Cheating and plagiarism

Yes, sometimes you wanna smash your head against a wall rather than spend ANOTHER 12 hours writing a uni essay. So, out of curiosity, you head over to your laptop and start searching for someone to write the essay for you. But at what cost? The Mix explores the world of cheating and plagiarism.

Two young men are talking. They are discussing cheating and plagiarism. This is a wide-angle image.

What counts as cheating?

Most people know going on your phone during a test, bringing notes into an exam, or photocopying someone else’s essay counts as straight-up cheating and plagiarism. But did you know that you’re also cheating if you:

  • Copy and paste from books, articles, websites or other people’s work without giving them credit, e.g. putting the work you’ve copied in quotes.
  • Use other people’s ideas without referencing them properly (plagiarism).
  • Re-use your own or other people’s work submitted for other modules or courses.
  • Let others copy your work.
  • Get too much help from teachers.
  • Take drugs to improve performance.
  • Persuade or pay someone else to write an essay or take an exam for you.

It’s worth mentioning that every uni has its own set of rules as to what constitutes cheating and plagiarism. For example, one study of law schools found the cut-off point for a ‘minor’ case of plagiarism could be anything from 10-50% of an essay being copied.

Can teachers tell if I’m cheating or plagiarising?

Before starting it’s worth flagging that this advice stands for everyone, even you, postgraduate students. 

Teachers and academics usually use plagiarism-detection software. Plus, exam centres are starting to use gadgets such as mobile-phone detectors to combat cheating on phones. That’s how far things have advanced – they’re adding android and apple mobile-phones into the search for cheaters. 

“Plagiarism is actually fairly easy to spot,” says Carrie Dunn, who teaches journalism at the London College of Communication and three other universities. “Font size changes, leaving in HTML when copying from websites and different writing styles are major tip offs. Not to mention the fact that academics tend to know key texts in their field. This means that they’re likely to recognise chunks lifted from them. Otherwise, typing a phrase into Google does the trick.” 

So if you’re wondering how to plagiarise without getting caught, it’s honestly not worth the risk. The people marking your work have seen hundreds of essays on the same subject. The chances of finding material on the subject which they haven’t come across before is extremely slim.

Do exam boards check for plagiarism?

So, now we know that academics at uni make sure you aren’t plagiarising, how about other institutions. Like, do exam boards check for plagiarism?

Short answer – Yes. Just like your teachers and tutors, exam boards and moderators will check for plagiarism in exam scripts. Probably even more thoroughly than your tutors tbh.

What happens if you get caught plagiarising in a UK university or school?

We all know that you shouldn’t plagiarise in case you get caught. But what exactly happens if you do get caught plagiarising in a university or school in the UK? 

Honestly, this totally depends on the circumstances. You might get a warning, lose marks or have to redo an exam or essay – often with your grade limited to the minimum pass mark. Or you could be denied your qualification, expelled and/or barred from taking future exams. We should probably also mention that being accused of ‘academic misconduct’ makes grim reading for potential employers.

You could also land your mates in trouble, too. “A friend printed off my essay and handed it in,” says Holly*, age 21. “She was struggling and I just wanted to help her. We both ended up being accused of cheating.”

Paul*, age 25, submitted work he’d done for another module the previous year. “I got behind and panicked,” he says. “I thought it would be OK if I changed it around a bit. It wasn’t. I had to redo it for a maximum mark of 40%. Worst part was that it was for a group project, so everyone got 40% – even though I said it was my fault. They were furious and I felt terrible.”

Appealing against a false cheating accusation

You have the right to appeal if you feel you’ve been treated unfairly, or you’ve received a penalty that seems too harsh.

For GCSEs, A-levels and diplomas, your school or college should appeal directly to the awarding body (you can’t do this yourself unless you’re a private candidate). If you don’t succeed the first time round, you have two weeks to lodge a secondary appeal.

The next step is appealing to the Examinations Appeals Board (EAB). This needs to be done within three weeks of receiving the awarding body’s draft report.

On the other hand, uni students have to follow an official complaints procedure, which is explained in your handbook or uni website. If you’re unhappy with the outcome then you’ll have three months to appeal to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA).

Before you cheat…

“Talk to your tutor,” says Carrie. “Of course, we want our students to aim high. At the same time there’s no sense in allowing crushing pressure to build up to the point where you feel like cheating is your only option.” 

Plus, if you raise it with your tutor before things get out of hand your academic integrity will remain intact and you won’t be treated with suspicion in future.

Avoiding plagiarism

With such a big deal being made out of plagiarism we wouldn’t be surprised if you were a little nervous about accidental plagiarism. Thankfully, it’s something that can be avoided as long as you’re careful. 

Avoiding plagiarism essentially means writing in your own words. If you just do that then you’re highly unlikely to be accused of plagiarism. To clarify, it’s fine to quote or refer to someone else in your work as long as the quote is used to support your argument. For some more guidance, check out this expert response from The Mix to a reader who was worried they had accidentally plagiarised.

Stressed about your exams? Check out our article on exam stress here. You might also want to take a look around The Mix’s study and exam tips hub here. And if you’ve got something to say about cheating and plagiarism at school or university, let us know on our discussion boards.

*Names have been changed.

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By Nishika Melwani

Updated on 10-Apr-2022