Teaching & Learning
Main Links
Dealing With Cheating
Fair assessment of student work is a critical factor in creating an optimal learning environment. When students cheat, faculty can no longer fairly assess student work. Because of this, faculty have the responsibility to discourage students from cheating and to appropriately deal with cheating when it is detected. At Illinois, 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 Code when designing a course and assessments, and students should be familiar with how the 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 covers the material that you said it would cover, that students have enough time to complete the exam, and that its instructions are clear.
  • Help students 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 very least add new items. By doing this, students are less likely to use past students' exams to gain an unfair advantage.
  • 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; e.g., by 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 conversation with other proctors.
    • Proctors should never leave the students alone during the test.
  • 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. Doing so also helps to avoid embarrassing the student being moved, who may be innocent. 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. When making this statement, stress to the students that your asking them to move is not an accusation of cheating. A statement such as this frequently helps reduce the disturbance element and assure innocent students that they are not being accused of wrongdoing.
  • If you suspect a student of cheating during an exam, let them finish the exam in case you
    discover the student was not cheating.

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 1-404 of the 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. Ask if your
    college uses the FAIR (Faculty Academic Integrity Reporting) system.
  • 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.” Section 1-404 of the Code states that while Illinois 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 Code, you can be better assured of commenting appropriately to students.
  • Remember that a system for appealing sanctions has been established for all students, and you are responsible for understanding and respecting that system.
  • The Illinois Student Code states that once you are aware of infractions of academic integrity, you have the responsibility of enforcing the Code. Attending to this responsibility benefits your students, colleagues, and teaching assistants.

Procedures for enforcing the Code

Once a student has been formally charged with cheating according to the Student Code, campus 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 Code is essential. Listed below are some additional thoughts.

  • All students on this campus (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.
  • Offer support to your TAs/proctors in handling the pressures incurred. They will be looking to you for guidance at this time more than at any other.


  • Cizek, G. (1999). Cheating on tests: How to do it, detect it, and prevent it. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
  • Lang, J. M. (2013). Cheating lessons. Harvard University Press.
  • McKeachie, W. J., & Svinicki, M. (2014). Teaching tips: Strategies, research, and theory for college and university teachers (14th ed.). Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
  • Wankat, P. (2002). The effective, efficient professor. Boston: Allyn Bacon.