I'm retired and this doesn't affect me personally but I'm curious. I don't remember cheating with an exam or an assignment even once, nor was I aware of others doing it. Going by what I read here and elsewhere, cheating is now something of an industry.

I can't help wondering how people who need to cheat get on when they reap the benefits of their dishonesty. Can they do the job that they are supposed to be qualified for?


Do such people get jobs? Are they easily filtered on interview? Are they easily detected once in post, and what happens to them eventually?

Is there any research on this, formal or informal and, if not, does anyone have any anecdotal evidence?

Personal observation

If I qualified for the Olympics by cheating, as soon as I started performing (at my age I would have to walk the 100m sprint), it would be obvious to everyone that I was an impostor. Surely it's the same for academic cheats.

  • 4
    There are a lot a misconceptions around cheating in your question and a very naive view ;-) Feb 6, 2021 at 20:51
  • @Massimo Ortolano - Please enlighten me. What are my misconceptions? Letting me know will help me to improve my question if necessary. Feb 6, 2021 at 20:56
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    A cheater doesn't cheat all the time in all possible occasions. Most cheaters are normal students who sometime cheat. And good cheaters are smart and hard workers who carefully choose when to cheat, clearly knowing when it's worth it, and you would hardly catch or see them. Those who got caught are the desperate ones, not the good ones. So, yes, students who cheat get jobs and some are quite successful at their jobs. Feb 6, 2021 at 21:04
  • See also this answer of mine. Feb 6, 2021 at 21:06
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    nor was I aware of others doing it --- Cheating was extremely well known in the mid to late 1970s (U.S. universities), as there were all sorts of elaborate preventative schemes designed in the large lecture hall classes I took (these not being math or physics major classes, which usually had fewer than 15-20 students), such as signing the test paper and signing a class roll when turning the test in, with graduate T.A.'s also coming around and checking student ID cards during the test (or maybe it was when turning the test in). And I'm sure it was a concern decades before this. Feb 6, 2021 at 22:27

1 Answer 1


Yes, people profit from cheating, perhaps for a long while. But the jobs they enter aren't as cut-and-dried as claiming you are an olympic athlete and it can take a long time for incompetence to be noticed. And incompetence can arise from other things than cheating.

I don't have evidence about studies but would probably question them unless very well designed. What criteria would you use? Would correspondents honestly admit to it? Could you run a longitudinal study and still be able to check back for prior behaviors.

Some people who cheat actually wind up to be competent, also. They might have actually learned something, or taken jobs for which they knew "enough". Some people cheat once or twice out of panic, but are otherwise honorable.

It is a very complex question. But I doubt that a lot, even a majority, of cheating is caught at the time and those who are clever enough or misbehave seldom enough will get through any gates we might erect. Our processes are designed to discourage the practice, but they aren't perfect.

And, no, I can't prove people profit, but the imperfect nature of the systems and the possible rewards and the panic among students, etc. etc. certainly imply that cheating happens without consequence.

And if you want to assure that cheating doesn't happen, design the course in such a way that it is irrelevant. In particular, in such a way that it isn't necessary to feel that you need to watch people carefully so that they don't. Of course, your evaluation methods are a bit harder to manage in such a system and the things the students do need to require real understanding. Oral exams are probably ideal, but scale poorly, of course. But even in a large, say, calculus course it only takes a few minutes to determine whether a student understands. My old advisor did this, with a line outside his door and a question or two for each student.

My technique was to use projects rather than exams for the bulk of the grade.

It is probably more difficult in the pandemic age, but also more necessary to think harder about evaluation.

  • I actually see a lot of courses in the new semester switching to project-based grading to avoid issues with exams during lockdown.
    – ObscureOwl
    Feb 6, 2021 at 23:18
  • @ObscureOwl, mine were team projects making collaboration required rather than forbidden. In CS it is a needed skill in any case.
    – Buffy
    Feb 6, 2021 at 23:20
  • Yes I see the same happening, like in a class yesterday. The flurry of team formation on the student discord was quite spectacular. I think most people had come to the online lecture especially to see who was in the attendance list. Usually it takes a couple of weeks for teams to form, now it took a morning.
    – ObscureOwl
    Feb 6, 2021 at 23:25
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    The problem is in courses where "understanding" is not a realistic goal. I have taught a calculus course for business majors. If we were to consistently fail everyone who did not have any understanding of calculus, the consequences would be a major budget shortfall for the department which would probably force us to lay off all untenured faculty and close our graduate program. We have to settle for rote memorization of how to do particular types of calculus problems as the criterion for passing. Feb 6, 2021 at 23:26
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    Another preventative measure is to do what one can to preserve what self-respect students might have. (Best not to put the cart before the horse.)
    – TLDR
    Feb 6, 2021 at 23:49

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