Who Cheats

MYTH: Everybody cheats. We’ve all heard about the studies across North America bemoaning the fact that a large percentage of high school and University students cheat. 

Here are some of the real facts about who cheats: 

FACT: Many of the behaviours on the cheating surveys that students report to engage in are things that they don’t consider to be serious cheating, like collaborating on homework assignments or asking for exam questions from their friends. A smaller percentage reported cheating on tests or buying papers from the Internet, and most students consider those things to be serious cheating (and unacceptable). They may have done it only once or more than once in their academic careers. What this tells us is that students are taking shortcuts, but not necessarily that they are always engaging in dishonest behaviour. They may be working together because they feel they learn better that way, or they may ask about the exam questions because they believe it’s a fair way to focus their studying. The point is, when students feel like everyone is cheating but them, it's simply not true. And when students understand the expectations of them, they are less likely to break the rules. Read your syllabus, ask your professor, and understand the Code of Student Behaviour so you know what is allowed and what isn't. Don't assume that something is allowed just because no one has said otherwise. 

FACT: High school students report more cheating behaviours than post-secondary students. It seems that once students get into University, they are more likely to take their education seriously. They may attend high school because they have to, but they attend university because they want to and that encourages more students to put in the time and actually learn rather than just getting the grade. 

FACT: Not everyone defines cheating and plagiarism in exactly the same way. The University of Alberta uses the definitions outlined in the Code of Student Behaviour to ensure that everyone is held to exactly the same standard, no matter what they learned about plagiarism or cheating before coming here.

FACT: Many of the cases of plagiarism at the University of Alberta are a result of not understanding how to properly acknowledge sources or poor organizational skills rather than an attempt to commit academic fraud. The percentage of students charged with intentional, serious plagiarism is relatively low. Check out our 10 Ways to Write Papers without Plagiarism for tips on how to avoid unintentional plagiarism.


Christensen Hughes, J.M. & McCabe, D.L. (2006). Academic Misconduct within Higher Education in Canada. Canadian Journal of Higher Education, 36(2), 1-21.