Carnegie Mellon University

Eberly Center

Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation

Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation
Step 3: Explore Strategies

Explore potential strategies.

My students cheat on assignments and exams.

Students might blame their cheating behavior on unfair tests and/or professors.

Some motivational theories predict that students are more likely to cheat when they perceive the exams and tests as very unfair (e.g., requiring knowledge of material that was not previously covered or skills they haven’t practiced). If they believe it’s impossible to prepare for the test, they reason that there is no point in studying for it and so they might resort to cheating. Whether the unfairness is real or only perceived is not important in terms of its effect on student behavior. One situation where this theory might apply is when exams require students to transfer knowledge or skills to a novel context. Students often focus on superficial features of the initial learning situations (e.g., examples, cases, and problems) that they encounter without understanding or recognizing the general principle involved. So, when a new situation arises, they either lack the general concept you expected they had learned or lack the skill of identifying key ideas. If a student’s knowledge organization reflects a superficial understanding of the material, problems presented in a different context might look unfamiliar and therefore unfair. 


Assess what you teach.

Communicate the alignment to the students.

Assess what you teach.

Structure the course so that there is explicit alignment between assessments and instruction. This principle is the bedrock of course design, and reducing cheating is only one of its byproducts. For example, if transfer of knowledge/skills to new contexts is a focus of your assessments, make sure to provide the students with multiple and varied examples for practice.

Communicate the alignment to the students.

Make sure that the students understand what they will be expected to do that on exams and how it relates to the course activities.

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