THE BLOG
01/08/2011 01:42 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Are You Wise to Cheating?

During the holiday break I had a discussion with a student from a large university in Arizona. She shared with me how angry she was at a classmate who cheated on the final exam. She told me that it "pissed her off." She spent hours studying for the test and the other student had the nerve to cheat and then brag about it. She said she felt "totally ripped off."

Over the past week I have been thinking about that conversation and the subject of cheating. I've grouped my thoughts into three areas:

-- Cheating is the symptom of something else
-- Cheating (and the prevention of cheating) is big business
-- Cheating has the power to ruin your reputation in the long term

I am sharing this information with you not to preach to you about the evils of cheating, but to help you be wiser about the subject of cheating. I am a realist. Cheating is going to happen, but I hope that if it crosses your path that you will remember this article. Before I start let me be clear, I don't endorse cheating.

Cheating is the symptom of something else

The first topic I'll discuss has to do with the fact that cheating is not a naturally occurring behavior. It is a symptom of something else going on in our lives. Something you are doing or thinking that causes you to make the choice of cheating. This might include poor time management, lack of interest, or being in over your head.

Procrastination and poor time management are major drivers behind the cheating symptom. If you mismanaged your time studying for an exam because you were partying too much or got lazy, you probably panicked when you realized you messed up and were desperate for a way to fix it. Cheating seems to be a quick way out. You make crib sheets, type answers into your cell phone, try to get copies of the test, or even ask people to text you the answers. Cheating is the result of something else you have done, i.e. getting your priorities mixed up or being bad at time management. You can control the symptom of cheating if you recognize the source of the issue and do something about it.

If you find that this sounds familiar, search online for time management skills, or speak with your advisor about resources on campus. Trust me, you are not the only one with this issue.

Lack of interest or boredom can also leads to the symptom of cheating. Sometime in your academic career you will take classes that you simply aren't "in to" and you'll feel no connection to the outcome of the class (except for the grade). You won't care. You'll "hate" the class and would rather have your fingernails pulled out than write another paper for the class. Your feelings for the class bring on the symptom of cheating. As such, you'll look for the easiest way out and may decide to plagiarize content for the paper from the Internet. You will mix the words up a bit and take from several different sources thinking that there is no way that the instructor will ever know. Guess again, they will. I'll discuss how later.

If a class is boring, speak to the instructor and find out how the class relates to real life and your interests. If you make it interesting to you, you'll want to be more engaged. If you simply can't find any connection to the class or any reason in the world to take the class other than that it is required for your degree, deal with it. It won't be the first or last time you'll have to do something that you don't like. Realize that the class is what it is, and luckily it is only a few months long. I've been there and know how hard it is. Challenge yourself to tough it out and avoid falling victim to the symptom of cheating.

Another set of circumstances that can lead to the symptom of cheating is getting in over your head. Students often try to take on too much, academically. Often students' egos get in the way and they find themselves competing with other students to be at the top of their class, or they are overconfident in their academic ability.

I find that many students are very hard on themselves about grades and class standings. They let grades dictate their own self worth. They are under pressure from family and friends to be the best. Maybe in high school they were at the top of their class and now they are not. For some, a quick fix to getting an A is cheating.

Advice: Being at the top of your class or getting straight A's isn't worth a dime if you've cheated your way through. You will be found out. Get yourself a tutor and/or talk to your advisor about the difficulty of your schedule. It's OK and even expected at some colleges not to get straight A's. If you are getting pressure from your parents, take them through your schedule and study habits. Walk them through your class syllabus. Help them understand how intense the workload is and how hard you are working.

Cheating (and the prevention of cheating) is big business

The second topic that occurs to me about cheating is that there are a lot of businesses that actually depend on cheaters. Their business model relies on you not using your time correctly, getting stressed out, and being afraid of failure. They want you to resort to cheating. Don't believe me? Go online and Google "term papers." You'll find hundreds of sites that will write term papers for you. Some charge as much as $10 a page and guarantee they will be original papers. Some websites even brag that the papers are written by retired instructors who have a Ph.D. They play on your vulnerability and need you to cheat to stay in business. Lots of promises will be made, but beware: if it sounds too good to be true, it is. Don't waste your money.

Other businesses that bank on cheating include turnitin.com and caveon.com. Turnitin.com checks for plagiarism, and caveon.com is an exam security firm that uses data analysis to protect tests from cheaters.

As many as 10,000 universities now use the service provided by turnitin.com to scan student papers. The scan will pick up any sections that are plagiarized. If you use any material that has been printed or is available electronically, turnitin.com will catch it. I know of students who lift as little as one sentence from an article without citing it correctly and were penalized for plagiarism with an "F" in the course. As I mentioned earlier, tools like turnitin.com are how many instructors find out that you have plagiarized you papers. You may not be caught every time, but you will at some point. Be careful.

Turnitin.com, and other companies like it, hope you will continue to feel the need to cheat. They need you to do so to stay in business. By all means, don't help line the pockets of companies who want you to lose control of things, panic and be cornered into cheating. Put them out of business, or at least hurt their bottom line.

Hint: If you are going to lift material, always paraphrase or site the source.

Cheating has the power to ruin your reputation in the long term

The third and last topic addresses the power of cheating. Few things can affect your reputation as much as cheating does. As I said earlier, I'm a realist. Cheating happens. If you cheat, you might want to think twice about telling your friends. Word spreads very quickly on a college campus. I am surprised at how carefree students are when bragging about cheating. I've witnessed it first hand and have even seen it on Facebook.

Why do people brag? I have found that when people brag about cheating they are really looking for others to respond in a way that will make them feel better about themselves and what they did. Too often the bragger ends up looking foolish and sets themselves up to be caught. Keep bragging and someone will turn you in. If you are looking for someone to make you feel better about yourself for cheating, stop looking. You'll feel better about yourself if you manage your life in a way that doesn't lead to cheating in the first place. I'll guarantee that you'll feel better about yourself academically and personally if you take control of your life situation.

A soap-box moment: One of the most valuable things you have in this life is your reputation. You may not think that cheating and bragging about it will affect your reputation in the long run, but like the student I spoke to from Arizona, people will remember you as the person who cheated on the final exam. I have college friends I will never hire for a job because they were cheaters in the past. I have colleagues who have said the same. The reputation you make now will affect you for the rest of your life. People remember. If you don't believe me, ask your parents if they remember anyone from high school or college who cheated. Chances are they will.

So here's the bottom line: if you cheat, you cheat. I'm not here to judge you or your life choices. I do ask that you be wise about cheating and think it through. Remember, it is a symptom of something else that is going on in your life. You are in control of your life, therefore you are in control of the symptom of cheating. Be smart. Be wise.