Cheating in Assessments

In this article, Aaron Westgate, ICAEW Qualification Lead at First Intuition Cambridge, discusses the perils of cheating in assessments.


Cheating in Assessments

In this article, Aaron Westgate, ICAEW Qualification Lead at First Intuition Cambridge, discusses the perils of cheating in assessments.

What would we class as ‘cheating’?

The Cambridge Dictionary defines it as ‘to behave in a dishonest way in order to get what you want’. This sums it up pretty well, with the addition (like fraud) of the words ‘intention’ or ‘deceit’. It usually involves a situation where a reasonable person would know they probably shouldn’t do it as some cheating is more subtle.

Thinking about studying for exams, the most common would be cheating in the real exams. However, cheating in exams extends beyond this such as:

  • Accessing a copy of the answers before attempting a mock
  • Using generative text (e.g. ChatGPT or Bard) to generate answers

There are also a number of other areas of cheating that could occur, including:

  • For apprentices, this includes apprenticeship requirements; such as, if there is a requirement to submit a ‘portfolio’
  • For professional qualifications, this includes other requirements such as the approved supervised learning hours.
  • For the workplace, this could include internal assessments or mandatory training (such as money laundering, which is a compulsory requirement for accountancy firms).

Is cheating on the rise?

In 2022 and 2023, all ‘big four’ accountancy firms have been in the news for their students cheating in either internal training or professional exams. However, statistics on cheating in accountancy exams isn’t publicised so it’s unclear.

For comparison, let’s look at other exams. There were 4,895 cases of malpractice in GCSEs, AS and A-level examinations in England in 2023 (up from 4,105 in 2022 and more than double the number in 2019 at 2,950). This is out of 6,244,381 entries so is less than 0.1% of entries.

Technology has created more opportunities for students to cheat. However, whether it makes it easier to cheat is a more difficult question to answer as the Professional Bodies (and their exam software providers) had thought about this in advance of launching their computer-based and online exams.

With in-person exams there are strict requirements for exam rooms, such as the number of invigilators required and the spacing between desks. However, the methods of cheating have become increasingly complex and easily available with search engines like Google and tools that can be purchased (even on Amazon Prime). Linking to the GCSEs, AS and A-levels above, 43% of cases were due to mobile phones (which may be a catch-all for any technology used).

Remote invigilation is an increasingly popular choice and more widely available at the lower levels of a professional qualification. This created more opportunities to cheat, such as keeping course materials in the room, taking pictures of questions or even having another person hiding in the room. This would seem to have increased the number of instances of cheating in accountancy exams, as observed when reviewing the public disciplinary actions from Exam Boards. However, it also shows the level of supervision during these remote exams as there are checks prior to starting and live checks during the exam as well as post-exam checks of the video footage.


Why should you think twice before deciding to cheat?

You are very likely to be found out. The invigilators are trained professionals and experienced in a variety of methods of cheating. In addition, the technology is sophisticated and supports both in-person as well as remote exams; for example, monitoring for frequent eye movement away from the screen. This doesn’t stop once the exam has been submitted either as even with instantly-marked the results are usually delayed until the data is analysed for any indications of cheating.

With the GCSEs, AS and A-levels above, the most common type of penalty was a loss of marks (45% of cases). However, in professional exams the impact is much more serious.

Firstly, you can say goodbye to your current professional qualification or your student membership of that professional body. This is at least a breach of professional behaviour as it could certainly be presumed a student should know this might discredit the profession.

Secondly, you may be fined by that professional body also and ordered to pay costs, especially if unresponsive to investigations.

Thirdly, and possible most significantly, your employer would likely consider this a breach of their code of conduct and brings reputational damage to them. Losing your job is a very real possibility.

Finally, the impact of the above as well as the stress of trying to cheat (and/or being found out) is likely to have an impact of your mental health and wellbeing.


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