When no one is looking, Susie sneaks a peak at Linda’s spelling test. Ted peers through the cracks between his fingers while everyone is disappearing in hide-and-seek. Both Susie and Ted are cheating, deliberately breaking rules for their own gain. Two of the most common reasons children cheat at school are to win, and to get better marks.

What you can do
o Change your grading system in school. Cheating is a by-product of our educational system’s emphasis on getting good grades, and its limited scope of how children can be evaluated. When I was growing up, we didn’t think about getting into university until our senior years in high school. Now, most kindergartners know if they don’t try in school, they won’t make it to university or get a good job.

The worst types of exams are those with trick questions and those designed to separate the wheat from the chaff. These tend to make children nervous and forget what they ordinarily would know. Options to standard pen and paper tests are oral exams, open-book exams, group-participation exams, take-home exams, or no exams. Another idea you may want to consider is asking students to make up their own exam questions. This way they may feel more at-ease before sitting down to write their exams, as well as greater responsibility in answering their questions honestly.

o Help children realize their whole self-concept is not riding on a game or an examination mark. Make comments like, “I’m proud of you, because you stood up for Sarah in front of your other friends,” or, “I wish I knew how to tell a joke the way you do.” These broaden children’s awareness of qualities people admire, and help them recognize the positive attributes they have going for them.

o Discuss the virtues of honesty with your class. Describe cheating as a no-win solution. Even if children get what they want, they won’t feel proud of their success, because they know they didn’t earn it. As well, their friends, teacher, and parents will eventually find out they cannot be trusted, and will not want to be their friends or give them responsibilities. For instance, kids don’t want to play with a cheater.

o Breathe down their backs. Studies have shown that if children don’t think they will get away with cheating, they are less likely to cheat. It’s the same effect as the video camera propped in the corner of most banks–how many would-be robbers do you think it has deterred? Good tactics for keeping children straight are circulating around the room and sitting at the back of the room.

o Give alternate versions of the same exam, either by changing the questions, or if the exam is multiple choice, mixing up the order of the answers. You’ll find that by doing this once, most straying eyes will find their way back to their own papers.

o Arrange desks so the suspected cheaters are sitting next to each other. Usually kids know who knows more and who knows less than they do.

o Hold a cheating exam. Ask your students to prepare for their exams by cheating. Let them cheat in any way they want. At the end collect their papers, and carry on as if their marks will count. Afterwards ask them questions like, “Did you think it was a fair exam?” “Would you like to have all your exams this way?” “What would happen if you did?” “What would happen if teachers, doctors, politicians, and parents cheated?” This lets children experience first-hand the self-defeating nature of cheating.