Common Student Mistakes

What are common mistakes students make that violate the Honor Code?

Although strong course design, clear communication regarding course expectations, and a positive classroom culture go a long way to reduce the occurrence of academic misconduct, students’ perception of their strengths, demands, and stressors intersecting with academic requirements may still lead to poor decision making resulting in Honor Code violations, described below. (The data provided below are based on Dean of Students’ Office honor code violation data on PHHP students for a two-year period [2019-2021]).

Listed below are the top four areas in which students violate the Honor Code based on recent data about our PHHP student body. The Honor Code reviews all of the possible violations beyond those listed.  

Additional areas in which our students have recently violated the Honor Code include using false or misleading information for academic advantage and interfering with an academic activity. Let’s go back and consider each of top 4 areas to discuss their occurrence and possible prevention strategies.


PHHP students charged with cheating have been found responsible over 80% of the time. The most common type of cheating among our students is using resources without permission. Using unauthorized resources or someone else’s materials on assignments or exams comprises over 20% of all Honor Code violations. The second most common type of cheating is prohibited collaboration followed closely by not following the proctor’s directions during an exam.

What you can do:

  • Ensure students understand the purpose of a course assignment and its criteria (one resource you might find helpful is the Checklist for Designing a Transparent Assignment.
  • Prior to assignments and exams, overview appropriate access to materials and resources – what is and is not permissible to use. 
  • Be very concrete and specific about the types of materials allowed.
  • Be explicit regarding whether any type of collaboration is allowed, from sharing ideas to proofing papers to using someone else’s work (including type and how much, if any). 
  • Define what independent work means and review this both orally (review this in class before each relevant assignment/exam) and in writing (type the independent work criteria right on the assignment or exam instructions page).
  • Remind students of the professional behavior expected prior to any proctored activity. Tie the behavior to professional ethics when possible.
  • Have students sign the Honor Code for every major assignment and exam.
  • Use proctoring services.
  • Restrict all unnecessary items from being present during an exam.
  • Pay attention to potential signs of cheating, such as very quick exam completion, excessive fidgeting, and requests for restroom breaks.
  • Refer to previous sections of this PHHP Academic Integrity Program to learn the importance of course design in reducing the risk of cheating (e.g., focus on value of learning, use of low-stakes assessments, scaffolding, etc.)


Students charged with plagiarism have been found responsible over 94% of the time. The most common types of plagiarism issues are failing to cite sources, misquoting or taking credit for a quote, or copying someone else’s materials.  

What you can do:

  • Try to remember that first offenses of plagiarism are commonly unintentional because students don’t realize they can’t take material and use it without crediting others.
  • Briefly discuss social/informal vs. professional/formal communication. Explain why the student must give credit to others’ for their work (e.g., must quote someone if they are using statements word-for-word, must cite paraphrased language). 
  • Review short examples in class to illustrate what has to be cited/quoted and what does not.
  • Don’t assume students know how to cite sources or properly quote others even when they understand they must do so. Provide examples of proper citation as part of the instructions for the relevant assignment/exam.
  • Clearly state that it is the student’s responsibility to properly cite and quote and encourage them to ask questions if unclear.
  • Design assignments tied to very recent events to lessen risk of copying.
  • Once you receive the student’s work, be vigilant in reviewing it for sophistication and consistency of language, font, and writing style.  Sometimes students will mix less and more sophisticated writing when they copy materials from others.
  • Use Turnitin to check paper overlap.
  • Encourage students to use resources that support assignment completion (e.g., Writing Center, Study Skills Groups, etc.)

Unauthorized Taking or Receiving of Materials

 Students charged with unauthorized taking of materials have been found responsible over 61% of the time. This charge commonly co-occurs with cheating because students sometimes take unauthorized materials with the intent to use them.  However, students do not have to actually use the materials to be found responsible for violating the Honor Code. So why are students found not responsible more often than for a cheating charge? This commonly has to do with the clarity of your instructions on what is allowed on an assignment or exam or the fact that it is sometimes easier to identify cheating than the intention of the action leading up to it.  Students can only be found responsible for unauthorized taking or receiving of materials if it is clear the student’s intention was to gain an academic advantage.

What you can do:

  • Similar to cheating prevention strategies, be explicit and concrete about how others’ materials can be used, if at all.
  • Be clear that even if the student doesn’t use prohibited materials, they will still be responsible for their actions in acquiring unauthorized materials if their intent was to gain an academic advantage (such as a student being caught with another student’s exam when this isn’t permitted).  
  • Maintain security of your materials, whether in virtual or in person classroom.
  • Remind students to protect their academic work.
  • Tie behavior to professional ethics.
  • Follow the relevant recommendations for preventing cheating and plagiarism.
  • Remind them that they are responsible to learn the material well to be able to apply it in their career. Superficial treatment of course material affects their ability to serve the people they will work with in the future.

Being Complicit

PHHP students charged with being complicit have been found responsible almost 80% of the time.  Being complicit refers to students sharing materials with the intent to gain some type of academic advantage. Although students think they may be helping someone else when they share materials, in fact, the vast majority of the time they find themselves and the other individual(s) in violation of the Honor Code.    

What you can do:

  • As the instructor, you have the opportunity to set the tone for the entire course. Briefly discuss why academic integrity is important to you and why it has value for your students.
  • Tie the Honor Code to professional ethics as health professionals. It may also help to remind students that it is each student’s responsibility to learn the material they need to know to be able to appropriately assist others in the future. These future clients will be putting their trust in them as health professionals and will be relying on their professional expertise.
  • Remind students (1) that helping others cheat is a violation itself, (2) that when others are asking you (the student) for help, cheating with them actually makes the situation worse for both of you, and (3) that it may be a sign that the student is not coping well and may need support or professional help. Remind students that the best way to assist a friend is not cheating with them, which can potentially derail their future; it is helping them make a more professionally appropriate choice.