School Rules! The Benefits of Schools Obtaining Honor Codes

By Emily Marson ’26

The following was written for FYS 101: Who Succeeds in College?

A Greek poet, Sophocles, once said, “[it is better to] fail with honor then succeed with fraud” (“Sophocles Quotes”). Academic dishonesty is a prominent issue throughout schools everywhere, ranging from elementary schools to universities. However, students cheating in school is a short-term “solution” that causes long-term problems. Although Sophocles’ quote is broader in the sense of life in general, it can be applied to academic settings as well. Academic success does not come to those who cheat in school, but to those who work hard and can accomplish things on their own. To try to solve the problem of academic dishonesty, honor codes have been created. Honor codes describe the dangers of cheating, what it means to cheat, and the consequences that come with academic dishonesty. However, not all schools have honor codes. Therefore, schools need to be environments where honor codes are used and highlighted, so that students can be more successful in school because of fear of the consequences following academic dishonesty.

Disadvantages of Cheating

            In schools, students are expected to do their work on their own (with the exceptions of designated group work). However, not every student chooses to do this. Too many students cheat on tests by copying answers from students next to them. Others look up answers to homework assignments and copy them down, as if they did the work to determine the answers themselves. Cheating comes in various forms, and although it seems like a good idea to some, in reality, cheating is never the solution. One reason why cheating is unacceptable is because it is inequitable to the students who do not cheat (Bishop, 1993). There are instances when the sincere students receive lower grades then the students who cheat, which is not fair because the students who do not cheat did the work on their own. This means that the grades the honest students receive are earned, which is not true for students who cheat. Additionally, cheating is immoral because “cheating also cheapens the diploma” (Bishop, 1993). This means that cheating takes away the value of graduating, from any level of school. They did not work as hard to graduate, they did not learn from their studies, etc. Cheating to get ahead also does not help in the long run. It decreases the room for personal growth. It does not teach the life lessons and skills that school experiences should teach students, such as determination, stress-management, etc. Cheating only allows students to cut corners; is not a solution to the problem as to why students feel that cheating is the last option.

Cheating in Schools: Why does it happen?

Students have become more prone to cheating and academic dishonesty in recent years..  Recent studies show this to be the case. For example, one study found, “Smaller scale studies have found the rate of misconduct to be as high as 90% of undergraduate students… (Harris, Harrison, McNally, & Ford, 2019). Another study found that 40.4% of graduate students admitted to committing at least one act of academic dishonesty (Miller, Shoptaugh, & Wooldridge, 2011)” (Mile, 2022). This data describes a high percentage of students who have admitted to cheating. This should be an alarming concern for schools, considering how extreme 90% is for the rate of cheating undergraduates found in this study (Mile, 2022).

Cheating in academic settings is such an issue is partly because students are unaware of what cheating entails. Cheating comes in many forms, thus various times when students cheat, they are unaware that what they are doing is actually considered cheating. Academic dishonesty in schools is a large scale that can range from copying an answer on a test from a neighbor to plagiarizing an entire paper, with various other acts of cheating in between. To help students fully understand what it means to be academically dishonest, all schools need to enforce honor codes. This will spell out what cheating means to students, and propose what consequences comes with cheating. Once students are aware of the consequences, they will be less motivated to cheat, for fear of facing the consequences that come with cheating.

Piaget’s Theory of Child Development

Piaget’s Moral Development of Children is a theory that accentuates that action and cognitive processes are how morality is developed in children. This theory emphasizes moral reasoning in children that is developed through fear of consequences. Piaget’s theory can be connected to the benefits of implementing honor codes in schools because this reasoning emphasizes that children learn morals and judgement at a young age based on experience with consequences. Children learn the difference between right and wrong when punished for doing the wrong thing(s) and it teaches them to follow the rules. Then, children do not want to face these consequences again, and this theme becomes apparent throughout their life. Thus, honor codes and academic consequences can be seen to motivate students to follow the rules and not jeopardize their academic careers, which will help them become successful students.

Piaget’s theory can be further advanced to explain that students are fearful of consequences that come with academic dishonesty. This fear that children develop from experiences with consequences and is used as motivation to do better and follow the set rules. This continues throughout their lives and is relevant in school. When honor codes are promoted in schools, students do not want to break them due to the fear of consequences. This lowers the chance that students will cheat.

Morality also plays a role in whether or not students cheat in school, which is touched on in Piaget’s theory. Children develop morals at a young age based on upbringing and experiences. Piaget himself explains, “At least, it [morality] is respect for rules, and it appertains to an enquiry like ours to begin with the study of facts of this order” (Piaget, 1932). This explains that morality is used and apparent when it comes to rule-following, because people use morals when considering what is right and wrong, and that following rules is morally right. Piaget’s theory and morality can be used in the context of a school setting as well. The rules that honor codes lay out are what students can be morally obligated to follow. There is also typically a sense of unwanted guilt that follows when students think about or do go against the honor code. This is because honor codes explicitly explain that it is wrong to cheat in any way, and consequences will follow if you do cheat (McCabe 1999).

