Last modified on 19 March 2012, at 20:56

Lentis/Electronically Enabled Test Cheating


A combination of increased pressure to succeed in academia, along with technological developments in consumer electronics have created what many consider to be a crisis in modern education. It has been reported that as many as 1 in 3 students has used either their cell phone, or another electronic device, to cheat on an assignment [1]. This recent upswing in reports of cheating using electronics results from discrepancies between electronic capabilities and regulatory policy. Many are concerned that with the increased facility of cheating more students are taking advantage of its benefits, potentially leading to moral bankruptcy in the form of lack of respect for intellectual property and merit.

The consequences of academic cheating can affect more than a person's GPA or college prospects. An October 2009 study [2] by the Josephson Institute of Ethics suggests that academic cheating is an indicator of future cheating in non-academic situations. The survey found that people who cheated in high school were more likely to break rules in the workplace, lie on their taxes and other dishonest behavior [2]. Hence, the use of technology to cheat is not just an academic or a technological problem. Research by psychologists suggest that students are least likely to cheat if their school promotes a culture of academic integrity [3]. This requires faculty to enforce policies that encourage academic integrity and adapt their policies to deal with new technologies.

The ProblemEdit

Social GroupsEdit

Myriad social groups contribute to the prevalence of electronically enabled cheating. Students, parents, teachers, and corporate interests are all heavily involved in the issue. While parents and educators are concerned with maintaining quality of education and instilling positive values in the students, the modern culture of success that surrounds education drives many students to desperate measures.


While academic dishonesty is a common problem among all educational institutions, opportunities to cheat have grown as students are given easier access to resources via the Internet, personal electronics, etc. Donald McCabe, a professor at Rutgers Business School and researcher on academic integrity, has conducted several studies on cheating in the United States and concludes that test cheating is becoming more prevalent in high schools. In a survey of 24,000 students at 70 high schools, McCabe reported that 64% of students admitted to cheating on a exam, 58 % admitted to plagiarism with 95% admitting to participating in some form of cheating [4]. One of the largest motivators behind cheating is the increased pressure to get into college, graduate school, or obtain a job. McCabe attests that students also justify cheating if they suspect their peers are also cheating and "they feel that they are getting left behind" [4].

This introduces the theme of peer influence in cheating. Cognitive psychologist David Rettinger, of the University of Mary Washington, concluded in a 2009 study of 158 undergraduates that "direct knowledge of others' cheating was the biggest predictor of cheating" [5]. In these cases, cheating becomes socially acceptable when students view it as necessary to stay competitive. Cell phones and other electronics may have exacerbated this problem, as a majority of students believe at least some of their peers use electronic devices to cheat [1].

Correspondingly, cheating can be reduced if a more reprehensible attitude towards it is cultivated among students. At the University of California, San Diego, the organization Academic Integrity Matters! (AIM!) is circulating a petition for faculty to better educate students about academic integrity [3]. The petition asks its supporters to reduce opportunities to cheat and report all suspected incidents.

Indicators for Cheating [6]Edit
Personal Institutional
  • Business and engineering majors are most likely to cheat
  • Campus norm
  • Future plans include business
  • No honor code
  • Students with lower GPA's (or those at very top)
  • Penalties not severe
  • Others doing it
  • Faculty support of academic integrity policies is low
  • Faculty members disinterested
  • Little chance of being caught
  • Required courses not in major
  • Higher incidence at larger, less selective institutions
  • No stated rules or rules unclear
  • Heavy workload


Parents perceptions of electronic cheating

Parents seem aware of the problem, but overwhelmingly trusting of their own children. It has been reported that while 76% of parents believe cell phone cheating happens at their child's school, only 3% believe their child is involved[1].

Even though parents are aware of the problem, often they can impede solutions. For example, in New York City parents took the school district to court after cell phones were banned from schools. They claimed the ban prevented them from contacting their children in times of emergency, citing the recent tragedy of 9/11 as justification. [7]

Groups such as Common Sense Media inform parents about technological literacy and abuse among children in the hope of reducing electronically enabled cheating and improving education. Individually targeted, home-based approaches such as these constitute the majority of efforts to reduce cheating on the behalf of parents.


Given the breadth of readily available information on the Internet, educators have no doubt that students will cheat unless they are clear and consistent in their policies. [8]. Educational psychologist Jason Stephens mentions that teachers can reduce the students' desire to cheat by emphasizing the importance and purpose of every assignment[3]. Alternatively educators can establish a sense of fairness in the classroom by enforcing honor codes. This begins by stressing the importance of academic integrity on their syllabi and taking time during the first week to talk about cheating, what is considered cheating, and the consequences of cheating [3]. The clearer the students' understanding of what is and is not considered cheating, the less likely they are to cheat.


Increasingly compact and sophisticated consumer electronics make it easier for the modern student to cheat. In particular, cellular phones have become a major factor in classroom testing as text messaging, internet access, and cameras become more common features. Increased memory sizes and text-editing capability have made many other electronics the target of students driven to cheat. While not designed for these uses, consumer electronics are facilitating a large portion of today's cheating.

