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Academic cheating:

frequency, methods, and causes.

Mikaela Björklund and Claes-Göran Wenestam

Åbo Akademi University
Department of Teacher Education,
Vasa, Finland
email: or


Paper presented at the European Conference on Educational Research, Lahti, Finland 22-25 September 1999.


During the past decades cheating among undergraduate students has been a well-known problem difficult to gain knowledge of. European research in this field of research is scarce. The aim of this paper is to present a study, investigating the frequency of cheating, the cheating methods used and the students’ motives for cheating or not cheating in a Swedish-Finnish university context. Comparisons with other higher education contexts were possible since an anonymous questionnaire, worked out and used by Newstead, Franklyn-Stokes and Armstead (1995), was translated into Swedish and used in the study. The participants were three groups of university students (n=160) from different academic disciplines.

The findings implicate that cheating among undergraduates is common and mainly is a problem of ethic character. The paper also discusses consequences of student cheating for the university staff, legislators, and society. Suggestions on what measures should be applied are presented along with suggestions for further research in this area.


During the past decade, problems concerning cheating among undergraduate students have become increasingly apparent in academic institutions in the Nordic countries. Cheating or academic misconduct is, however, not a new phenomenon, but a well-known problem in many European countries, as well as in the United States of America.

Because of the ethical and moral character of the problem it is not easy to do research in this field. Obvious problems are i.e. student integrity. Thus, academic dishonest behaviour and cheating is a familiar problem for any university, but it is often not very well known and sometimes the university authorities do not even want to know of it. Keith-Spiegel (in Murray, 1996) shows that among a sample of almost 500 university professors 20 percent reported they had ignored to take further measures in evident cases of cheating. Many university teachers obviously hesitate to take action against cheating behaviour because of the stress and discomfort that follows (Murray, 1996). Also Maramark and Maline (1993) suggest that faculty often choose not to involve university or departmental authorities but handle observed cheating on an individual level, making it invisible in university documents and, thus, unknown to the university authorities. Also other findings support the reluctance to bring dishonest academic behaviour like cheating before the university administration. Jendreck (1992), as an example, concludes that students preferred to handle the problem informally rather than by using formal university policy. Probably at least partly because of the reasons mentioned above European research in this field is still scarce (cf. Newstead, Franklyn-Stokes & Armstead, 1995 and Ashworth et al., 1997).

Nevertheless, we feel that it is of the utmost importance that this area of research is further developed in the near future, not the least since students tend to see cheating as a more or less normal part of their studies, which is illustrated in the quote below:

Students beliefs that "everyone cheats" (Houston, 1976, p. 301) or that cheating is a normal part of life (Baird, 1980) encourage cheating. The adage "cheaters never win" may not apply in the case of academic dishonesty. With cheating rates as high as 75% to 87% (e.g., Baird, 1980; Jendreck, 1989) and detection rates as low as 1.30% (Haines et al., 1986), academic dishonesty is reinforced, not punished. (Davis, Grover, Becker & McGregor, 1992, p. 17)

With detection rates as low as 1,3 % it is hardly surprising that students to a great extent perceive academic misconduct as worth while and even approved of. As an illustration of the low detection rates; during a five year period (1991-1995) only 24 students were brought to the disciplinary board for cheating at one Swedish university (Grahnström, 1996).

It is, hence, of importance to university staff and administrators, as well as to legislators and society as a whole to gain insight in this matter, in order to be able to do something about it.

The aim of the study

The main aim of the study presented in this paper is to provide a first step in a survey over university students’ cheating, i.e. to investigate the overall frequency, different methods and main reasons for cheating and not cheating among students in a Finnish context. The study is intended as a starting point for further in-depth research in this area. In order to get a better understanding of the problem, the aim is also to relate the outcome to subjects’ backgrounds in terms of sex, age, academic experience (number of study years), faculty belongings, level of difficulty, level of study success and main reason for study at the university, in order to get a deeper understanding of student cheating behaviour.

To make comparisons with other contexts possible an anonymous questionnaire, worked out and used by the British researchers Newstead , Franklyn-Stoked and Armstead (1995), was translated into Swedish and used in the study, which was carried out on 160 university students during the spring of 1996.

I this presentation we focus attention on:

a) the frequency of admitted cheating,

b) what kinds of cheating is most frequent in relation to the British results,

b) the relationship between frequency of admitted cheating/not admitted cheating and sex,

c) the reasons selected for or against cheating in relation to the British results, and

d) the relationship between the reasons selected and sex.

Theoretical introduction

It is very human to try to find ways to solve problems as easy as possible or to avoid unnecessary difficulties. Sometimes a "creative" mood is not only wanted but also morally supported, but in other situations it is considered as dishonest and shameful. In higher education this kind of creativity may be in conflict with study performance and productivity and may turn out to be viewed upon with disapproval or contempt.

How define cheating?

Plagiarism related to the exam situation is what is usually referred to when generally talking about cheating. It is also this kind of behaviour that has received most attention in research on cheating. Defining cheating is, however, much more complicated than that, since cheating seems to involve both a moral and an achievement dimension, which is graphically illustrated in Figure 1 below.

