Cheating and plagiarism

Tempted to cheat? Or buy an essay off the internet? The Mix finds out if cheating and plagiarism is ever worth it, and what happens if you get caught.

boy cheating in a lecture exam

Checking my phone isn't cheating, is it? Erm...

What counts as cheating?

Most people know it’s cheating to sneak notes or a mobile into an exam, or photocopy someone else’s essay. You’re also cheating if you:

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

Boundaries vary – 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?

Teachers and academics routinely use plagiarism-detection software, and exam centres are starting to use gadgets such as mobile-phone detectors.

“Plagiarism is usually 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, different writing styles… Academics tend to know key texts in their field, so they’ll recognise chunks lifted from them. Otherwise, typing a phrase into Google does the trick.”

What happens if I’m caught cheating?

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, plus 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 the temptation was too much. We were both accused of cheating.”

Paul, age 25, submitted work produced 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. I had to redo it for a maximum mark of 40%. 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.”

Cheaters occasionally end up in court, such as the University of York student who paid a banker to sit his exams. Both received suspended jail sentences for conspiracy to defraud the university. Using smart drugs could also land you in trouble. For example, Ritalin is a Class B drug.

Appealing against an 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 to the awarding body (you can’t do this yourself unless you’re a private candidate). If you don’t succeed, 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.

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

Before you cheat…

“Talk to your tutor,” says Carrie. “We want our students to do well, but there’s no point allowing crushing pressure to build up until you take a desperate measure.”

Names have been changed.

Photo of boy cheating by Shutterstock

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Updated on 29-Sep-2015