Feeling Pressure to Cheat in School

Look around during a test, and you might see someone staring at the inside of his glass frames, or studying her clear plastic pen. Some students prefer the team approach, working out a strange kind of Morse Code with a friend. They’re cheating. This section is about cheating — why people do it, and what you can do if you’re having problems cheating.

Most people cheat because of pressure to get good grades. Parental pressure and academic pressure. Parents put out a lot of money for you while you’re going to school. They probably expect performance in return. If you come home with bad grades, chances are that you’ll get hassled, belittled –maybe even grounded. It’s hassles like these that can make cheating look awfully tempting.

Academic pressure can also tempt you to cheat. If you want a college scholarship, or want to go to a good college, you have to have good grades. For example, professional schools, which are routes to high paying jobs, are flooded with applicants. Last year there were forty thousand students trying to get into medical schools, but only fourteen thousand made it. Even if you don’t plan to go on to college, you still have to worry about grades. Future employers look carefully at your high school grades. What we’re telling you is something you probably already know — that students have tremendous pressure on them to get good grades. Their anxiety level is up, and the temptation to cheat is strong.

Now, we can say cheating is wrong. But we know this won’t have any effect on you unless you agree and are willing to do something about it. We can’t tell you what your values should be. If you called this tape because you cheat and maybe want to do something about it, here’s a suggestion for something you can try to help you sort out your feelings. Before your next test, really study for it. During the test, think about how you’d feel if the kid sitting next to you started copying your answers. If you see cheating actually going on, pay attention to your gut reaction. Ask yourself if someone has the right to rip off answers when others have had to hit the books real hard to get those answers.

O.K., let’s say you feel bad about cheating and want to stop. What can you do so you won’t be so tempted?

First, try to relieve the pressure on you to get high grades. Talk to you parents about your grades in school. Show them that you’re concerned about learning too, and not just grades. Try also, to get good career counseling. Often, students don’t realize there are ways to get around taking those “required” courses which don’t interest them. A counselor can also help you choose a college or career and prepare for it in a way that will be interesting and satisfying to you. This can take away some of the pressure.

Next, a word about teachers. Teachers do have some responsibility when it comes to cheating. They can make cheating less attractive by making their courses more interesting. From time to time, they should change the lesson plans they have prepared for their classes to keep them interesting for the students and themselves. If they don’t they get as bored as their students. If you’ve got a teacher like this, get together with your classmates and discuss what can be done to liven things up. Then approach the teacher with your ideas. He or she will probably welcome some suggestions to keep the classroom from becoming a morgue.

Finally, let’s look at how you approach tests. Many people just don’t know how to study for a test. Or, they know the answers but blow it anyway because they freeze up. Some often mess up a good course grade because they do so poorly on the tests. Talk to your teacher or a counselor for some helpful information on how to study for a test, or how to keep from freezing up during a test.

You can probably improve your test scores if you remember this: many students like to skip class the day before a test, figuring, “It’s just a review today, so why go?” This is a big mistake. Usually, a lot of test answers are given at these reviews. Next time you’re tempted to skip class the day before an exam, don’t.

If you cheat, you probably do so for a variety of reasons. Perhaps you feel a lot of pressure to get good grades or simply because the class is boring. Maybe you cheat in just one required class that’s very tough. Or maybe you just don’t know how to study for tests and seem to blow them even if you do know the answers just because you panic. There is something you can do if you really believe cheating is wrong and want to stop. Try a few of our suggestions, and spend more time with your books. You might be pleasantly surprised with your own results.


For additional support and resources please call our 24-hour Teen Hotline by dialing 2-1-1 or 954-567-8336 (TEEN.)

Teen Tapes is produced by the University of Wisconsin, Madison.