Somewhere in the middle of May 2016, I made the decision to cheat on one of my exams. It wasn’t a hard exam - I was pretty knowledgeable about the subject, and had an adequate amount of time to study (at least compared to other Hong Kong students). I knew of the consequences that could come from getting caught. Yet that didn’t stop me from “accidentally” putting my phone inside my skirt as I walked into the examination room.
Cheating during an exam has its good, bad and ugly sides. To me, it had been a simple comparison - a pull between the admiration and self-satisfaction of a good grade, or the feeling of nerves I knew I would get until my grade was handed to me. Psychologist and economist George Lowenstein set out a formula in 1996, stating that people often “weigh the benefits of the unethical action against the costs of committing it, and decide accordingly”. We put our own factors into a list of positives and negatives, and just like that, our decision is made.
What I failed to remember was that there were more factors involved than just myself. When you cheat, you not only impact your current self. You affect your teachers, your fellow students, your school, your parents and, most importantly, your own future. At the time of the event, you might feel a kind of rush - but be sure not to confuse the rush for panic. It’s most likely exhilaration, the feeling of defying what society has taught you to do, disobeying the “rules” that have been put in place for you. We forget that the rules are most often put there for the benefit of our adolescent mindsets.
When I told my friends of my endeavour, they responded in various ways. Some were ecstatic, telling me that they were proud, that I was “badass” for not getting caught. Some were more disappointed, telling me that I shouldn’t have defrauded their test, that my current grades weren’t important enough to risk my entire education for.
As any other student would, I decided to listen to those giving me positive feedback. The stigma and negative connotation of cheating has significantly lessened due to our generation’s capabilities in communication, being able to learn and adapt from others’ failures or experiences. The balance between social disapproval and increased competition in school grades and admissions has a significant tilt, leading to more students admitting to cheating without guilt or self-condemnation.
Most students believe that their own individual honesty doesn’t affect anyone else’s. The selfishness we all carry blinds us from the obvious truth - it affects all our friends, our fellow students and our entire education system. When a single student cheats, it leads to a chain reaction. More students will cheat, as they believe that they are at a disadvantage during a test. Those who don’t cheat (usually those who already have a higher grade average) will have less chance of achieving higher grades than cheaters, but this will still lead to an overall increase in grades due to the imbalance in grade average. This causes the education board to believe that there must be an increase in the general educational level, leading to harder and harder exams - leading to an entirely corrupt education system.
The self-doubt I carried around with me inevitably put me on a long, spiralling road of guilt. I felt like I had ruined any chance of ever being able to do a clean exam, having fooled myself into believing that a higher grade was more important than any integrity I held. A major wake-up call came when a close friend was caught cheating (after the exam, which only increased my anxiety), and was required to redo the test. It will forever stain his academic record. The reality of the situation hit me - the smallest choices you make can send your life twisting and turning, deeper and deeper into the black hole of wrong decisions.
Do I regret cheating? Yes. Would I do it again? In my current situation, the consequences of cheating haven’t really been put in motion just yet. Cheating is like a drug - it seems amazing at the time, surpassing anything you could have imagined. Yet after the high is over, and the drug turns out to have caused even more harm to your body, you realise that it has left you tainted, and broken the barrier between right and wrong. Every time you cheat in a big or small exam, it only causes more harm. The false happiness you get from a higher grade, your parents’ approval or popularity among your peers is not enough to counter the feeling of despair. Cheating yourself of a future isn’t worth it.