4 Things I Learned by Cheating on Tests

I’m not proud of it, but I cheated on chemistry tests in high school. A lot, actually. A few of my basketball buddies and I sat in the back of our classroom and mooched answers off a super smart kid. We made sure to all miss different questions to trick the teacher. We scored 96s on all the tests and never got caught. I knew it was wrong, but I didn’t want to put forth effort in what I considered a boring school subject. Years later, I still feel bad about it.

The weird thing is, I didn’t do something out of the ordinary. Most people cheat on tests. Researcher Dr. Donald McCabe surveyed 70,000 college students over a 12-year span and found that 95 percent of respondents admitted to cheating in some form during school. Cheating is apparently quite popular. I’m clearly guilty. I still know nothing about elements or the periodic table, but here are 4 things I learned from cheating.

1. Using people is never OK.

That kid who shared all his answers in chemistry class? I have no idea where he is. I’ve never talked to him again and, sadly, I don’t even remember his name. I used the guy, and I was totally fine with it. That decision didn’t honor him. It treated him as worthless outside of those test answers.

We are God’s “masterpiece” according to Ephesians 2:10, but I treated this classmate like he was worth so little. He didn’t deserve that. He is valuable in God’s eyes and should have been in mine, too. Imagine how much better off the world would be if we treated each other like masterpieces. How would your feelings about yourself and others change?

2. Short-term gain doesn’t outweigh long-term satisfaction.

We all know right from wrong, even if we pretend not to. I believe God planted within us the ability to decipher what is moral and decent (Romans 2:14–15). That’s why it still bothers me that I took the easy way out on those tests. Cheating taught me that whatever satisfaction I gained in the immediate faded quickly. Think back to times when you cheated someone. How did it make you feel? Disappointment is one of the effects of cheating in school.

Give full effort and live with the outcome.

3. Sometimes, effort matters more than outcome.

Former NFL quarterback Dan Orlovsky told a great story about cheating in the 40-yard dash. He knew he wasn’t as fast as other high school players and feared it may cost him a college roster spot. So, to get an edge, he kicked the cone a few yards closer when the scouts weren’t looking. He ran a 36-yard dash and impressed the unaware coaches. Maybe he still would have gotten the scholarship had he run the full distance. He’ll never know. Trying and failing is not always a net negative. Give full effort and live with the outcome.

4. We don’t need to cut corners.

I took the easy way out in that chemistry class. I cut corners by not studying, relying on someone else, and not caring about the cost of cheating. I also cut out any chance of a growth experience. It would have been better for me to try, fail, and get a worse grade in chemistry than coast by and ace the class. Sounds weird, but I traded growth through trials for an easy A. We should welcome trials. They make us stronger. They mold us, produce maturity, and teach us things. Cheating does the opposite. Worse yet, we miss the benefits of trials, like working hard, growing morally, and earning integrity. James 1:2–4 says we should “consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” I wish I had known this verse when in high school. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to live this way, leaning into tough situations, not running from them. When we take the easy way out, we miss out on so many growth moments by dodging difficulty.

Sound off: From your perspective or experience, what are the effects of cheating in school?

Huddle up with your kids and ask, “What would you do if you got the chance to cheat on a test?”