8 Reasons why students cheat

I don’t think students are inherently bad or set out to cheat, but as I referred to in a previous post, every year I have to deal with students cheating – plagiarising, colluding etc so in this post I want to explore some of the reasons why students resort to these tactics.

There are a few reasons that drive students to cheat, but as I said above, I don’t believe they set out to deliberately cheat. The majority of the time students will feel pushed to the point that they don’t believe they have an alternative and see cheating as the only way to meet their deadlines. I would encourage any student feeling like this to talk to an academic support worker or their lecturer.

The information on this post is based on my observations and experience through lecturing for almost 20 years.

1 Time Management

Students will know when their deadlines are due but my experience is that frequently students under-estimate how much time it will take to complete their assessment – they don’t allow enough time for researching, reading, drafting, editing etc and therefore rather than submit work late or incomplete, they cheat. To overcome this students should look to improve their time management skills and speak to their lecturer.

2 Don’t understand the subject or question(s)

Learning to interpret and understand assignment and exam questions can be challenging and most of the time students will reach out and ask for help but on occasion a student may feel that they’re “stupid” because they don’t understand; assume it must be them and don’t want to feel embarassed and therefore won’t ask for help. As they feel lost, they will not submit their assessment. In those circumstances, when a student may feel out of their depth and don’t feel there is an alternative, they are more likely to either just not submit any coursework or they cheat. My post on understanding assessment questions might help students feeling a bit lost here.

3 Don’t know where to start

So they understand the question, have done all the reading, but the student feels overwhelmed – maybe they have done too much reading (or not enough) but when they sit down to work on their assessment, they don’t know where to start so they take the easy option and cheat. In this situation I would sit down with a student and help them get started; work with them so they can produce a plan. I would encourage any students feeling like this to talk to their teacher or lecturer.

4 Haven’t done the work

Sometimes students just don’t do the work. It could be any of the reasons outlined above or those I will cover below; but sometimes they just don’t do the work and rather than admitting this, they cheat. Reasons they may not have done the work would include (based on excuses I’ve heard across my years of teaching) IT failures; just never got round to doing the assessment; they believed they were leaving the course so didn’t do the assessment. I’m sure there will be other reasons.

5 Lack of confidence

Sometimes very good students fall down because they do not have confidence in their own abilities, believing that their work is not good enough to meet the standard and therefore desperate to do well in their assessments, they cheat. As with some of the other reasons above, I’d suggest talking to your teacher/lecturer; but sometimes just getting the first assessment submitted so you can get feedback and see how you’re doing. The first assessment can always be daunting as you don’t 100% know what’s really expected of you, so look on the first one as a trial run that you can learn from and apply your learning to the next one.

6 Stress

Stress can arise from a wide range of sources, both within the academic arena and outside. Students may feel under pressure because of the volume of coursework and if its a new course and they’re making the transition from school to college or university, the change in approach can also add to their stress.

In addition to the studies themselves causing stress, common sources of stress in students are work and family, along with health issues. Most students today need to work to support themselves while they study and the needs of their employers sometimes clash with their studies, resulting in stress.

When stressed we do not always make logical and sensible decisions, so a stressed student may feel unable to complete the work themselves and may cheat. Students can access some stress management tips from Healthline.

7 Family/Personal Life

Regretably sometimes families and friends can interfere with the student’s ability to complete coursework. They demand time and attention that should be spent working on coursework. There are only 24 hours in each day, so a student with competing demands on their time may find it more difficult to complete their assignments. It can be very difficult for students with children to focus on their studies when their children are looking for their parents to spend time with them. I have a lot of admiration for students with caring responsibilities. However, I can undertstand why students trying to balance family life with their studies may be tempted to cheat.

As well as family demands on their time for some students; other, younger students may have pressure from their friends who are not studying to socialise rather than studying and they may be tempted. Its not ideal, but I can understand why younger students may be tempted to socialise with their friends rather than completing their assessments and then feel forced to cheat.

8 Parental/Familial Expectations

There are times when students feel they are placed under enormous pressure to perform to a very high standard in their studies by their families. Sometimes the student may feel that they’ve been given an opportunity, their parents are paying their course fees and therefore they don’t want to let their parents down, or they are following in their parents’ footsteps and are expected to do as well as or better than their mother, father, sibling etc. This can place an enormous amount of pressure on a young person, creating stress as mentioned above. If they feel they cannot achieve grades to the standard expected, they may be tempted to cheat despite the risks.


There are, I am sure, other reasons for cheating that I have not considered but I hope I have provided an overview of why students cheat. I am referring to cheating throughout, but this could be plagiarism, collusion or any other form of cheating. I would encourage any students feeling pressured or stressed who are considering copying someone else’s work or cheating in some other way, to talk to your teacher, lecturer or other academic guidance staff within your institition.

If one of my students were to approach me I would sit down with them to get a feel for what’s happening and work with them to put together a plan to help them get back on track. Depending on when they talk to me, I may consider an extension but I’d want to get to the underlying problem(s) with the student and help them sort those out. If its something I can’t help with directly (stress, domestic problems etc) I’d refer them to other, appropriate staff within the college.

Cheating is never a solution; and if you are caught it may have serious repercussions including disciplinary action and possible removal from courses/colleges and universities, so please engage with your academic staff rather than struggling with your coursework.


    • Really so true said dear. And I also agree that when you cheat you think that you are cheating somebody else but in actual you are cheating yourself only!🤗😊👍

      • True. By cheating, the students are only creating bigger problems for themselves. But I do feel sad that sometimes they feel like they have no alternative; that they are so desperate

      • Yaa! Absolutely true said and I agree with you completely! And yes, here I’d like to say that your thoughts are so awesome. Please keep sharing your such lovely thoughts.
        Stay Happy and Stay Connected dear friend!🤗❤🌹💕😊

  1. Interesting read Brenda.
    And valid points.

    Your post made me think a bit deeply about cheating.

    I guess nothing is wrong with students cheating.(I meant behavior) and I am talking in general.


    Cheating is ingrained in humans.

    Let us introspect.

    The majority cheat every day.

    Why talk about others?

    Don’t we cheat ourselves? We cheat our kids, spouses, relatives, superiors, friends in spite of knowing that it’s wrong.

    Can we swear that we never cheat?

    “When students cheat on exams, it’s because our school system values grades more than students value learning.” ~ Neil deGrasse Tyson

  2. Wow, you did reflect a lot on this. And I can’t disagree. But we also teach our children right and wrong and we could get into ethical discussions too … I guess this is what we’re doing. You’re right. It’s like many things … perhaps there are degrees of cheating … but where do we draw the line … little white lies are ok because we don’t want to upset someone.

    I also think it depends what we mean by cheating … getting the answers in advance to an exam is cheating and wrong but copying someone else’s work and passing it off as your own is theft.

    To me academic dishonesty is wrong and while students will and do cheat, it doesn’t make it right

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