High School Test Cheating: 75% Admit It, Cite Pressure

Times Education Writer

Three-fourths of California high school students admit they cheat on tests, and a majority of them say they do so for good reasons, according to a state education survey.

The vast majority of high school students said they were under pressure to get good grades in school and viewed cheating as an acceptable means to reach their goal. Only 1% of the 12th-graders said they would report on a friend they saw cheating.

The survey, taken in the spring of 1985, consisted of confidential questionnaires completed by a sample of 1,036 sixth-graders and 2,265 high school seniors throughout California. Officials of the state Department of Education say the new study, scheduled for formal release today, contains the best available figures on student attitudes about academic honesty.

“There is a success-at-any-price syndrome which we have to beat,” said state Supt. of Public Instruction Bill Honig in announcing the results. “What scares you is that it’s so acceptable. It is shocking when 75% of them say, ‘Why should I care?’ ”


But among the younger students, cheating was less the norm. Most elementary students said they observed a lot of cheating in class, but did not do much of it themselves. The most common form of cheating among the younger students was copying “word for word out of a book and turn(ing) it in as your own work.” About 25% of the sixth-graders said they had done that once and 16% admitted to doing it on more than one occasion.

See Others Cheating

In addition, 39% said they had copied, at least once, from another pupil’s paper during a test. Have you “seen another student cheating on a test?” they were asked. Nearly 86% said they had, and most on many occasions.

In contrast to the older students, only 14% of the younger students said they had a “good reason” to cheat on a test. Only 18% said they would report on a friend, while 45% said they would report a pupil other than a friend who they observed cheating.


By their own admission, cheating among seniors is far more common, comes in a variety of forms and is rarely frowned upon. For example:

- About 73% said they had used crib notes to cheat on a test, most on more than one occasion.

- About 75% said they had copied from another student’s test paper during an exam, again most having done so more than once.

- Nearly 97% said they had seen other students cheating on tests.


- About 51% said they had copied word from word from a book and turned it in as their own work.

- About 37% said they had arranged with other students to use signals to give or receive answers on a test.

- Nearly 35% said they had turned in homework that another student had done.

Although most students said their teachers were bothered by such dishonesty, 75% of them said their classmates “would not care” whether a student was cheating. Only 3% suggested fellow students would be very bothered by the idea.


The seniors were asked: “Is there ever a good reason to cheat on a test?” More than 42% said “yes,” 38% said “no” and the rest said they weren’t sure.

Teachers were asked what could be done about the cheating. In general, elementary teachers said the answer is to “instill integrity at home” and “set a high moral tone in class.” Less optimistic, the high school teachers said they need to patrol students more and set harsher penalties. Some, however, offered a more practical solution of using essay exams or oral quizzes.