Honor Codes Moderate Cheating

            When honor codes are put into place in schools, students are less likely to cheat. Academic dishonesty is reduced in schools that implement honor codes because knowing the consequences decreases the likelihood that students will risk cheating and because students do not want to receive said consequences. Honor codes lay out consequences that come with academic dishonesty and define exactly what cheating entails. Thus, it is harder to validate academic dishonesty when it explicitly states exactly what cheating entails (McCabe, 1999). Honor codes provide clarity for students to see exactly what defines cheating.

Honor codes are also made to describe the severity of consequences that students will be penalized by if they cheat in any shape or form in an academic setting. Some examples of these punishments are detention, suspension, expulsion, etc. Every school honor code is different, so the types of punishments for cheating all depends on the school, level of schooling, (elementary, middle school, high school, college), and other factors. Every act of cheating is different as well, so level of punishment will most likely depend on the level of the cheating.

McCabe’s Study

            Donald McCabe is a researcher who recognized the growing problem that academic dishonesty has become in schools. He decided to dive deeper into this problem and has conducted studies that revolve around cheating and the effects of honor codes. He has worked on lots of research on this topic, and he has written numerous articles (including a book) all about academic integrity and honor codes.

In one of his popular studies, he compared “honor code and non-honor code environments” (McCabe, 1999). The purpose of this was to see how honor codes effect students based on comparisons from students who do not attend schools with honor codes. Some of his findings from this study include that students at schools without honor codes know more about cheating that goes on at their schools compared to students who attend schools with honor codes. He concluded that this is because there is more cheating that goes on at schools that do not have honor codes. Also, the students who attend schools without honor codes are not aware of the consequences and guidelines their schools have (McCabe, 1999). This is because honor codes are created to explain the consequences and guidelines, so students at non-honor code schools do not know the school policies revolving academic dishonesty. The students who are not guided by honor codes have different attitudes and views on cheating. These students do not see cheating as a disadvantage or a moral drawback because they are not given a code to abide by.

As shown by this study, honor codes are needed in order to define cheating and decrease the rising number of cheating cases that go on in schools. Creating honor codes will construct less “grey areas” when students know and understand the extent of cheating (McCabe, 1999). It will also encourage students to not be academically dishonest and provide a moral obligation to be academically honest. Overall, honor codes can produce successful students.

Teachers Have the Power

            Honor codes that are used in schools can help decrease the high rates of academic dishonesty with students. However, honor codes cannot just be put into place because they are most effective when they are also enforced. For example, teachers who enforce honor codes can have a direct and significant effect on students’ likeliness to cheat, or lack of. Not only are they less likely to cheat, but students will also be more motivated in general to achieve academic success. Teachers who are more engaging can more effectively encourage students’ willingness to do well in the classroom and do well on their own (Wigfield, 1989). Encouraging teachers will not make students feel as though they need to use others or other resources just to get the work done. Teachers can also make the honor code most effective by going over it with students so that all students are fully aware of what cheating involves and punishments that follow. Institutions that simply have an honor code just to have an honor code will still have high numbers of cheating incidents if the students do not know what the honor code articulates. This also helps diminishes the excuse of “I did not know” that student may use when they get caught in cheating incidents.

Study Example

            One study by various researchers found that one of the key aspects that teachers can do to help motivate students to strive to achieve academic honesty is enthusiasm (Böthe et al., 2015). When teachers show enthusiasm towards their students in the classroom during their teaching, the students become motivated to want to be academically successful and achieve this on their own (Böthe et al., 2015). The students feed off of their teachers’ excitement over the subject that said teachers teach, and they want to be more engaged and learn more. This connection will lessen students’ desire to cheat because it increases their thirst for learning. Also, when cheating occurs, the goal is to get the work done and receive a good grade, and not to retain any new information or learning that comes with the work. However, when teachers are excited and enthusiastic about their subjects, students want to learn and do not feel the need to cheat.

            The results of this study found that there was a correlation between students who cheated on exams and teachers who did not teach vibrantly/enthusiastically. For instance, 66.9% of students cheated on an exam for a class that had a teacher who was “standing or sitting in one place during all the course” (Böthe et al., 2015). On the other hand, only 9.4% of students cheated on an exam when they had a teacher who had a “Shining face, play[ed] with mimicry and gestures, [and] smile[d] a lot” (Böthe et al., 2015). This data shows that the personalities and teaching styles of teachers plays a significant role in students’ willingness to learn. Teachers who are more passionate and enthusiastic are likely to have less students cheat on exams/assignments. 