1364g1.gif (1554 bytes)

Figure 1. Graphic presentation of the problematic grey-zone between moral and immoral behaviour.

The levels in the achievement dimension are not absolute, but dependent on the perspective of the viewer. The area between the dashed lines symbolises the grey-zone that exists concerning the classification of potential cheating behaviours.

Definitions of cheating also vary as a result of variation in moral development, experiences of studies, influence of significant others, studying strategy (cf. Miller & Parlett, 1973) and probably also other factors. The result is a wide spectrum of definitions ranging from liberal to conservative. Hence, the need for normative documents is apparent. Evenso they do not seem to exist, at least not in Finland. Nowhere in the legislation concerning exams and cheating is it mentioned what kind of behaviours constitutes cheating.

The examples above illustrate what a complex problem cheating is. In the study presented in this paper all not strictly correct behaviours were classified as cheating for clarity’s sake.

To what extent does cheating occur?

Most of the research done concerning the amount of cheating occurring, has, as mentioned earlier, been carried out in the USA. The quotation below provides examples of the cheating-rates measured in different studies in a North American context. The reader ought to observe that these studies were different in design; concentrated on different behaviours and therefore some of the variation in the percentages might be accounted for in that way, and thus can not only be taken to convey a steadily increasing rate of cheating.

Drake (1941) reported a cheating rate of 23%, whereas Goldsen, Rosenberg, William, and Suchman (1960) reported rates of 38% and 49% for 1952 and 1960, respectively. Hetherington and Feldman (1964) and Baird (1980) reported cheating rates of 64% and 76%, respectively. Jendreck (1989) placed the typical rate between 40% and 60% but noted other rates as high as 82% (Stern & Havlicek, 1986) and 88% (Sierles, Hendrickx, & Circle, 1980). (Davis et al., 1992,s.16)

Davis et al. (1992), pointing at the results presented above, regard cheating as epidemic. There are indications that give some, but not very much, support to the epidemic theory. McCabe and Trevino (1996) found that the tendency to cheat had increased only little, from 63 percent in 1963 to 70 percent in 1990-91 but that the cheating methods had been more developed and the repertoire wider. Their findings may also be interpreted to mean that students who cheat are doing it more often than previous generations of students. Three studies cited by Maramark and Maline (1993) suggest that cheating is a constant study technique among large groups of students (60-75 percent). Also Davis and Ludvigson (1995) found in a more recent study that the individuals who cheat during their university-level studies are the ones that also have cheated earlier in their studies.

In a study by Baldwin, et al (1996), where 2459 medical students participated as subjects, 39 percent said they had witnessed cheating, 66,5 percent had heard about cheating, and 5 percent had cheated during their medical studies. Graham et al (1994) found that among 480 college students 89 percent admitted cheating and in a study by Lord and Chiodo (1995) 83 percent of the undergraduates investigated (n=300) admitted to cheating on significant tests and major projects.

In a European context Newstead et al. (1995) also present high rates of cheating. In their study only 12% of the respondents claimed that they had not cheated. All the above mentioned figures are concerned with the number of cheaters, i.e. the number of students who have at least on one occasion been involved in academic misconduct, they do not tell us anything about to what extent these people do cheat. It is, however, likely that the more cheating is done, the more probable it is that the numbers of behaviours used vary. It is therefore of importance to find out what kind of behaviours students utilise.

What methods are used?

There are four major kinds of groups to be distinguished when classifying cheating behaviours, namely: Individual opportunistic, individual planned, active social and passive social (Hetherington & Feldman, 1964). Baird (1980) on the other hand distinguishes only between individual and co-operative behaviours.

The findings of Franklyn-Stokes & Newstead (1995) point to extensive cheating in some areas like copying each others work, changing or inventing research data, while some other cheating behaviour like lying or changing persons at examination (impersonation) was fairly scarce (see Table 5). Hence, there seems to be a correlation between level of perceived seriousness of the behaviour and its frequency of occurrence – the more serious the behaviour, the less frequent it is. Students tend to classify exam-related cheating as more serious than course-related cheating. These classifications were also confirmed by Newstead et al’s results, where all exam-related items were among the least frequent and course-related items among the most frequent.

McCabe and Trevino summarise their findings in a table showing what kind of cheating and the frequency students admit they are engaged in. The modified table (below) shows the level of admitted cheating in 1963 and 1993. The two tests make a comparison possible.

Table. 2. Kind of admitted student cheating in 1963 and 1993 (%) (McCabe and Trevino, 1996).

  1963 1993 Diff Tendency
Copied from another student 26 52 +26 Increase
Helped another student 23 37 +14 Increase
Used crib notes 16 27 +11 Increase
Written Work        

Copied material without footnoting

49 54 +5 Increase
Plagiarised 30 26 -4   Decrease
Falsify a bibliography 28 29 +1 Similar
Turned in work done by another 19 14 -5 Decrease
Collaborated on assignments requiring individual work 11 49 +38 Increase

Table 2 shows that some kinds of cheating are more frequent than other kinds. It is also interesting to find that in most of the cases the tendency is an increase of the cheating between 1963 and 1993. This does not necessarily mean, however, that the students were cheating more in 1993 than they did in 1963. Another reasonable explanation is that the students were more prone to admit cheating in 1993 than the students were in 1963.

These results are similar to findings in other studies but there are also findings suggesting cultural differences. Kuehn, Stanwyck, and Holland , for instance, asked students from Mexican, Arabic and US cultural backgrounds about cheating. The main focus was on three typical cheating behaviours: using crib notes, copying another student’s test, and allowing another student to copy course work. The findings suggest that there were differences between the culturally different groups of students in how they looked upon and rated cheating.

Also new technique, like the World Wide Web, is used by students in order to download papers, essays, etc produced by other students but presented to the examiner as own work. One illustration of this is a report from a Swedish university, where several students were found out using not accepted means for getting course credits among which the downloading of ready-made course works from the web was mentioned (Lunds Universitet Meddelar, 1998). Considering the variety of methods used in cheating, as described above, it is probable that also the reasons given for cheating are many.

Reasons for cheating and not doing it

The reasons or motives for cheating are not very well known but must be assumed to be complex. In a North American study of school students cheating by Anderman, Griesinger, and Westerfield (1998) it is claimed that the schools’ obsession with performance measures spurs cheating. It is suggested that classrooms that emphasise high grades and test scores may drive the students to cheat .

Similar conclusions are reported from several investigations, where the students’ workload is found to be an important explaining factor (Lipson & MacGavern, 1993). Davis et al (1992) point out that pressures for good grades in higher education, student stress, ineffective deterrents, teacher attitudes, and an increasing lack of academic integrity are important determinants of cheating. Baird (1980) previously reported similar findings. In that study 35 percent of the students stated that they had too little time for studying for the exam and 26 percent of the students said their working load made it necessary to cheat. In a study by Singhal (1982) as much as 68 percent of the students regarded the wish to get good results as the reason for cheating. Newstead, Franklyn-Stokes, and Armstead (1995) found that 21 percent of the cheaters say it was lack of time to study that made them cheat and 20 percent explicitly stated that their cheating was a consequence of their wish to get better grades. A third frequently occurring reason for cheating was "everybody else does it" (16%), which effectively reflects students’ attitudes towards cheating. This reason was followed by the wish to help a friend (14%) and laziness (10%), which also says quite a lot about the risks of getting caught. It is obviously easier to help a friend cheat than to e.g. help the friend learn to an exam. Also Maramark and Maline (1993), when looking for causes for cheating, found that stress, competition for jobs, scholarships and admission to post-graduate programs were important determinants.

On a general level the causes or explanations identified can be organised in two classes of factors, external, and individual/personal. In Table 1 below the two super-ordinate factors and some elements/reasons mentioned in research done by Baird (1980), Davis et al (1992) and Hetherington & Feldman (1964) are presented.

Table 1. Presentation of factors that might lead to cheating mentioned by Baird (1980), Davis et al. (1992) and Hetherington & Feldman (1964).


External factor

Personal factors



Seating order

Importance of the test

Level of test-difficulty

Unfair test




Awareness of the

performance of fellow


Low grades

Previously experienced


A certain expectation of


Davis et al.

Overcrowded, great classes

Multiple-choice questions

Economic benefit

Wish to help a friend

Aversion to teacher


& Feldman

Difficult test

Lacking supervision

Badly organised


To gain social


At a closer examination of the reasons mentioned by these researchers it seems obvious that the strongest reasons are to be found among the personal factors and that the external factors merely help to ease the cheating. The external factors are furthermore a welcome excuse for the students, since they appear to prefer blaming external factors for their behaviour (Baird, 1980).

Anderman et al (1998) identified two general types of study approaches, which on a general level seem to be similar to the deep and surface approaches to studying and learning. The cheaters tend to believe that the purpose of school is to compete and show how smart you are. Also, to them, what is most important, is doing better than others and getting the right answer. They also worried about school and made use of self-handicapping behaviours, blaming others and making excuses for not performing well at school, more often than their counterparts. Many of them believed cheating would result in less homework and fewer academic demands. The non-cheating group of students, in comparison, expressed interest in their learning of science concepts and tried various problem-solving methods and sought to connect ideas.

In several previous studies it is suggested that the effect of an explicit and unanimously accepted honour code will lower the frequency of cheating behaviour (McCabe & Bowers, 1994). But honour code may have an effect in two opposite directions. A very common reason for some types of cheating is the wish to help a friend (Franklyn-Stokes and Newstead, 1995; McCabe & Trevino, 1996). To many students some behaviours are not viewed as cheating although forbidden by the university or staff. For instance, letting a fellow student borrow or copy an individual course work or a written assignment or even have a look at the answer in a test may be regarded as honest and correct behaviour. Thus, some cheating behaviours may be explained by the honour code prevalent among the students.

