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Why Do Students Cheat?

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Professor Anderman’s research shows that eighty-five percent of students have cheated in high school; this drastic number exists due to the fact that students want to attend excellent colleges. The competitive high school environment has constant pressure to succeed; therefore, thus, many students depend on cheating in order to receive the grades that he or she desires. Because cheating has become an ordinary resolution for many students, more and more students do so every day, mimicking the action of their peers. Unfortunately, the eighty-five percent of students who cheat would prefer a higher score than the chance to grow as a learner. All of the cheating boils down to one simple concept: college acceptances.
To begin, students cheat in order to get accepted to the college of their choice. As Kolker explains, students believe that, “College, more than ever, determines success.” As a high school student in 2013, one will constantly hear other students saying, “I need to get into a top college, my whole future depends on it!” and “Oh man, I didn’t do well on that test, now I am not going to get into college.” In this day and age, teenagers have a mind-set that they only attend high school in order to be accepted into a prestigious college, rather than learning and developing as a student. These students only think about what they must do in order for top colleges to choose them; thus, if cheating is the answer, they will cheat to receive the better grade. Anderman’s research discovered that, “The most impulsive cheaters cheated less often when they believed the point of the test was to help them master the material, not just get a score.” This concept is seen in an AP Calculus class of high school juniors and seniors. The teacher has a policy that quizzes are not factored into the student’s grade; however, tests are a very important factor for the student’s grade. The quizzes are designed to help the students learn, while the tests are designed to test the student’s abilities by receiving a score. In this situation, when there is an upcoming quiz, many students are very lackadaisical and rarely study for the assessment. Conversely, on a test day, the calculus students run around frantically trying to receive questions and answers from students who have already taken the same test, a prime example of cheating. Thus, this proves that students cheat in order to receive a high grade, as they don’t cheat for a quiz that does not determine their final grade.

The next criminal in this cheating era is the SAT. Eshagoff, a student who participated in the Long Island SAT scandal, stated, “By giving him an amazing score, I totally give him ... a new lease on life,” proving that students view the SAT as determining their future. Evidentially, something in this system is corrupt when one test is what determines whether or not a boy receives a “new lease on life.” It is this idea that causes drastic cheating rings. Students believe that their entire life is predestined to failure if they do not succeed on major tests; therefore, they resort to cheating. This relates to Anderman’s theory that, “If everything is always high-stakes, you’re going to create an environment conducive to cheating.” It is very tempting for a student with awful grades to cheat because he or she knows that he or she has an opportunity to receive an exemplary score on the SAT. This student would consider the fact that without cheating, he or she would most likely go to a below average college which some students view as unacceptable in this college dominating culture, where everyone links the rest of their life to the college they attend. This is why the vast cheating rings occur, such as the Long Island SAT scandal: to enhance ones chances of going to a better college.
Unfortunately, cheating will continue as long as it is the social norm. Dan Airley, a Duke social scientist, explains that students are more likely to cheat if everyone else is cheating as well. He explains, “There is right and wrong, and there is what people around us tell us is right and wrong. The people around us are often more powerful.” If many students are clearly cheating while taking a test, the chances that other students will cheat too increase greatly. This is demonstrated through the Carnegie Mellon experiment, where actors were hired to portray cheating students to see how the actual students would respond. The variable was that in one room, the actor was wearing University of Pittsburgh apparel. However, in the other room, the actor was wearing Carnegie Mellon apparel. The study resulted in more students cheating in the room with the University of Pittsburgh actor than in the room with the Carnegie Mellon actor. This is due to Airley’s idea that, “The people around us are often more powerful.” The Carnegie Mellon students are apart of a community with the Carnegie Mellon “student” who cheated; consequently, they viewed it as acceptable to cheat because their fellow classmate was cheating. Yet, the University of Pittsburgh “student” is an outsider and as a result, the other students do not associate themselves with him; thus, fewer students follow his academic dishonest actions. Airley used an excellent analogy to relate this scenario with speeding on the road. He states, “There’s a speed limit, but you see people around you driving at a certain speed, and you get used to it pretty quickly.” As Airley explains, it is significantly easier to do something that is obviously immoral when everyone else is participating too.
The pressure to succeed in high school in order to attend a prestigious university produces an environment where cheating is somewhat acceptable, enough that eighty-five percent of students have admitted to cheating before. This is a never-ending chain, as cheating becomes tolerable to students once everyone else is participating in this unjust act. The preconceived notion that all that matters in a teenager’s life is the colleges they are accepted to has developed a culture in which being academically dishonest has become the standard. Whether it is creating a texting group to distribute test questions and answers, asking friends for help on a test that they already took, or having someone else take the SAT for you, cheating has become an everyday part of high school life. In American culture, a college acceptance letter is far more important to a student than his or her dignity and honesty, something that must change within our society.

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