Cheating in Online School

            Cheating is an issue in schools, but it became an even bigger issue when school became an online option. Students have become more prone to cheating on online tests and quizzes because the internet becomes more accessible during tests and other assignments. Hence, making it easier for students to search for the answers online. Additionally, online tests and quizzes are often not proctored by a teacher or are unmonitored. These types of assignments increase the rate of students cheating because they feel as though they will not get caught. Students think that if there is no teacher present, who will witness that the students looked up the answers? This type of cheating does not typically occur during in-person tests that are on paper because electronics are not allowed to be out and used. And for online tests held in-person, teachers can walk around and view the screens to make sure no students are flipping through tabs and trying to look up answers. So, using electronic devices to cheat is less of a problem during school in-person, but has become an extensive setback for courses and school that is virtual.

Survey Example

            There have been numerous studies conducted to research online school environments. One study in particular examined the rates of cheating that occurs during online schooling. This study focused on forty undergraduate students taking an online psychology course (LoSchiavo & Shatz, 2011). These students completed many online quizzes throughout the course, so the researcher surveyed the participants to determine the rate of cheating that went on throughout the course. The researcher found that about 72.5% of students stated that they cheated on one or more quizzes (LoSchiavo & Shatz, 2011). This high rate of cheating shows that online schooling has proven to give students more opportunities to cheat. This is because students believe that since they are behind a screen, they are less likely to get caught. Furthermore, even though schools can still have honor codes in online settings, the enforcement aspect from teachers and from the schools itself, is lost. Thus, more students are still inclined to cheat. 


            Academic dishonesty has been a problem for many, many years, but it is an even bigger concern now. Cheating happens in countless ways, and various students do not even know what truly defines cheating. Because of this, schools need to enforce honor codes. These honor codes will bring to light exactly what cheating is and the consequences that happen when students cheat. Since honor codes also define consequences for academic dishonesty, this will motivate students not to cheat. As proved in Piaget’s theory of child development, students will fear the consequences of cheating and therefore, will not cheat. This component of fear is what drives away the willingness to cheat, and the fear of consequences is developed from a young age. These benefits of honor codes are why they should be implemented into all schools.  Honor Codes in schools are beneficial to students’ academic success due to motivation brought on by the distress of violating the honor code.


Bishop, M. (1993). What’s wrong with cheating?

Böthe, B., Kovács, Z., Kusztor, A., Jánvári, M., Orosz, G., and Tóth-Király, I. (2015 March 31). Teacher enthusiasm: a potential cure of academic cheating. Frontiers of Psychology, 6(318).

LoSchiavo, F. & Shatz, M. (2011, June 2). Impact of an honor code on cheating in online courses. Merlot Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 7(2).

McCabe, D. et al. (1999). Academic integrity in honor code and non-honor code environments: a qualitative investigation. Journal of Higher Education, 70(2).

McHaney. R. et al. (2016). Academic integrity: information systems education perspective.

Mile, A. (2022) “You gotta be resilient.” exploring the transitional experience of students suspended for academic misconduct who then returned to their home institution.

Moss, B. & Yeaton, W. (2015). Failed warnings: evaluating the impact of academic probation warning letters on student achievement.

Nelson, S. (1980). Factors influencing young children’s use of motives and outcomes as moral criteria. Jstor.

O’Neill, H. & Pfeiffer, C. (2011). The impact of honor codes and perceptions of cheating on academic cheating behaviors, especially for MBA bound undergraduates

Orosz, G. et al. (2015, March 31). Teacher enthusiasm: a potential cure of academic cheating.

Piaget, J. (1932). The moral judgment of the child. Harcourt, Brace.

Shamsiev, I. (n.d.). Cheating in online student assessment: beyond plagiarism. v2.pdf?Expires=1669857967&Signature=LbBdbEfEx1XGeqP8h3I1qnS5cyZfNAO~zHJg~1ilySe9~7BDF0wDLGsfrRp0qo9KmMa0latOFQJBwWTzWllHMIVRt5P3yUyPrOE30f0hqbLexcwnQ8uE5SsQu2A97D0RS3n7Dve1Q8aFaGEDIZLl534pV6NQ16C3bRprGPTL37wMxzr6uc4GWu~pdfn725VhKbYAWviIB8ns9ploBAOwvYfGd6AkpDQx8gsrWjHDnO2FaP8F1Xm0Pb02YL2H~471Fdy~Kc0uwWrdLnWMrzyW6kQrGt35ZjsV9vleplk5D3tHvbPo1NhkSO1Ndh-1iaEixPnrt15v2mmtig__&Key PairId=APKAJLOHF5GGSLRBV4ZA

Sophocles Quotes. (n.d.) Sophocles Quotes.

Stoesz, B. & Yudintseva, A. (2018). Effectiveness of tutorials for promoting educational integrity: a synthesis paper.

Wang, H. & Zhang, Y. (2022, August 19). The effects of personality traits and attitudes towards the rule on academic dishonesty among university students. Wigfield, J. et al. (1998) The Development of children’s motivation in school contexts.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s