Why do students plagiarize and cheat?

Keep in mind that not every student will cheat, but those who decide to engage in dishonest behaviours may be doing so because of the educational environment.1, p. 37 Although there are several nonacademic factors (e.g., pressure from parents); that encourage cheating, plagiarism, and fraud, there are factors in the educational environment (listed below) that may set students up to engage in dishonest actions.

  1. Concerns about performance
    • An emphasis on grades, accolades, and course requirements rather than on mastery.2 Students are less likely to cheat in courses that emphasize mastery, and are rooted in content that is relevant to the students1.

  2. Pressure
    • Heavy workload
    • Too many tests or exams in one day
    • Only summative assessment rather than summative and formative assessment3
    • Infrequent, high stakes assessment
    • Course work that seems unreasonably hard or assignments that are too difficult (creates conditions for low self-efficacy or the belief that one will not succeed)

  3. Panic4

  4. Opportunity
    • Instructor left the room during a test or exam

  5. Campus culture
    • The belief that “everyone does it”2
    • The belief that dishonest behaviour is morally acceptable in competitive environments, such as university courses5
    • The belief that no one ever gets caught or is punished
    • The appearance that the course or work is repetitive, stale, “busy work”, irrelevant, or a “hoop”


Important Questions

Why do students cheat?
What are the barriers to promoting academic integrity?
What are the ethics of plagiarism detection?
Why do international students plagiarize?

Teaching Resources

General suggestions for increasing learning and decreasing dishonesty
Preventing dishonesty in written assignments
Preventing cheating on tests and exams
Preventing visual plagiarism
Promoting integrity in online courses


Brenda Stoesz, PhD
Faculty Specialist - Academic Integrity
(204) 474-6958

You may also wish to visit these relevant UM sites:

Academic Integrity
Student Advocacy
Copyright Solutions


  1. Lang, J. M. Cheating Lessons: Learning from Academic Dishonesty. (Harvard University Press, 2013).
  2. Brown, D. L. Cheating must be okay—everybody does it! Nurse Educ. 27, 6–8
  3. Eberly Centre Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation. What is the difference between formative and summative assessment? Assess Teaching & Learning at <https://www.cmu.edu/teaching/assessment/basics/formative-summative.html>
  4. Williams, J. B. Plagiarism: Deterrence, Detection and Prevention. Handb. Econ. Lect. (2005). at <http://www.economicsnetwork.ac.uk/handbook/printable/plagiarism.pdf>
  5. Falk, A. & Szech, N. Morals and markets. Science 340, 707–11 (2013).