Tips for Teaching Ethics
Creating an Immersive Experience and Active Participation of Students in E-Learning During COVID-19

Why Do K-12 Kids Cheat on Online Tests?

Blaming Others For Their Ethical Failings

By all accounts the number of students that cheat on online tests has increased over what it would have been with in-person tests. There are many reasons for the increases, not the least of which is to blame others for their behavior.

Cheating seems to be more prevalent with K-12 kids ostensibly because it’s so difficult to learn with online education and some teachers don’t teach well or at all. The latter is like saying: The teacher made me do it. Cheating

I was interviewed by the Wall Street Journal for my views on these issues. One thing I said is that some students have ethical blind spots where cheating on online tests is concerned. They use situational ethics to rationalize their behavior. In other words, what in some times and some places is wrong, in other times (the pandemic) is acceptable. The facts of each situation dictates their actions.

Ethical blind spots are when we believe we are more ethical than we really are. People often face a contradiction between what they believe they “should do” and what they actually do. Sometimes people fail to recognize that a situation involves ethics.

Situational ethics is when we let the circumstances of each situation dictate our behavior rather than follow objective rules/principles of ethical behavior such as “Never cheat.” “Never steal” and so on. Those who adhere to a situation ethic are using subjective reasoning to decide what to do.  

Cheating on tests is always wrong and here’s why.

  • It give the cheater a leg up on grading and is unfair to students that take tests honestly.
  • It establishes a pattern of behavior that may be duplicated in other circumstances.
  • It could reward students for bad behavior.
  • It cheats the student out of learning they may need for further education, especially when they return to the classrooms; the basics have not been formed.
  • You can’t cheat your way through life although some try to do so.

A motivational factor in cheating is the test itself—form of testing—has no internal controls with respect to detecting cheating. In other words, some students cheat because they can cheat and not get caught; another low ethical standard to rationalize bad behavior.

As a college professor, one thing I do with online tests is write questions that challenge students’ critical thinking skills. This makes it much more difficult to cheat than, let’s say, multiple choice tests.

Even with multiple choice tests, if there are 20 questions on the test then I would identify 100 possible test questions and create five different versions of the test so it’s more difficult for one student to share their answers with others. Also, I randomly select the numbering of test questions for each version.

Since using Google Chrome or another search engine to cheat is quite easy, it’s important for teachers to know that there is software that blocks students’ ability to use search engines during testing.

Cheating while online is a good example of a test of one’s ethics. It has been said that “Ethics is about what you do when no one is looking.” Taking tests honestly while online is a case in point.

In the spirit of the holiday season, I am giving away signed copies of my book to the first ten people who contact me at: [email protected] and provide a mailing address. May your 2021 be better than 2020. Let's face it, it can't be worse!

Posted by Dr. Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on December 23, 2020. You can sign up for his newsletter and learn more about his activities at: Follow him on Facebook at: and on Twitter at: