You catch a student cheating on a graded assessment. While you are required to report them to a student-affairs administrator, it is up to you, the instructor, how to grade the student on the assessment.

The most common response seems to be to give the student a zero on the assessment. If this is an exam, this may mean failing the course.


Is punishing a cheating student by failing them useful because it results in learning (either by the individual cheater, or by the community at large because of the message it sends), or because it weeds out students who are dishonest?

I would appreciate any references to the effectiveness of punishment for academic dishonesty leading to changed behavior(s).

Note: If a student cheats on assessments, it is clear that you will not have sufficient data to grade their knowledge or abilities there. This question is not about whether we should accept work completed via cheating, but whether rewarding the behavior with a failing exam/course grade is effective in some way. Answers that boil down to "but what else can we do" probably answer a different question not being asked here.

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    "While you are required to report them to a student-affairs administrator": Beware that this is not universally true. – Massimo Ortolano Jun 28 '20 at 18:13
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    Giving them a zero on the assignment is largely about preventing them from profiting from the cheating, and only to a lesser extent about punishment. It’s similar to how if someone steals money, the first thing the authorities will do when they catch them is take back the stolen money if they can find it. The official punishment (prison time etc) is separate from that. – Dan Romik Jun 28 '20 at 18:49
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    @DanRomik The question you linked presupposes a usefulness of a failing-for-cheating policy, questioning whether it is proper to fail student A for helping student B cheat on their exam. I am trying to understand the underlying rationale of the failing-for-cheating policy: How, exactly, is it useful. – user138719 Jun 28 '20 at 19:06
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    @user138719 the rationale is explained in the linked question: the cheater’s assignment is not a reliable indication of their knowledge, therefore zero is the only grade that can logically be assigned. This is true regardless of any other considerations of punishment, deterrence, sending a message to others etc. – Dan Romik Jun 28 '20 at 21:04
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    (relevant link) I see the biggest reason for such a punishment as deterrence. If the consequences of cheating were no worse than just having to, e.g. rewrite an exam without cheating so that their academic ability can be properly judged, then a lot more people would do it - there's no risk. But deterrence only works if you follow through with the punishment after the bad thing is done, regardless of if the punishment is otherwise useful. – Rayna Grayson Jun 29 '20 at 12:10

In my opinion, yes. They learned to cheat by seeing their classmates cheat, and cheating is a learned behavior. Since cheating was learned, they can learn from punishment, that this will negatively affect their reputation as a student and their future.


Yes, punishment for cheating should be a lesson learned. How it is learned will depend on the person. Basically when someone cheats, they are cheating themself, because by taking the easy way out they will be less prepared than someone who worked hard and did something properly, even if they made mistakes along the way. Someone who cheats their way through high school or undergraduate, for example, will soon realize that late undergraduate or graduate could have been made easier if they had actually worked and put the effort earlier to prepare themself beforehand. Others, will realize that all that effort just to suffer such a punishment was not worth it and adjust their behavior accordingly more immediately.

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