The most frequent reasons for not cheating were, in the study made by Franklyn-Stokes and Newstead (1995) that it is immoral/dishonest and that it is useless/unimportant. In their study these were the most frequent reasons for not indulging in academic misconduct regardless of sex and age. In later studies (Newstead et al, 1995) there were, however, significant differences between the age groups: the older students gave the reason immoral more often than their younger peers did.

3. Method

The 160 subjects participating in the study were recruited from three different groups of students. In Table 3 below, the samples and some characteristics are presented.

Table 3. Participants in the study

Students Number Male/Female (%)
Teacher education 77 19,5/80,5
Theology 52 40/60
Economics 31 29/71
Total 160 27,5/72,5

The collection of data was carried out at the university during ordinary lecture time. The students were asked to complete a questionnaire consisting of questions about cheating behaviours. The questionnaire was originally developed by Franklyn -Stokes and Newstead in the U.K. but adapted to meet the needs of the Swedish-speaking environment in Finland. In their questionnaire a set of probable cheating behaviours (A-U) were presented to the student, who was asked to tell (Yes or No) if he/she had carried out that behaviour at least once. Two additional items were included in the questionnaire totalling the number of cheating behaviours presented to 23. Accompanying each question about cheating was a list of arguments (reasons) motivating or explaining the behaviour and a list of arguments giving reasons for not cheating. The subjects were asked to select one reason for each Yes/No response.

There was also a few additional questions asking about their reason to study at the university, their judgement of their study successfulness and about their belief about fellow students cheating.

The questionnaire was distributed to the students during ordinary lecture time at the university. The respondents completed it immediately and anonymously. It took about 15 minutes to complete. The data was analysed by quantitative methods.

4. The result of the data analysis

The overall frequency of cheating

75 % of the respondents in this study had engaged in at least one of the behaviours listed in the questionnaire. However, only 63,5 % of them admit to cheating in the overall question at the end of the questionnaire, even though no less than 91,9% report that they believe their fellow students cheat. The over all tendency to cheat only correlated with year of study (Spearman’s rho= ,160, P=.046), reason to study (Spearman’s rho= ,213, p=.012) and the respondents’ estimation of how much other students cheat (Spearman’s rho= ,159, p=.046). This seems to imply that the over all amount of cheating is relatively stable, but that the methods used vary depending on discipline of study, gender, age and success in studies, since there are some significant correlations for the individual items on the basis of these background variables

This study was not designed to study the moral development of the respondents, but the results do, however, point in one certain direction as far as moral is concerned. In Table 4 below, the reported tendency to cheat is cross-tabulated with respondents’ own evaluation of their inclination to cheat.

Table 4. Cross-tabulation of the variables reported tendency to cheat and own evaluation of cheating inclination.





to cheat
































of cheating





















Of the ones who have reported that they never cheat 53,4 % have admitted to exercising at least one of the behaviours mentioned in the questionnaire, whereas 12,9 % of the ones of the opinion that they cheat rarely have not reported cheating on any of the behaviours. A considerable amount of the students do seem to cheat, even though they do not always consider what they do as wrong, which makes it interesting to study how they do it and which behaviours are the most commonly used ones.

Cheating methods used

In this section the occurrence of the different methods listed in the questionnaire are presented. Observe that the behaviours listed in the questionnaire are various behaviours that can be regarded as cheating and dishonest behaviour, but do not necessarily need to be considered as such (cf. the definition of cheating used in this paper). Below, in Table 5 the students’ responses to the behaviours described in the questionnaire are presented in order of frequency. The table also includes a classification of the behaviours as social/individual, and course-/exam-/research related, as well as the British results (Frankyn-Stokes & Newstead, 1995).

Table 5. The cheating behaviours listed in order of frequency. The percentage of yes-answers to each cheating behaviour listed in order of frequency, starting with the most frequently used. The figure to the right is the percentage of positive answers received for the same item in the study made by Franklyn-Stokes & Newstead (1995).The letters to the left represent the classification of the behaviour. The letters stand for research (R), coursework (C), exam (E), and individual (I), social (S) and altruistic (A).

Situation   Percent (FI) Percent (UK)
CI O) Copying without reference 35,8 % 54 %
CI N) Paraphrasing without references 27,0 % 66 %
CSA A) Allow copying (coursework) 24,4 % 72 %
CS E) Copying coursework with knowledge 21,4 % 64 %
CS V) Reporting presence 15,7 % ---
EI Q) Copying (exam) 13,8 % 20 %
CI C) Fabricating references 12,0 % 54 %
EI K) Advance information (exam) 11,4 % 6 %
RI R) Altering data 10,8 % 66 %
I M) Library 10,1 % 31 %
CSA S) Doing another’s coursework 6,9 % 21 %
C T) Collusion (coursework) 6,9 % 25 %
CI F) Lying (coursework) 6,3 % 16 %
EI B) Cribs (exam) 5,7 % 13%
CI G) Essay banks 5,1 % 9 %
CI J) Copying coursework without knowledge 5,0 % 7 %
ES P) Collusion (exam) 3,8 % 6 %
EI D) Lying (exam) 2,5 % 3 %
I L) Inventing data (NB! translation) 0,6 % 60 %
I W) Keeping silent 0,6 % ---
------------------- ------------------------------------------------------- --------------------------- ----------------------
ES H) Impersonation (exam) 0,0 % 0 %
CS I) Peer assessment 0,0 % 65 %
I U) Corruption/bribery 0,0 % ---

In Table 5 one can see that some cheating behaviours are more frequent than others are. The most frequent ones among the Finnish respondents are "Copying material for course-work from a book or other publication without acknowledging the source", "Paraphrasing material from another source without acknowledging the original author", "Allowing own course-work to be copied by another student", and "Copying another student's course-work with their knowledge". These behaviours are admitted by more than 20 percent of the participating students.

