Do colleges know if you’ve cheated?
Interview with a high school teacher about cheating
Interviews: what do you think of cheating?

By Fred Scarf, 17, Birmingham HS (Van Nuys)
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Fred says cheating prevents students from learning, something that will give them opportunities and confidence.

Earlier this school year, I let a classmate copy my homework and thought nothing of it. It is very painful for me to tell you this. Even as I write about this, it makes me feel like throwing up. I’m nervous that when everyone reads this, they will think that I am just another cheater and a hypocrite.

When we got our papers back, the teacher had written on both of our assignments, “If I ever see this again, you both will get a zero.” My classmate had said, “Hey, can I check my answers?” I didn’t know he was going to copy my homework word for word. I rarely let anyone copy my homework, and after that incident, I never will again.

The more I see cheating all around me, the more it bothers me. It is discouraging that I stress and stay up late studying while other students score just as high by cheating. It makes me wonder, what is the point of grades, going to class, or even the educational process?

One of the reasons I ask these questions is because of something that happened in my AP art history class. This is one of the hardest AP classes because of the tons of material. On the first day, our teacher gave us the syllabus, which stated that there were only four tests for the first semester (including the final) and two for the second semester. I was nervous when I saw this, knowing that each test would make me or break me. I’ve never been in a class where there was practically no homework and just a few tests that would determine your grade. I knew this class had to be a priority and I could not fall behind. Our teacher wrote the grading system on the board and said that only a few people get A’s. At that moment, I decided to strive to be one of those people. I knew it would be hard—our textbooks were nearly 2,000 pages and weighed 11 pounds.

Illustration by Rachel Chung, 17, University HS

Each day I would read the book and add to my study guide, filling it with extensive notes and details. I would Google each piece of art and paste it into my study guide, which is currently 600 pages. Before each test, I would dedicate two solid weeks to studying my textbook, study guide and a prep book called Art History For Dummies. Sometimes I would study with a friend, trying to think of stupid little tricks to remember each piece.

Although this class was pretty stressful, I was interested in learning and studying the material. As each test approached, I usually stayed up until 3 a.m. studying. I still remember what it was like when all the lights were off, except for my computer’s monitor. I live near a very busy street and as the night wore on, I would eventually hear no cars driving by. I would hear only the coyotes howling in the dark canyons of Sherman Oaks. I felt like I was the only person in Los Angeles who was still awake.

The day before our art history final, the teacher gave us the class period to study. As we studied a million and one flashcards, my classmates and I felt the weight of the test approaching. Then one of my classmates said he hoped that the student who sat next to him would come the next day. “I need to cheat off of them,” he said. I did not say anything, but all the frantic studying and late nights flashed through my mind.

In the end, my cheating classmate and I got the same grade in the class: a B. When he told me his grade, I tried to play it off as if I didn’t care, but I was pretty upset. What did he do to earn his B? Glue his eyes to his neighbor’s Scantron! I felt like my B didn’t mean anything.

At the same time, I understand why someone would cheat. After being absent for a day, one of my classmates asked me during nutrition if I was ready for the history quiz that had been announced yesterday. I suddenly got that diarrhea feeling because we had signed a contract in the beginning of the year saying that we would always be prepared. During nutrition, I tried to study with another student. We started to study all the dates, names and battles that would be on the test, but I was too nervous to remember a single fact. The bell rang and history was about to start. “Whatever!” she exclaimed. “I’ll just write this on my hand.”

Would I get caught?

I asked my teacher if I had to take the test even though I’d been absent and she said yes. That’s when I thought about cheating or ditching. I had never ditched before, but wait, she had already seen me! OK, cross that plan out. I started to wonder if I would get caught if I cheated. How could I? I sit in the back of the class and the teacher is always eyeing a group of talkative boys. Plus she would never be suspicious because I have never cheated and am one of the more serious students. If I did cheat, no one would say anything and my grade would be a lot higher. Why not?

The teacher distributed the quiz. I heard some whispering and looked over. It was the girl who had answers on her hand. I saw people trying to look at other people’s papers and signaling each other’s attention.

But I just could not bring myself to cheat. I would feel too sick and guilty. I left many questions blank and eventually got my score, which was 19 out of 87. That is a 22 percent. I was devastated because I have NEVER scored so low on a test, especially in a class I take so seriously. It really hurt my grade. But if I had cheated, who would I be?

Considering how common cheating is, I always admire those who take the hard way. My AP English teacher, Ms. Ahn, is known as one of the hardest AP English teachers. A week after our final, Ms. Ahn posted our first semester grades. When one of my classmates told me that she got a D, I was shocked. I asked her if she regretted taking Ms. Ahn’s class and wished she had switched to another English class if she had the opportunity. “No, because at least I learned something,” she replied.

But most students have a different philosophy on education. One day in another class we were taking a quiz. As people were finishing up their essays, I heard one of my classmates whisper “Psst! What is this answer?” to another student. I’m not sure if he ever got the answers, but when he turned in his quiz, he was talking about how he wanted to attend an Ivy League college. When he said that, I thought that it was ironic that he plans to attend one of the best schools in the nation but doesn’t want to study for a quiz. It’s kind of a joke. I saw him a few days later, anxiously trying to calculate his GPA and rank.

It’s funny because this student wants the best education and isn’t learning, while the girl in my English class is getting poor grades but she is learning. All the cheating I see makes me wonder if grades are a good idea. Sure, grades are a great motivation, but at the same time, grades are encouraging students to cheat and dwell on their rankings.

In a past class, I once told the teacher that most of her students were cheating. I expected the teacher to be furious, but instead he replied, “Well, cheating happens in every class.” I felt like I was the only person against cheating in the class, but I can’t be the policeman. If a teacher is not going to stop the cheating, who is?

A teacher told me in ninth grade that I should never check my grades and just strive to understand the material. I thought she was crazy. Now I understand her perspective, and agree that many students have lost their way. We have been caught up in the superficial benefits of grades without remembering that we should be learning.

Click here to read Christina’s story about the time she got caught cheating on a quiz.

Other stories by this writer …

Halloween tricks and treats. Fred dressed up as an iPod commercial. (Oct. 2006.)

I’ll never forget Shiri. Fred’s friend died of a rare form of bone cancer, but he remembers he best as a charming, fun "Tweety Bird" with a mischievous side. (Sept. 2006)