Cheating Cheating has seemingly become an everyday phenomenon in exam situations at most of Hungarian universities. Almost every student prepares for the examinations making handy little bits of paper, contemplating on where to sit and, during the exam itself, the most sophisticated even use their mobile phones to surmount the numerous gaps in their knowledge. Day after day in the exam period stories such as the following circulate in the corridors of the School of English and American Studies, as well as other faculties of ELTE and other universities in our country. It may seem surprising, but the story is not fiction, in fact, a student at ELTE told it to HVG last year. I always elaborate on all the possible topics at home and write them down on A/4 sheets of paper. My special examination suit has an A/4 size pocket. I always put the sheets into it, and, at the examination I wait until the topic of the essay is given out, then pick the right sheet in my pocket, and hand that one in.
2.1. Research Questions Is cheating really such an everyday phenomenon as it appears to be? Is cheating so easy to manage? What about morals? 3.1. Theoretical Background Brown, Earlam and Race reported in their practical handbook for teachers that Sitting written exams is one of the most stressful parts of life for many pupils (p. 44). The book also suggests that if candidates get away with cheating, it is going to be regarded as the teachers fault. Most teachers feel uncomfortable when encountering cheating and they do not think it is their task to prevent pupils from doing it. At least, they try to minimise the possibilities by telling students to leave their bags someplace far from the desks, and before starting the exam they are reminded to double check that they have nothing on their person that could be interpreted as a crib (Brown, Earlam & Race, 1995, p. 44).
But there are always a few who take the risk. Better safe than sorry! – say students afraid of not knowing one single answer to the exam questions. This is why they invented their own means, the illicit aid, as termed by teachers: the cheat-sheet. Students know hundreds of methods to avoid spending long hours preparing for examinations and tests. Of these, everyone can choose the one which best suits his cheating skills and of course the aim. Cheating, in general, begins at senior primary school.
The most widespread methods at this age are hiding small bits of paper (which contain all relevant information) in their pockets, under the question sheet or into their pencil cases, and writing things on their palms. The creation of the small sheets is quite time (and patience-) consuming as kids do not use computers to design these pieces. Writing on ones hands is risky as there is no way to remove the text when the teacher approaches suspiciously. As you can see now, these methods are quite elementary, easy to discover and, in fact, mostly done to amaze classmates rather than instead of learning. The next age group, 14-18 years old, uses more sophisticated methods. Modern technology is often of great help to the secondary school student: the computer edited A4 page can be reproduced on a much smaller scale.
Experts on the topic say that the smallest font legible to the students eyes is the 3 pt size. The laziest do not bother with typing, they simply photocopy the book at about 8 pages / A4 rate and cut the pages apart. University students prefer the previously-written-essay method, which is often much more dangerous than the others, that is why they use those as well. Everyone tries cheating once. After that, he decides whether it is worth it or not (Rka & Bunny, 1999).
In September 1996 a research was carried out at the University of Economics (BKE), Budapest for personal purposes under the co-ordination of G. Vass (personal consultation, March 3, 2000). A small group was interested in students opinion about honesty. Similar to us, the research group used a questionnaire as a measuring instrument, which had, beside 45 others, 5 questions about cheating at university examinations. They asked about 100 participants from different faculties to fill the questionnaire. However astonishing the results were, the research has not been published in any way.
The first two questions on the topic had four possible answers: Always, Often, Sometimes and Never. The first question concerning cheating was the most obvious one, Do you cheat in exam situations?. The results showed that the vast majority of the participants were regular cheaters, in fact, 12% said Always, 53.5% Often, 26% Sometimes and a strikingly low 6.5% proportion said Never. It must be noted, though, that cheating was defined as making use of any source of information apart from the students own mind. The second question of their questionnaire was Do you get caught cheating?. The answers partly explain the results of the first question.
Most of the students never get caught, the risks are minimal, So why not? said youths at the University of Economics Its much more convenient than learning. Table 1.a Questions and results of the 1996 research at BKE Question Always Often Sometimes Never Do you cheat in exam situations? 12% 53.5% 26% 6.5% Do you get caught cheating? 0% 5% 18% 77% The following three were Yes/No questions focused on the fact that cheating is something dishonest, something that should not be done, a fact which they ought to be aware of. They were, as it was clearly shown by the answers to the questions Can you be proud of a mark which is the result of cheating?, Do you feel uncomfortable when cheating? and Would you say that cheating is a normal way of passing exams? (The answers given to these questions are summarised in Table 1.b below.) Table 1.b More questions and results of the 1996 survey at BKE Question Yes No Can you be proud of a mark which is the result of cheating? 8% 82% Do you feel uncomfortable when cheating? 62% 38% Would you say that cheating is a normal way of passing exams? 27% 73% The overall conclusion of this survey was that students at the University of Economics are not as honest as one would expect educated people to be but they are at least aware of it. Another fact may be of some significance concerning the topic of our research. It is the fact that Western European and U.S. Universities are not experiencing the problem of cheating as a problem at all. Of course, their students do cheat sometimes, but so few of them and so seldom that it cannot be considered general.
