Survey Results: Student Attitudes Towards Cheating

Published February 1, 2004

Several organizations conduct surveys on attitudes and opinions of American teenagers regarding cheating. According to a 2002 Public Agenda survey of 1,008 teenagers nationally, four in 10 students say their school has problems with too many students cheating on tests.

Who’s Who Among American High School Students Annual Survey of High Achievers

This survey spans three decades (1970-2000) and is the most comprehensive database available online of the attitudes and opinions of high-achieving teens on a range of subjects, including cheating.

In the 1999 survey, 84 percent of the high school students judged cheating to be “common” among their peers. That high percentage was not surprising in light of the fact that 78 percent of the same students confessed they themselves had cheated. Ninety-five percent of the students who cheated said they did not get caught.

In a survey of college students some 60 years ago, only 20 percent admitted to having cheated in high school; today, only 22 percent report they do not cheat.

The most common forms of cheating in 1999 were:

  • Copying someone else’s homework: 65%
  • Cheating on a quiz or test: 39%
  • Using published book notes instead of reading the book: 33%
  • Plagiarizing published work: 10%

When asked why they cheated, students responded as follows:

  • Competition for good grades: 56%
  • Didn’t seem like a big deal: 56%
  • Not interested in the subject: 30%
  • Didn’t think I’d get caught: 25%
  • To get into a good college: 16%
  • Parents encouraged me: <1%

When asked how difficult it would be to obtain test questions or answers at their high school, more than half of the students (56 percent) said it would be “easy” or “not very difficult.”

Rutgers University Surveys

Donald McCabe, a professor of management at Rutgers University, has conducted a number of surveys of cheating among high school students in recent years. In a 2001 survey of 4,500 high school students, he found more than half admitted to plagiarizing from the Internet, three-quarters (74 percent) admitted they had cheated on exams or tests, and 97 percent admitted to cheating on homework.

In another study of 500 middle and high school students, McCabe found more than two-thirds didn’t consider doing work with classmates to be cheating, and half didn’t see anything wrong with parents doing their homework for them.

When McCabe asked his student respondents why they cheated, many cited “academic pressure,” but the most common response was that the adult world sets such poor examples. In surveying faculty, McCabe found almost 90 percent reported being aware of cheating occurring in their classroom within the past two years, but almost one-third (32 percent) said they did nothing about it.

Josephson Institute of Ethics

Since 1992, the Josephson Institute of Ethics has conducted a survey of the ethics of American youth every two years. The Institute, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization based in Marina del Rey, California, was the force behind the creation of the Character Counts! Coalition, a partnership of more than 500 educational and youth-serving organizations committed to improving the ethical quality of America’s young people through character education.

The Institute’s 2002 survey of 12,474 high school students was released with the observation that “cheating, lying, and stealing by high school students have continued their alarming, decade-long upward spiral.”

Among the findings:

  • Students who admitted to cheating on an exam at least once during the past year jumped from 61 percent in 1992 to 71 percent in 2000 and 74 percent in 2002.
  • Students who admitted to stealing something from a store during the past year jumped from 31 percent in 1992 to 35 percent in 2000 and 38 percent in 2002.
  • Students who said they would be willing to lie to get a good job jumped from 28 percent in 2000 to 37 percent in 2002.
  • Students who said they had lied to their parents during the past year jumped from 83 percent in 2000 to 93 percent in 2002.
  • Students who said they had lied to their teachers during the past year jumped from 69 percent in 2000 to 83 percent in 2002.

However, some cognitive dissonance appeared evident.

For example, the vast majority of high school students (79 percent) agreed with the statement, “It’s not worth it to lie or cheat because it hurts your character.” Nevertheless, 43 percent also agreed that “A person has to lie or cheat sometimes in order to succeed,” an increase from 34 percent in 2000.

Also, despite the high proportion of students who admitted lying, cheating, and stealing in the past year, three-quarters (76 percent) still said, “When it comes to doing what is right, I am better than most people I know.”

Although parents get the blame for many things, they don’t seem to be sending the wrong message or mixed messages to their children. Some 84 percent of students said, “My parents want me to do the ethically right thing, no matter what the cost.” And only a tiny percentage (7 percent) agreed with the statement, “My parents would rather I cheat than get bad grades.”

George A. Clowes is managing editor of School Reform News. His email address is [email protected].

For more information …

Three decades of data (1970-2000) from the Who’s Who Among American High School Students Annual Survey of High Achievers are available in query form at the Web site of Who’s Who Among American Teachers at

The 2002 survey conducted by the Josephson Institute of Ethics, “Report Card 2002: The Ethics of American Youth,” is available online at

A news release on the survey is available at