Cell PhonesEdit

Teen Cell Phone ownership has increased over the last decade

Between 2004 and 2010, the percentage of teens (age 12-17) who owned cell phones increased from 45% to 75% [9]. In 2004, cell phones could place calls and send text messages, but today's phones are much more complex. Cell phone users can take and send pictures, communicate through social media, and access the internet [10] quickly and effectively through their mobile device. Increased ownership and capabilities of cell phones along with a changing perceptions of cheating is leading to an epidemic in the United States. In 2009, Common Sense Media released a survey that found 35% of students admit to cheating using cell phones [1]. If not combated, this may lead to severe degradation of education systems' ability to evaluate student performance.

Common Cell Phone Cheating Methods [1]

Other DevicesEdit

A comparison of calculator cheating capability

While cell phones are the principle focus of the education community right now, many other electronic devices have been used dishonestly. Multiple sites document how to cheat on exams using various other consumer devices, including Apple's iPod Touch [11], Texas Instruments TI-8X Series Graphing Calculators[12], and even color scanner-printers.

Commonly (as is the case with iPods and TI-83s) students use note or text editing programs to create and hide files which contain materials banned from a test. A student then simply reveals the folders and browses their contents during the exam. According to a Common Sense Media study, 26% of students use cell phones to store notes, a higher percentage than texting, taking photos, or accessing the internet[1]. This may suggest that students do not perceive of this activity as an abuse of technology.

In response, several private testing groups, such as the Educational Testing Service (ETS), practice policies which require students to clear calculator memory[13] and carry no other electronic devices into their exams[14].

Electronics have also provided the means for relatively inexpensive color printers and scanners. These devices have been harnessed by some enterprising students to produce professional-appearing labels, which in fact house answers[15]. By scanning popular product labels, using image editing software to modify the labels contents (to include concise notes), and reprinting the image, what was once an ordinary label is now a high-tech cheat sheet. This example, in particular, speaks to the ingenuity of students determined to succeed.

Proposed SolutionsEdit

Schools have become aware of the overwhelming presence of electronically enabled cheating in the classroom. Teachers and administrators have implemented various solutions to the problem. Some schools have attempted strictly policy-based solutions such as banning cell phones in the classroom or increasing punishments for cheating. Others have taken more technological approaches by installing cell phone jammers or using software tools that search for plagiarized work.


Student Cell Phone Use in School [16]

Banning cell phones from schools is one way districts have attempted to combat cell phone enabled cheating. A notable example of this policy occurred in New York City Public Schools where there was some controversy surrounding the ban. In 2005, the New York City Department of Education enacted a policy that prohibited students from bringing cell phones to school. Parents argued that this was unacceptable, as they and their children could not communicate during emergencies. In an ensuing lawsuit, filed by parents, the court upheld the policy, citing that cell phones are a disruption in the classroom and facilitate cheating [7].

Are these cell phone bans actually working? According to a Pew Internet Research study, despite efforts to ban cell phones, 65% of students still bring their phone into the classroom. Students sneak them into their lunch boxes, or under their clothes [7]. Some students have even payed local businesses to store their cell phones during the school day [17].


Cell Phone JammersEdit

Some schools have installed cell phone jammers that block cell phone communication during certain parts of the day [18]; however, these jammers are not always legal. The FCC restricts the use of jammers, as they can interfere with emergency calls and law enforcement communication and location technology [19]. In one case, the installation of a cell phone jammer led to a $25,000 fine against the manufacturer [20]. Not surprisingly, few schools are willing to break the law to cut down on cheating in the classroom.

Anti-cheating SoftwareEdit

As part of a less controversial measure, many schools are using software that helps to combat cheating. Turnitin is a plagiarism detection service that students submit their work to. The software checks students' work against a database and reports parts that match other sources. Some teachers also use software that can randomly assign different problems to different students, so they can not share answers [21].


The issue of electronically enabled test cheating lies in the lag between regulatory policy and technological innovation. As technology provides paths to what may have once been the unimaginable, it often presents opportunities for misuse which significantly disrupt societal values (in this case education). This speaks to the interdependence of innovation and regulation, both at a personal and political level, as we balance what one can do with what one should do with technology. In essence, successful technologies depend not only on thorough design and production, but also effective policies controlling their use.

Despite the wide-spread abuse of electronics in the classroom, many corporations such as Apple and Cisco have begun providing schools with their products at reduced cost. These groups support organizations such as the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) which helps to fund these purchases and train teachers to use the devices[22]. This may be an effort by these innovators to encourage more constructive use of their products in the classroom, steering consumers away from associating the devices with academic dishonesty.


  1. a b c d e f
  2. a b Josephson Institute of Ethics. (Oct 2009). Character Study Reveals Predictors of Lying and Cheating Retrived from
  3. a b c d Novotney, A. (June 2011). Beat the Cheat. Monitor on Psychology, 42(6). Retrieved from
  4. a b Meyer, J.P. (May 2010). "Students' cheating takes a high-tech turn". Retrieved from
  5. Kramer, Y. & Rettinger, D.A. Situational and Personal Causes of Student Cheating. Research in Higher Education, 50(3), 293-313.
  7. a b c
  8. Akin, S. (Oct. 2011). Professors diligent in trying to stop student's plaigiarism. Retrieved from