Students who are known as “high achievers” and take highly competitive courses are most likely to cheat in their exams, a study has found. Accurate statistics for academic misconduct are difficult to report due to the reliance on self-reporting by students.

It has been thought that lower-level students were more likely to cheat because they had more to gain in the form of
higher grades. However, researchers from the University of Guelph in Canada have found that the opposite was true in students who submitted tests for regrading.

Regrading – submitting an unaltered exam for another look by the professor – is a common practice offered to students who think their original grade was not accurate. The study, published in the journal Advances in Physiology Education, scanned more than 3,600 original exams from 11 undergraduate physiology-based courses to determine how frequently academic misconduct was committed.

The researchers examined 448 resubmitted tests for additions or deletions of text or additional markings that were not present on the original exams. They found 78 cases of cheating, almost half of which were submitted by “repeat offenders” – students who had cheated on more than one test during the study period.

The difference between male and female cheaters was insignificant. Two-thirds of the cases of academic misconduct were identified in one highly competitive course.

“Our results point to high-achieving students as a specific group who may be more likely to commit these acts and show no indication that men are more frequent offenders than women, which goes against much of the existing (academic misconduct) literature,” the researchers said.