidden notes. All these methods of cheating are highly irresponsible and should not be tolerated or endorsed in any exam or test.


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A student who wants to stay anonymous has more on the technique of the clothing cheat method. As a non-native Chinese speaker, he wasn’t confident when learning Chinese. He thought the “anxiety of cheating would equalise with the happiness of getting a higher grade”. Therefore, he wrote an entire essay of Chinese characters on his legs.

He explains: “The trick is to write all the precious information on your thighs and use your shorts to cover your tracks. If a teacher comes too close, just cross your legs and pretend to be in deep thinking mode. When the coast is clear, roll up your shorts, stare down at your crotch and wait for the answers to dribble from your eyes to your test paper.”

However, he felt guilty for his actions and “would never do it again” as he came dangerously close to being caught.

The student was aware of the terrible consequences that would arise from cheating but still continued to cheat.


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The principal of Renaissance College, Dr Harry Brown, says: “Students would generally be punished by the IBO [International Baccalaureate Organisation] if they’re caught cheating in their IB diploma work. Students who cheat during their final school years also put their diploma and future in jeopardy.” He adds: “It is not worth the risk of jeopardising one’s reputation and honour for a better academic grade.”

Dr Brown’s 25 years of experience in the field of education have given him deep insights into cheating.

“Most people who resort to cheating are afraid of failure and aren’t confident about their ability to perform, either because they are unprepared or because they lack confidence in what they are being tested or assessed on,” he says. “There is also research that would suggest that the higher the stakes for the exam, the more likely someone might be tempted to cheat.”

Cheating is surprisingly prevalent at schools in Hong Kong and all over the world. One survey conducted by management professors Donald McCabe and Linda Klebe Treviño revealed around three quarters of 1,800 students at nine universities admitted to cheating on tests or written assignments. Moreover, according to statistics from the 2013 HKDSE examinations, there were 976 penalty cases made against students for breaching examination regulations. The penalties include mild mark reductions imposed on 907 candidates, subject downgrades imposed on 42 candidates and zero marks imposed on 26 candidates.


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Neuroscientist R. Grant Steen studied 2,000 rejected scientific papers and found that the majority of these papers came from research misconduct. It was concluded that sources of dishonesty stemmed from situations in which people could lose their money, reputation or career. This can be linked to the increasing pressures of competition for research grants and academic jobs.

Similarly, students will experience the urge to cheat when the pressure is on. “There will be a temptation to try and cheat, any time there is a high stake with a test, whether the pressure is from parents or the students themselves,” says Dr Brown. Students generally want to meet their parents’ academic expectations. When the bar is set too high for students, they may resort to the dark path of cheating.

As the core university entrance examinations, the HKDSE, IGCSE or IB exams will determine your university choices, career path and future. The length of your route to success is very dependent on these exams. Gambling with your future by cheating is playing with fire. Low marks acquired from cheating will haunt you in the future.

Edited by Pete Spurrier

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
On your marks

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