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How to Get Your Students to Stop Cheating on Tests

We’ve all seen it. The suspicious movement as the head glides up suddenly. The eyes glance quickly about the room, then slowly, steadily downward onto their neighbor’s test. The worst. 

If there’s one thing my students know I can’t stand, it’s cheating. Pretty much everything about it bothers me: the lack of integrity, the sacrifice of character, the dishonesty. It’s basically lying about what you know on an assessment that’s supposed to measure what you know. Good grief!

I’m sure all teachers agree: cheating is no good.

And with modern technology, there are so many ways to cheat. Students copy and paste from the internet onto essays, projects, homework assignments. They use their Apple Watches to store notes or browse the web during tests (this one was new to me until I realized a student’s head was down over her wrist for the entire test). They Snapchat their homework or answer keys to their friends. They try to non-verbally signal to other students across the room by making little As or Bs or Cs with their fingers. And these are just the ones I’ve caught.

The methods by which students cheat are not just frustrating; they’re clever. I can’t help but think that if they used even a percentage of that ingenuity in studying or learning the material in the first place, they wouldn’t even need to cheat.

In my first year of teaching, I was pretty naive about cheating. I remember thinking that no student would ever show such disrespect for themselves and my class. I assumed they never cheated. Boy, was I wrong. I think the sudden realization about just how wrong I was came with a test makeup. A student that I had a good relationship with needed to make up a missed test so I had him put his cell phone in his backpack inside the classroom and then I sent him out of the room to take the test. I went to check on him some time later and he was thumbing through a pocket Constitution. The test was on the Bill of Rights. I was gutted.

Now I’m prepared. My goal is to make it so hard to cheat that my students don’t even want to put in the effort. I want them to think “it would just be easier to study.”

So here’s my list of strategies to reduce cheating on tests in your classroom:

  1. Make your expectations clear. From the first week of school, I make it clear that I expect honesty and integrity from my students. I go over my cheating policy in detail on day two. It’s also in the syllabus that they sign and their parents sign. I explain that cheating is lying and once a student lies to me, they lose my trust and have to earn it back. As I continue to build relationships with my students throughout the year, I remind them of this expectation from time to time. I remind them every time there’s a test. As the year wears on, they care more about whether I trust them so these words hold more weight.
  2. Make sure you have serious consequences. If there’s no real consequence, then students see no reason not to cheat. If you have weak consequences, students are more likely to cheat a second time. My consequence for a first offense is a permanent zero on the assignment with no opportunity to make it up. They also get a conference with me, I contact their parents, and notify their other teachers of the offense. A second offense results in a permanent 10% lowering of their overall semester grade. Before you start thinking I’m a meanie, hear me out. They know these are the consequences ahead of time. It’s in the syllabus. And honestly, in four years of teaching I’ve had a handful of students per year who cheat and receive the first offense. I’ve never had a student with a second offense. Also, from a moral standpoint, there have to be serious consequences to students who cheat. In my college prep high school, I have to allow the space for my students to realize that academic dishonestly will not cut it in college or in their careers. It’s an opportunity for student growth.
  3. Structure creates behavior. This is a Boomerang Project saying that I think makes a lot of sense in the classroom. Much of student misbehavior results from how we designed the lesson or our classroom. So on test day, make sure your classroom is structured in a way that makes it hard for students to cheat. For example, my students sit in table groups so on test day, they have to use barriers. I just stapled together two file folders to make the barriers. Students have to move their desks a bit away from their neighbors and keep their eyes within the barriers or on the ceiling for the duration of the test. I go around checking that the barriers actually block their neighbors from seeing their paper.
  4. Do away with the technology. On test day, each student must put their cell phone into their backpack. I tell them that if I see a cell phone out or in a pocket while any tests are out, they will get in trouble. Then I check for cell phones as I pass out the tests. Also keep your eyes out for Apple Watches and some calculators that are able to store notes.
  5. Watch them like a hawk. I know it’s really tempting to sit in the front of the room and grade papers while students are taking a test. But it creates a situation where students can easily signal each other across the room or look over their barriers to their neighbor’s paper or a hundred other methods. I walk around every 5 minutes. I watch their lines of vision. If I see a student peek at their neighbor’s paper, I verbally remind the class not to peek while looking directly at the student who was just doing so. It works pretty much every time. They know I’m onto them.
  6. Inspire them to be honest people. I have posters all around my room with inspirational quotes. One of them says “Your character is who you are when no one is looking.” Another is a quotation by Winston Churchill that says “Success is not fatal. Failure is not final. It’s the courage to continue that counts.” When students look up during a test, this is what they see. I like to think it has some effect.

I’m sure there are many more brilliant ideas for keeping your students honest. Let me know what you do in the comments 🙂

With love,

Mrs. P

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