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Dealing With Cheating

Fair assessment of student work is a critical factor in creating an optimal learning environment. When students cheat, the environment becomes less than optimal. Faculty have the responsibility to discourage students from cheating and to appropriately deal with cheating when it is detected. At UIUC the Student Code contains the University’s definition of cheating, as well as policies and guidelines for dealing with its occurrence. Instructors should be familiar with the Student Code when designing a course and assessments, and students should be familiar with how the Student Code applies to their work.  

Preventing Cheating

Instructors can reduce the incidence of cheating by paying specific attention to how they communicate their expectations to students, how they prepare their exams, and how they administer their exams. The following sections provide guidelines on these three points. 

Advance Communication

  • Whatever decisions you make regarding academic integrity, it is imperative that these decisions be fully communicated to students, TAs, and exam proctors.
  • You can communicate expectations by making a clear statement on the first day of class, by including this statement in the course syllabus, and by repeating it on the class day before an exam and again as the exam begins.

Test Preparation

  • Create a test that is fair to your students. Some students use an instructor’s reputation for giving "unfair" tests as an excuse to cheat. "Fair" means that the exam tests the material that you said it would cover, that students have enough time to complete the exam, and that there is a reasonable grade distribution.
  • Control anxiety by discussing the test procedures and outlining the material to be included. Handing out old tests or providing sample questions also reduces anxiety.
  • Write new tests each semester, whenever possible; at the least add new items.
  • Prepare more than one form of the exam. You can have the same questions on each form, but (1) present questions in a different order on each form, or (2) vary the order of the response alternatives. Where calculations are involved, you can modify values within the same question on different forms so that responses are different.
  • Pre-code answer sheets and test booklets by using a numbering system so that the number on each test booklet matches the one on each student’s answer sheet.
  • To eliminate cheating after the exam has been returned to students, mark the answer sheets in such a way that answers cannot be altered (such as using a permanent felt-tip pen).

Test Administration

Most cheating on tests in large classes occurs when students are allowed to sit wherever they choose. It should be no surprise that cheaters choose to sit near each other. Cheating may be greatly minimized by using the following procedures:

  • Number seats and tests and then assign students to sit in the seat with the same number as the number on their test.
  • Systematically hand out alternative forms, taking into account students sitting laterally as well as those sitting in front and in back of each other.
  • Have sufficient proctors for the exam. Exam situations vary, but, in general, the following guidelines are advisable:
    • Have one proctor per 40 students if the proctor does not know the students.
    • If the proctor does know the students (i.e., the proctor is a discussion instructor), have students sit together by section. This minimizes “ghost” exam takers by making it easier for proctors to recognize and account for their own students.
    • Proctors should stay alert and move around the exam room. They should not be reading or involved in unnecessary chatter with other proctors.
    • Proctors should never leave the students alone.
  • Require students to bring their student IDs and another form of identification to each exam. To implement this requirement:
    • Have proctors look carefully at each ID and student.
    • Have an enrollment list or card file of names and signatures to be matched against the IDs (or signatures on exam answer sheets) that is to be checked off as students enter (or leave) the exam room.
  • Immediately attend to any suspicious conduct by the students. If the conduct is suspicious (but not necessarily conclusive), you should move the students to other locations in the room. This is most successful when it is done immediately and with as little disturbance as possible. State ahead of time that you plan to follow this practice whenever something suspicious occurs, and that you do it as assistance to all students involved. A statement such as this frequently helps reduce the disturbance element.

Handling Cheating

Charging students with cheating is never easy. However, the following suggestions should make it easier. If faculty members do not fulfill their responsibility for maintaining academic integrity, it makes it difficult to charge students with infractions of academic integrity. Here are some suggestions for handling cheating: 

