Why do students plagiarize and cheat?

Keep in mind that not every student will cheat, but those who decide to engage in academic misconduct may be doing so because of the educational environment (Lang, 2013).

  1. Concerns about performance
    • An emphasis on grades, accolades, and course requirements rather than on mastery (Brown, 2002).
    • Students are less likely to cheat in courses that emphasize mastery, and are rooted in content that is relevant to the students (Lang, 2013).
  2. Pressure
    • Heavy workload
    • Too many tests or exams in one day
    • Only summative assessment rather than summative and formative assessment (Eberly Centre Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation, 2020)
    • Infrequent, high stakes assessment
    • Course work that seems unreasonably hard or assignments that are too difficult (creates conditions for low self-efficacy or the belief that one will not succeed)
  3. Panic4
  4. Opportunity
    • Instructor left the room during a test or exam
  5. Campus culture
    • The belief that “everyone does it” (Brown, 2002)
    • The belief that dishonest behaviour is morally acceptable in competitive environments, such as university courses (Falk & Szech, 2013)
    • The belief that no one ever gets caught or is punished
    • The appearance that the course or work is repetitive, stale, “busy work”, irrelevant, or a “hoop”


Brown, D. L. (2002). Cheating must be okay — everybody does it! Nurse Educator, 27(1), 6–8.

Eberly Centre Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation. (2020). What is the difference between formative and summative assessment? Retrieved from https://www.cmu.edu/teaching/assessment/basics/formative-summative.html

Falk, A., & Szech, N. (2013). Morals and markets. Science2, 340, 707–711.

Lang, J. M. (2013). Cheating lessons: Learning from academic dishonesty. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

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