Academic journal article College Student Journal

Test Cheating in a Rural College: Studying the Importance of Individual and Situational Factors

Academic journal article College Student Journal

Test Cheating in a Rural College: Studying the Importance of Individual and Situational Factors

Article excerpt

There is a long line of studies on academic cheating. This literature has established a litany of different individual and contextual factors that seem to inspire student conformity of the official rules of test taking. This study draws on this literature by using fourteen independent variables to explain the cheating habits of students in a Central Appalachian university (the model includes demographic factors as well as interpretations of variables related to professors and peers). While this study uses many of the familiar predictors of cheating for urban settings, it is unique in that it studies the impact of these factors in a rural campus. In the end, this quantitative analysis of 118 students reveals that the dynamics behind cheating might be universal. While rural communities might offer different dynamics for some issues, the extent of cheating at this campus mirrored the rates of studies from many urban schools (almost four of five students cheated in some way). Likewise, the inferential statistics also followed typical patterns. Almost all of the independent variables presented significant results in the bivariate analysis and the variables of Greek membership, enjoyment of college, peer cheating and the fear of punishment remained significant in a multivariate regression.


Academic dishonesty has probably existed since the inception of colleges. In turn, essays on student cheating have been around for at least the past 60 years (e.g., Groves, 1936). More recently, many popular and scholarly treatises have warned cheating has reached epidemic levels or that student cheating is inherent to the college experience (Michaels & Miethe, 1989; Whitely, 1998).

This paper concentrates on the factors that are associated with cheating on tests. In using a term like cheating, we mean the "intentional use or attempted use of unauthorized materials, information, or study aids" in any work submitted for academic credit (Pavela, 1997). With such a definition, there is striking evidence that a large number of college students cheat. Recent studies have found that students, on anonymous surveys, are quick to admit to many sorts of academically dishonest deeds (varying from giving false excuses for missing deadlines to stealing copies of exams). Some researchers suggest that about 50% of college students confess to cheating at some point during their academic careers (Whitley, 1998). Other studies suggest that cheating is even more rampant. For example, McCabe and Trevino's (1996) study of 6,000 students at 31 selective colleges and universities found that 70% of students admitted to cheating on exams, 84% to cheating on written assignments, and almost half to inappropriately collaborating with others on assignments.

While studies on collegiate cheating have flourished, the type of schools sampled has been quite narrow. Almost all of the quantitative studies on cheating have occurred at large and medium sized universities that are in or close to major metropolitan centers. Conversely, the literature has provided few systematic explorations into the cheating dynamics of students from rural college campuses (see Graham et. al., 1994; Tang & Zuo, 1997; Cochoran et. al., 1999). In filling this research gap, this work explores the academic cheating practices of students from a rural college in Central Appalachia. In the descriptive analysis, the study elaborates the extent of different sorts of test cheating at this college. Later, this piece identifies the factors that facilitate certain cheating practices. In doing so, this paper will determine if the variables that explain cheating in urban samples retain their predictive strength for students who matriculate at a rural college setting.

Literature Review

Researchers have identified a number of situational, dispositional and demographic factors that drive students to cheat. While some of this literature has yielded mixed and contradictory results, this study sticks with some of the variables that have withstood many tests of replication (i. …

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