A quick survey of only one simple question shows that, for example, at the Utrecht University only 3 out of 50 students would risk cheating at an exam (personal consultation with Tobias Kulka, March 6, 2000). Much the same is the situation at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Of the 20 students asked only one person answered that he does cheat sometimes at examinations (personal consultation with Sarah Thomson, March 2, 2000). Unfortunately, the question How can you manage so well without cheating? was not asked either in Utrecht or in Massachusetts in fact, Hungarian students might have made good use of the answers for that. 4. Method 4.1.
Participants As our research group was interested in the opinions of students as well as teachers, so there were two target groups of the survey. On the on hand, the students at ELTE SEAS irrespective of what year they are or whether they are students at the Dept. of American Studies, the Centre for English Teacher Training or the Dept. of English Studies. On the other hand, there were the teachers at these departments. The only criterion was that every participant should have taken part in some examination at SEAS.
All in all, 40 people took part in the survey, 12 teachers and 28 students. It is a relatively low proportion of the total number of teachers and students; therefore it cannot be considered a representative research. 4.2. Measuring Instrument As a measuring instrument our research group chose the questionnaire. Some features of this instrument are of great importance when dealing with a question of such great nicety as the one when a person has to provide information about his own uprightness.
One of these features is anonymity, which obviously facilitates being sincere, and another one is the time factor. Using a questionnaire requires much less time than any other method in research. More people can answer the questions at a time, and participants can take their time answering the questions. If someone wants to, he can take the questionnaire home to fill it at a later time and then give it back. This also promotes honesty: it is always easier to be honest when nobody is paying attention. An interviewee asking the same questions in person would have resulted in completely different results, as participants would have answered affected by public opinion.
Two questionnaires were used for data collection; both are included in the Appendix section. The two variants, the Students Questionnaire and the Teachers Questionnaire share many features. In fact, the only difference between the two is that four questions that do not refer to teachers were left out and replaced by others. Both versions consist of ten questions. Four of them are yes/no items including sometimes an I cannot decide option; there are some questions referring to frequency or proportion, and one multiple-choice question.
The last item of both variants is an open-ended question where a short (five-line) answer was expected but, in fact, only 3 of the participants answered that one. Apart from this drawback, choosing the questionnaire as our measuring instrument was a good choice. (See Appendix A & B for the two questionnaires.) 4.3. Procedures of data collection We began data collection with the students. They were all very helpful and enthusiastic; no one refused filling in the questionnaire because, as one of them told us afterwards, it took only about five minutes and when I saw the topic I got curious.
It took only two days to collect the 28 questionnaires. The situation with teachers was quite different. It was rather difficult to find them and they were not as helpful as students. I cannot believe that they do not have five minutes to fill in such a questionnaire. Most of them were mannerly, though, they took one and promised to bring it back later. But this way out of the 20 questionnaires we distributed we got only two back.
We managed to collect the other 10 by standing beside them while they filled it. It was rather surprising that generally about 15% of the teachers had the willingness to help us in this research. 4.4. Procedures of data analysis Apart from summarising the collected data and reckoning the percentages, there were some interesting results that we further analysed. In some cases teachers and students general opinion was much the same, in others they were in contrast. These cases required further analysis, the results of which shall be discussed in the next chapter.
5. Results and discussion 5.1. What is cheating? Why do students do it? Question 1. How detailed is the material students have to learn for a SEAS examination? One participant told us, I only cheat when the material is too detailed. Dates and other small details are rather hard to memorise and quite easy to confuse.
Stress mixes me up. The aim of the first question was to find out whether the students think they have the argument material is too detailed as a bogus excuse for cheating. The teachers questionnaire included this question as well to check if there is a contrast between the two opinions. It occurs sometimes that teachers do not realise how much they overload students; this often abets cheating. But that does not seem to be the case at the SEAS.
In fact, the responses of the two groups are quite parallel. Most of both students (68%) and teachers (59%) told us that what students have to learn is quite detailed, and only one teacher and three students think the material is very detailed indeed. The only significant difference between answers of the students tha …