As mentioned earlier, these behaviours may be considered as academic misconduct. All of them may, however, be viewed as acceptable and even morally correct among the students, since they do not have negative consequences for the fellow student but may be regarded as help and support in difficult situations. In that sense it can be assumed that there exists a conflict between staff’s and students’ social and ethical value systems, creating a moral borderline area where what is right and wrong are not easily delimited.

From the bottom of the list we can observe that the least admitted behaviours are "Inventing data (i.e. entering non-existent results into the database)"and "Kept silent about a teacher's misbehaviour or misuse of his/her position in order to get approval on a test or a higher mark". These behaviours were reported only by one respondent/ behaviour. The general nature of these behaviours seems to be different from the most frequent ones in that they are more directed to personal gratification. The behaviours also represent more active deception of teachers and fellow students in order to gain personal reward. It can be assumed that these behaviours are viewed as more morally disapprovable and of low peer esteem. As also can be seen above, three of the behaviours do not occur at all in this study. This is probably due to the limited sample and perhaps also (judging from cryptic comments of the respondents) to fear of punishment.

Gender differences

The students’ responses to the items in the questionnaire depicting various cheating behaviours were in most cases similar for the both sexes; that is, there are almost no differences between female and male student’s responses in this respect. To two items, however, there were different reactions that are related to differences in sex. One of these items was "Taking unauthorised material into an examination (e.g. ’cribs’)". The outcome is presented in Table 6 below.

Table 6 Relationship between students’ responses to item "Taking unauthorised material into an examination (e.g. ’cribs’)" and students’ sex

Response Yes No All
Female 3 111 114
% 2.6 97.4 100.0
Male 6 38 44
% 13.6 86.4 100.0
Total 9 44 158
% 5.7 94.3 100.0


The result in the table indicates that there are clear differences between female and male students’ ways of responding to the item suggesting cheating in the form of taking unauthorised material in the testing situation. Among the female students only 2.6 percent admitted to the behaviour while 13.6 percent of the male students said ’Yes’ to having carried out the cheating. The differences are statistically significant (Fisher’s Exact Test, D.F.=1, p=.015).

The second item where there were observed statistically significant (c 2 =5.82, D.F.=1, p=.016) response differences related to sex was the item "Signing as present a not present fellow student at a course where obligatory attendance is asked for". This item was added to the original questionnaire. The outcome is presented in Table 7 below.

Table 7. Relationship between students’ responses to the item "Signing as present a not present fellow student at a course where obligatory attendance is asked for" and students’ sex

Response Yes No All
Female 23 91 114
% 20.2 79.8 100.0
Male 2 42 44
% 4.5 95.5 100.0
Total 25 133 158
% 15.8 84.2 100.0

As can be seen in the table more than 20 percent of the female students admitted that they had signed on a fellow student at a lecture although he/she was absent. This can be compared with 4.5 percent of the male students admitting the same behaviour. Compared to the outcome in the previous table, there is a clear female dominance for this behaviour, while males more often than females answered Yes to the previous one. Another difference is that the total proportion of Yes-responses are much larger for the item "Signing as present a not present fellow student at a course, where obligatory attendance is asked for" when compared with students’ Yes-responses to the item "Taking unauthorised material into an examination (e.g. ’cribs’)" (se Table 6 above), showing the response variation between the items regarding the tendency among the students to accept or not accept a specific cheating behaviour.

The social –individual relation

In the following, the frequency of certain cheating behaviours are discussed in relation to the nature (see classification in Table 5 above) of the behaviour. 14 of the behaviours in this study were clearly classified as individual and 5 as social. The mean for yes-responses was 14,4 % for the social behaviours and 10,5 % for the individual ones. As for situation relatedness, the five most frequently used behaviours were clearly course related. The study only contained one item concerning research related cheating (R), and this was the ninth in order of frequency (10,8 %) and had mostly been used by male respondents at the age of 21-23 successfully (16-24.99 credits/term) studying education . Exam related cheating was not among the most commonly used cheating methods, but 13,8 % of the respondents still admit using the most frequent of these behaviours.

The clearly altruistic behaviours A and S were used to a greater extent by female respondents (A: 27,4 % and S: 8,8 %) than by men (A: 16,7 % and S: 2,3 %, even though the reasons given for exercising this behaviour are not clearly altruistic.