  • Be certain that you are acting fairly and objectively and that you have all of the facts.
  • Become familiar with Section 1-403 of the Student Code so you know the procedures to follow.
  • Keep written records of the description of the cheating incident and the actions you and others subsequently take.
  • Speak with (1) your department head or chair to learn about departmental or college practices, or (2) other faculty, especially those in your department, to see what they have done and what the results were when they charged students with cheating.
  • Become familiar with the sanction alternatives and at what level students’ appeals leave departmental jurisdiction.
  • Be able to justify the sanction chosen by attempting to match it with the level or type of cheating that has taken place.
  • When your proctors and teaching assistants wish to make a charge of cheating, learn the facts surrounding their charge, and support them in pursuing appropriate action.
  • Do not make threats to students that you or the University cannot back up. For example, do not tell students that you are going to “flunk them and kick them out of school.” Sections 1-404 of the Student Code states that while UIUC faculty have the independent authority to give reduced or failing grades on assignments, exams, and in a course, they can only recommend a suspension or dismissal. By being knowledgeable about the Student Code, you can be better assured of commenting appropriately to students.
  • Remember that a system for appealing sanctions has been established for all students.
  • The UIUC Student Code states that once you are aware of infractions of academic integrity, you have the responsibility of enforcing the Student Code. Attending to this responsibility benefits your students, colleagues, and teaching assistants.

Procedures for Enforcing the Student Code

Once a student has been formally charged with cheating, the UIUC procedures for infractions of academic integrity are set in motion. When a student decides to appeal the charge, it is important to continually communicate with your department head as the appeal process moves through its stages. Knowing what is in the Student Code is essential. Listed below are some additional thoughts:

  • All students at UIUC (and most institutions of higher learning) have the opportunity to appeal charges of cheating.
  • Prepare yourself for moments of uneasy feelings. These are common and do not mean that you have made a mistake or are being unreasonable. These moments may also occur well after the entire procedure is over.
  • Support your TAs/proctors in handling the pressures incurred. They will be looking to you for guidance more at this time than at any other.

Discouraging and Detecting Plagiarism

Section 1-402(b) in the Student Code states that “no student shall represent the words, work, or ideas of another as their own in any academic endeavor.” We offer a number of other resources and suggestions to help you deter, detect, and deal with plagiarism. 

Strategies for Preventing Plagiarism

Prepare yourself

  • Become familiar with the UIUC policy on academic integrity as presented in the Student Code cited above.
  • Be able to locate plagiarized material on the web.

Prepare students

  • Explain to students the concepts of plagiarism, intellectual property, copyright, collaboration, and fair dealing. Teach students how to quote, paraphrase, and cite correctly.
  • Inform students that you will randomly check their citations.
  • Encourage students by describing the benefits of writing a research paper beyond learning new content, such as research skills, analyzing and synthesizing various viewpoints, and attention to detail by following citation guidelines.
  • Remind students of available resources, such as consulting with the faculty member, TAs, librarians, and the Writers Workshop.
  • Exemplify academic integrity in class by citing sources on handouts and during lectures.

Prepare assignments

  • Assign unique, specific topics and change topics each semester.
  • Require a minimum number of various types of references, such as Internet sources, journal articles, books, magazines, etc., or require the use of a couple of specific sources. Additionally, you may want to limit the age of sources to some appropriate amount, such as the last five or ten years.
  • Require students to submit material related to the research process before the papers are due. Some examples of materials you might require include: topic, preliminary bibliography, abstract, annotated photocopies of some articles, outline, rough draft, final annotated bibliography, and final draft.
  • Assign oral reports on the research papers.
  • On the day the research papers are due, ask student to write a reflective essay on what problems they encountered, the research strategy they used, what were the most useful resources, and in general, what they learned from the process. This way you are provided with a writing sample to compare to the research paper.

Possible signs of plagiarism

  • Mixed citation styles, such as APA, CSE/CBE, MLA, and Chicago.
  • Lack of references or quotations.
  • Unusual formatting, such as inconsistent margins, skewed tables, lines broken in half, mixed subheading styles (these clues may suggest a quick cut-and-paste paper).
  • An off-topic paper.
  • Reference to articles that are not readily available.
  • An out-of-date paper may be indicated by an old topic that is treated as a current event, or when all the sources are old.
  • Writing style changes throughout sections of the paper.
  • Unmistakable clues, such as the name of the paper mill, the name of a different author, URLs at the bottom of the page, and strange phrases such as “click here” and “graphic.” 


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