Annual Honor and Ethics Conference shows how students can cheat by stealing a vocabulary test book, finding an online test bank or even stealing lines from
Annual Honor and Ethics Conference shows how students can cheat by stealing a vocabulary test book, finding an online test bank or even stealing lines from another person's essay. (Richard Hodges/Columbus Ledger-Enquirer) ( Richard Hodges )

I had just completed a history test and walked out of the classroom when I was met by a horde of friends who pelted me with questions.

"How was the test?" "Was it easy?" "Was the multiple choice easier than the last test?" "How was the essay?" "What was the essay?" "How should I study?"

Refusing to respond, I made a beeline for my locker, where I deposited my textbook and notebook so I could resist the temptation to help them "study."

Had I done the right thing?

Eighty other students and I confronted a similar scenario in one of the case studies presented at my school's annual Honor and Ethics Conference. It's an event where students from each homeroom discussed, debated and analyzed three situations that ostensibly "violated" the school's honor code. During the conference, we were forced to make distinctions between implicit cheating, explicit cheating and cases of students simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

We discussed personal anecdotes, such as the time a student's friend stole a vocabulary test booklet from a teacher's desk while the teacher's gaze was averted. Another discussed suggestions by friends outside of school to use an online test bank they somehow had accessed. Clearly, these are examples of explicit cheating. Did we condone these? Absolutely not. However, when possible punishments were discussed, opinions varied widely.

Did the student with the online test bank commit a greater infraction than the student who stole the vocabulary test booklet? Some would say yes. Others wouldn't. This is the problem with cheating: It is not always black and white. Instead, it is often shaded in gray and up to interpretation.

I have fallen prey to the monster of cheating. When I was a freshman, I articulated some points in an English essay that earned me superior marks. When I sent the essay to my friend to peer edit, he saved some of the sentences and used them in a subsequent essay (then gave it back to me to peer edit). Angered at this violation of trust, I made him change the sentences to reflect his views.

However, when I brooded over this incident later, I realized that I was partially at fault. By providing a way to cheat, I had made it easier for him to do so.

Why do people cheat? The simple answer: success. Some people resort to underhanded means and deceptions whenever they feel pressure to achieve an end. However, using underhanded means to achieve a long-sought-after goal dramatically decreases the pleasure one gets from that accomplishment.

High school students are faced with a hypercompetitive environment in which many external factors push us to exert ourselves. Many of us are involved with extracurricular activities, sports, a bunch of AP classes, as well as community service. We are expected to succeed in everything we pursue, so we can list it as a line of text on our college applications and get into a good school.

But will that A-minus in AP U.S. history really prevent someone from pursuing a science major at MIT or Caltech?

One accusation of cheating can bring down even the most glib high schooler. They may lose credit for a class. They may not be allowed to walk at graduation. Even worse, they may face the prospect of having their college admissions revoked.

Considering the possible consequences, is cheating really necessary to survive in high school? Many students get amazing grades by simply studying; they do not rely on their peers to let them know what was on a test or how difficult it was.

Learning is paramount. Grades are less paramount. Cheating? It should never be paramount; in fact, the possibility of cheating should never even cross one's mind.

The Life in Perspective board is made up of teens who write for the features sections. Rahul Jayaraman attends The Harker School in San Jose. Reach him at lip@bayareanewsgroup.com.