Reasons for cheating

Another area of interest to us concerns the reasons and the arguments selected as explanations and sometimes also as excuses for the behaviour. In Table 8 below all the reasons used to motivate cheating are listed in order of frequency. It should be remembered that the reasons available to be selected were generated by the researchers, but that the respondents also were given the possibility to express other reasons/motives. These less frequent reasons are also listed in Table 8.

Regarding reasons given for not cheating the most frequent one (27.5 %) is the choice stating that cheating is immoral or dishonest. The reasons following in frequency of appearance represent on a general level a completely different class of attitudes, since it may mean that the subject do not distance him/herself from cheating, only that it was not considered or regarded as useful ("I never thought of it", 21.3 % and "Situation did not arise", 19.5 %). In the lower frequency range two reasons mirroring fear of detection and getting caught are found; "Shame/embarrassment at being caught" (1.3 %) and "Fear of detection/punishment" (1.4 %). In a way these reasons like the two previous ones are focusing the social condemnation for cheating and dishonest behaviour and are not clearly a statement against cheating.

When looking at students’ ways of choosing reasons for cheating or for not cheating there seems to exist a strong connection with the cheating behaviour that is in focus. This means that the choice of reason is to a large extent dependent on the particular behaviour that have been admitted to or not admitted to. This topic will be discussed no further in this paper.

Gender differences

In most cases, however, there are no obvious differences between female and male students’ ways of selecting their reasons for their responses. Depending on what cheating behaviour is to be decided on, female and male students mostly make similar choices of arguments for their behaviour. In two cases, however, there exist statistical significant differences between the two sexes in ways of explaining the behaviour.

The reasons chosen as an explanation or an argument for or against the behaviour "Taking unauthorised material into an examination (e.g. 'cribs')" are different between female and male students. In the table below the outcome is presented.

Table 10. Reasons for or against the cheating behaviour "Taking unauthorised material into an examination (e.g. 'cribs')"among female and male students

Reason Female % Male % Total
Time pressure 1 0.9 1 2.4 2
To increase the mark 1 0.9 0 0.0 1
Fear of failure 0 0.0 3 7.1 3
Everybody does it 0 0.0 1 2.4 1
Laziness 1 0.9 0 0.0 1
It would devalue my achievement 9 8.0 1 2.4 10
It is immoral/dishonest 48 42.9 18 42.9 66
Personal pride 5 4.5 3 7.1 8
It was unnecessary/pointless 6 5.5 1 2.4 7
Shame/embarrassment at being caught 4 3.6 2 4.8 6
I never thought of it 23 20.5 6 14.3 29
Fear of detection/punishment 9 8.0 3 7.1 12
I would not know how to go about it 1 0.9 0 0.0 1
It would be unfair to other students 0 0.0 2 4.8 2
Situation did not arise/not applicable 4 3.6 0 0.0 4
Total 112   42   154

The outcome points to statistical significant differences (Phi and Cramér’s V =.404, p=.048) between the female and male ways of selecting the reason for their behaviour regarding "Taking unauthorised material into an examination (e.g. 'cribs')". First of all 7.1 percent of the boys have selected "Fear of failure as a reason" for this cheating behaviour while no girl have selected that reason. Also "It would be unfair to other students" were chosen by 4.8 male students but not one female student.

Among the female students reasons like "To increase the mark", "Laziness", "I would not know how to go about it" and "Situation did not arise/not applicable to my course" were chosen by a few female students but no male student. A relatively large difference between female and male ways of choosing among the reasons for explaining the Yes/No-answer can be found for reason "I never thought about it", where 20.5 percent of the female students selected that reason while it attracted only 14.3 percent of the male students. Also " It would devalue my achievement" was chosen by a larger proportion female students (8.0 %) than male students (2.4 %).

The second statistical significant difference (Phi and Cramér’s V=.348, p=.028) concerns the reasons chosen for item " Taking an examination for someone else or having someone else take an examination for you". The outcome is presented in Table 11 below.

Table 11. Reasons for or against the cheating behaviour " Taking an examination for someone else or having someone else take an examination for you". among female and male students

Reason Female % Male % Total
It would devalue my achievement 2 1.8 2 4.8 4
It is immoral/dishonest 49 43.8 18 42.9 67
Personal pride 1 0.9 1 2.4 2
It was unnecessary/pointless 2 1.8 2 4.8 4
Shame/embarrassment at being caught 0 0.0 1 2.4 1
I never thought of it 37 33.0 6 14.3 43
Fear of detection/punishment 2 1.8 0 0.0 2
I would not know how to go about it 9 8.0 1 2.4 10
It would be unfair to other students 2 1.8 1 2.4 3
Situation did not arise/not applicable 8 7.1 10 23.8 18
Total 112   42   154

In one case the male students have chosen a reason ("Shame/embarrassment at being caught") that is not chosen by any female student. Large difference on the basis of sex are found for the reason "Situation did not arise/not applicable to my course", where more than 16 percent more boys have chosen that reasons for their behaviour. Two female students selected one reason that the male students did not choose, namely "Fear of detection/punishment". Largest difference (18.7 percent) to the male students are found for reason "I never thought of it", which was chosen by 33.0 percent of the female students but only 14.3 percent of the male students.

