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Academic Ethics: How to Avoid Plagiarism and Cheating

Academic dishonesty doesn't just hurt you now—it can affect you long into the future. Let's explore the ethics of academics and how to avoid cheating.

The ethics of how students complete their work have absorbed the spotlight of academic discourse lately. Of course, learners have searched for ways to take the easy route on assignments ever since they first started receiving them. However, every essay and worksheet a student completes serves a great purpose, like teaching analytical thinking, problem-solving, and many other critical life skills. You shouldn’t rob yourself of academic value by plagiarizing or cheating to get your work done. But how do you define plagiarism and cheating? For instance, is there a responsible way to use artificial intelligence (AI) in your schoolwork to make it easier but not unoriginal work? Here’s everything you should know about the ethics of academia.

Why academic integrity is crucial

Teachers assign homework and tests to measure your comprehension levels and ensure you learn what you need not only to pass the class but also for the life ahead of you. A higher grade may mean you absorbed the material well, while lower ones often indicate what you may need to spend more time working on. That’s not to say the workload can’t be excessive—high schoolers average almost seven hours of homework weekly!

Assignments and exams benefit both the educator and the student. You learn collaboration and critical-thinking skills, and your teachers discover your unique strengths and challenges and are better able to adapt to your learning needs. Academic integrity also ensures you gain the knowledge required for whatever career interests you; getting by as a doctoral medical student is much easier when you have strong foundations in biology from grade school, for instance.

Related: How to Lose Your College Acceptance

Know what’s considered plagiarism and cheating

The basic definition of plagiarism is when you try to pretend someone else’s thoughts are yours. For example, imagine your professor asks for an essay about your life and you turn in Walden by Henry David Thoreau. Or perhaps you get a few interesting details from the life story of whoever’s sitting next to you and mix them in with some of your own so you don’t have to work as hard. In either case, you’ve plagiarized by passing off someone’s ideas as your own while also ensuring that you’ve gained no educational benefit from the task.

While plagiarism is a form of cheating, there are plenty of other ways you can get in trouble for academic dishonesty. If you swipe the answer sheet from your teacher or keep your notes out during a closed-book test, you’re cheating. Another obvious option everyone knows is glancing at your neighbor’s paper for the answers. People often do these things if they feel like they don’t have enough time to review, are having trouble with the subject, or simply want to get a good grade without putting in the effort. While the first two concerns are understandable, the best option is to speak with your teacher for help in better comprehending the material and maybe even an extension to prepare.

Related: Plagiarism: What It Is and How to Avoid It on Assignments

Is using AI in academics considered cheating?

AI is currently driving the conversation on academic integrity. Adults have assumed students will use it to cheat, but 71% of learners who’ve used generative AI said they have not and never plan to use it for such reasons. Most understand that tools like ChatGPT merely cobbles other people’s ideas together from the internet, which is a form of plagiarism. However, there’s no consensus on whether using it for help with assignments is cheating.

Students who use AI for their homework assignments mainly use it to explain information—much like how they would ask their teacher for help in school. As long as you’re not using artificial intelligence to complete your work for you, it’s okay to ask it a few questions for clarity. However, if your school prohibits AI use, it’s better to do things the old-fashioned way and save your queries for your classmates, professors, or Google Search.

How students can uphold ethical academic standards

It’s easy to uphold your academic integrity in many ways. Perhaps most important of all is to ask your teachers questions when you’re confused or require more time. You’re far more likely to find an answer and learn a concept by speaking up when you need help or an extension. Asking friends is also fine, but make sure you’re getting their guidance—not just copying their answers. Other ways you can uphold ethical academic standards include:

  • Ensuring you give yourself enough time to study and complete assignments by planning ahead if you know when they’re due
  • Staying after school with a teacher or going to a professor’s office hours when you need more thorough help
  • Communicating with your educators if you have time constraints, like working after school or caring for siblings
  • Discussing study tips with your teachers to find what learning style works best for you
  • Learning the proper way to cite information to avoid accidental plagiarism
  • Using AI for clarification rather than to generate answers

Related: 7 Savvy Habits to Help You Become a Highly Effective Student

Avoiding plagiarism and cheating is vital for success later in life. While some parts of what you’re learning might seem unnecessary, they could be significant to your career because you never know where it will take you. Additionally, academic work teaches soft skills that benefit you personally and professionally. Ask questions and learn to plan well to avoid a time-crunch scenario that tempts you to be academically dishonest.

Don’t let the fear of a bad grade get you down! Take advantage of all Our Best Advice for Homework, Studying, and Tests to make sure you get that A with integrity.

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About Carolina Jacobs

Carolina Jacobs is a Managing Editor at Classrooms.com.


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