5. Discussion

Various methodological problems that have been discussed elsewhere (see Björklund, 1997), are not mentioned here, since they do not seem to affect the reliability and validity of the results discussed. There is, however, one point of importance as far as methodological bias is concerned and that is the fact that the instrument in this study was translated from English and a British context, which in some cases have called for adjustment and in one case yielded an erroneous translation (item L).

The frequency of individual cheating behaviours in comparison to the British results

The over all frequency of cheating reported in this study does not differ significantly from the ones reported by previous researchers, and can, hence, be taken as a further proof of the fact that the over all cheating rates seem to be fairly constant in the western word. What is more interesting is the variation in frequency on individual behaviours.

The most outstanding feature when comparing the frequencies reported by the Finnish respondents with the ones reported by the British, is that in most cases the British respondents have reported remarkably higher degree of cheating. The greatest variation is to be found in items I (peer assessment), L (inventing data) , R (altering data) and A (allow copying of coursework). The great difference concerning peer assessment is probably due to differences in the academic traditions: Peer assessment is not very common in the Swedish –speaking university level studies in Finland. Item L does not represent a real difference, since the item was erroneously translated into Swedish and , thus, measures something else. Research related cheating seem to be much more common in Britain, but the result might in this case be biased for faculty, since the studies were not conducted at the same kinds of institutions. Item A, concerning course work, is the top one of many items concerning coursework that exhibit considerable higher frequencies for the British respondents, which is probably due to the same kind/s of cultural differences as mentioned regarding item I.

Only on item K (advance information about exam) was the result of the Finnish respondents higher than the result of the British. The items concerning examrelated behaviours generally exhibit the smallest differences between the groups, which seems to indicate that exam conditions are more or less alike between the two countries. It is also possible to claim that the results indicate that Finnish students seem to find examrelated cheating less serious than British, who , in turn, do not seem to regard research related cheating as particularly serious.

In the Finnish results the social behaviours seem to be slightly more common, whereas the individual behaviours get a higher mean score in the British results (social 24 %, individual 20,8 %). This can be seen claimed to indicate that the British academic environment is more competitive than the Finnish, but it ought to be remembered that the mean score used here is a very crude measure.

Reasons for cheating in comparison to the British results

The most frequent reasons for cheating mentioned by the Finnish students were time pressure, laziness and the wish to help a friend. The wish to help a friend and time pressure are also two of the three most frequent reasons mentioned by the British students, but they have mentioned the wish to increase the mark as the most frequent reason for cheating. Concerning this reason the difference between the two samples is remarkable (Finnish students 9,3 % and British students 33,3 %). Finns on the other hand contribute their cheating to laziness and extenuating circumstances considerably more often than their British peers, who, in turn, seem to fear failure more and also tend to justify their behaviour with the reason "everybody does it".

Out of these differences it is easy to create caricature image of the cheating British student as an ambitious person , who wishes to perform well and of the Finnish student who mainly cheats because it seems to be the easiest way to go about the studies.

Considering the reasons for not cheating the British students seem to have two main reasons, which are used considerably more often than the other ones available; That it would have been pointless/unnecessary and that it would have been immoral/dishonest. The immorality aspect is mentioned as the most frequently used among the Finnish students, but the second most frequently used is that the student never thought of it, closely followed by the reason that the situation didn’t arise or wasn’t applicable. Again, then , the British students seem to be more focused on the outcome/the result of the cheating behaviour than the Finnish ones.

Even though morality is one of the most frequently used reasons for not cheating in both of the groups, the "potential cheater-reasons", i.e. the ones giving I never thought of it, the situation didn’t arise and/or it was unnecessary/pointless, amount to about 50 % in both of the groups. In connection to the fact that the reasons shame /embarrassment at being caught (1,3 % of Finnish answers, 0 % of British ones) and fear of detection/punishment (1,9 % of Finnish answers and 5,8 % of British ones) were used quite infrequently, this implicates that it is of the utmost importance to reduce the opportunities of successful cheating, e.g. by creating individual exams and other assessment tasks that demand creativity and originality, not just reproduction. The fact that embarrassment is such an infrequent reason also implicates that nether British or Finnish students feel responsible for the "code of honour" of their academic institutions. Hence, by establishing a functioning code of honour one could most likely reduce the instances of cheating remarkably, since the socio-moral climate is known to affect the behaviour of students more effectively than their own level of moral development (MacCabe & Trevino, 1996).

The reduction of opportunities for successful cheating is, of course, the most immediate way of reducing cheating, but in the long run that measure will not suffice. According to the findings in this study and other ones (cf. Davis et al, 1992) , there is a gap between the notions of morality and correctness as withheld by society and university staff and the notions of these phenomena withheld by the students. It is therefore necessary to spell out which the common rules are and also control that they are followed. To go even further it is also important to stress the importance of moral education for moral development in order to secure a functioning society, presuming that that is what is what is wanted.

Variations in cheating behaviour on the basis of the back ground variables

Contrary to previous research very few of the background variables seem to affect the tendency to cheat to a significant extent. This was, however, also the case for Haines et al (1986, in Davis et al, 1992). They came to the conclusion that it was because of the unproportionality concerning sex and year of study in the sample, which also seems to be the case in this study. Except the gender differences on some items, mentioned in the results, there were, however, also weak, but statistically significant positive correlations between the overall tendency to cheat and year of study, the perception of how much other students cheat and reason for studying. This result implies that academic misconduct, at least to some extent, may be epidemic and that students’ reasons for not cheating are gradually worn down when they see fellow students cheat, without being caught. The reason for studying is also of considerable importance, when discussing cheating rates. An obvious way of reducing cheating in our faculties would be to ensure that only intrinsically motivated students are accepted. The question is then: How do we control for that, and do we really want to; It is all linked to the kind of professionals we want to educate.

Summary of implications

Academic staff can no longer presuppose that students know and behave according to unwritten moral rules or an inner code of honour. One, obvious way of reducing cheating in universities is then to spell out what rules and codes the students are subjected to. Such a document ought, however, to be carefully thought out and produced in co-operation with the students, in order to establish it as a "code of honor2, otherwise it will only fill the purpose of a list of potentially successful cheating behaviours.

According to previous research, students’ moral behaviour and ethical reasoning seems to develop under continuous education. I am convinced that this influence can be made stronger through focused attention to the area and an open ethical dialogue, not in any specific course, but as every teacher’s concern. This would create a good socio-moral environment for moral development, which is what universities ought to foster in their students, since that is something they will need in their everyday life as well as in their professional activities, and of which society will benefit or suffer in the long run.

Even though the personal factors causing or preventing cheating are probably the primary ones, it is also a good idea to try to reduce or eliminate the external factors that seem to cause cheating. One of the major external reasons for cheating was time pressure. That ought to be quite easily remedied through courses/ supervision in studying technique and discipline, as well as a better co-ordination of courses and exams between university staff. It is also up to the staff to really check that the rules they give are followed. Such a behaviour signals that the rules are judged as important and might awaken conscience in the students, or at least make the "cheating alternative" less attractive and easy to carry out. In this case it is, in fact, most important to catch the small fish.

Davis and Ludvigson in turn present a twofold way of reducing cheating in the long run, namely by a) using positive reinforcement and b) by encouraging and fostering the students to acquire an outlook on life that will prevent them from cheating.

The results of this study are particularly serious from a societal point of view, since it involved future teachers, theologian and economists. What kind of teachers does the society of today want? Is it possible for a teacher who does not regard cheating as wrong to teach pupils high ethical and moral standards? Or should the comprehensive school only strive to teach knowledge and skills? The compulsory schoolteachers are of strategic importance, since they are the ones who ought to start the process of moral development, if "academic freedom" is to be a reality in the future.

Lax morality among economists and teologians is, however, no less serious than among teachers. If those particular groups in society are not to be trusted, then who? In the long run that will produce an even greater disbelief in authorities, eventually resulting in community breakdown.

In order to be able to deal with the problem in an efficient manner it is necessary to reach the causative factors, which probably are best reached with a flexible and qualitative approach. To understand delicate and inaccessible phenomena like the one at hand it is important to benefit from as many sources of knowledge as possible; an interdisciplinary approach would probably be most adequate. It is also important to realise the problem with truthfulness. In this study it was generally found that the students tended to answer the questionnaire with less anxiety, when it was stressed that the researcher was a fellow student and not a member of the university staff.


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Appendix 1

Cheating behaviours

A) Allowing own course-work to be copied by another student

B) Taking unauthorised material into an examination (e.g. 'cribs')

B)Fabricating references or a bibliography

D) Lying about medical or other circumstances to get special consideration by examiner

E) Copying another student's course-work with their knowledge

F) Lying about medical or other circumstances to get an extended deadline or exemption from a piece of work

G) Submitting course-work from an outside source

H) Taking an examination for someone else or having someone else take an examination for you

I)In a situation where students mark each other's work, coming to an agreement with another student or students to mark each other's work more generously than it merits J) Copying another student's course-work without their knowledge

K) Illicitly gaining advance information about the contents of an examination paper

L) Inventing data (i.e. entering nonexistent results into the database)

M) Ensuring the availability of books or journal articles in the library by deliberately mis-shelving them so that other students cannot find them, or by cutting out the relevant article or chapter

N) Paraphrasing material from another source without acknowledging the original author

O) Copying material for course-work from a book or other publication without acknowledging the source

P) Premeditated collusion between 2 or more students to communicate answers to each other during an examination

Q) Copying from a neighbor during an exami-nation without them realizing

R) Altering data (e.g. adjusting data to obtain a significant result)

S) Doing another student's course-work for them

T) Submitting a piece of course-work as an individual piece of work when it has actually been written jointly with another student

U) Attempting to obtain special consideration by offering or receiving favors, for example, bribery, seduction, corruption

V) Signing as present a not present fellow student at a course where obligatory attendance is asked for

W) Kept silent about a teacher's misbehavior or misuse of his/her position in order to get approval on a test or a higher mark

This document was added to the Education-line database on 21 March 2000