With every passing year, being admitted to a top tier college or graduate school becomes more difficult. The proverbial and sought after 4.0 no longer passes muster for high school students. With A.P. classes and dual credit courses in high school, the GPA ceiling seems higher and higher every year. Students not only have to strive for academic perfection, they also must volunteer, perform community service, complete internships, and engage in a variety of extracurricular activities; the stress can be unbearable even for the best students.
For students with ADHD and learning disorders the pressure is exponentially more intense. This is especially true for students who have not been properly diagnosed. A 2017 research study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information showed that ADHD symptoms were found in 20.3% of the sample of adults, but only 7.3% of these subjects had ever received a formal diagnosis or treatment (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27680974). Whether it be ADHD, dyslexia, or a disorder of math or writing, all learning issues reduce academic fluency and performance, especially under timed test situations. For those students fortunate enough to have been diagnosed and granted academic accommodations like extended test time, they may experience a sense of relief that comes with an equalized academic playing field. Alternately, for the countless students who have not been treated, they at times feel desperate and will create their own accommodations in the form of cheating.
Cheating is a rampant problem on college campuses. In a survey of 72,950 college students by Donald McCabe of Rutgers University, 43% admitted to cheating on written assignments and/or cheating on tests. That’s over 30,000 students engaging in various forms of academic dishonesty. This begs the question, why do so many college students feel compelled to cheat? In a study titled “Motivations and Predictors of Cheating in Pharmacy School,” it was noted that, “The most common motivations for cheating in pharmacy school included fear of failure, studying procrastination, and stress” (American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education. 2016 Oct 25; 80(8): 133). Further, the authors stated, “Students who admitted to cheating in pharmacy school were more than three times as likely to use prescription stimulants without a prescription than students who did not admit to cheating.” It is well established that fears of failure, procrastination, and stress are all too common among college students who have ADHD and learning disabilities (especially students who have yet to be diagnosed). Not surprisingly, a study in January of 2008 found that 35% of college students have used non-prescribed stimulants with ADHD students being most likely to abuse stimulants (J American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. 47 (1): 21–31). Linkages such as these seem to clearly suggest that cheating is likely among students who have not been properly assessed and treated for attention deficits and learning problems.
So how can many cases of cheating be averted? By early detection of attention and learning conditions. Unfortunately, many cases of ADHD and dyslexia in highly intelligent students go undiagnosed. This is especially true for “Inattentive Type” ADHD. Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, Predominantly Inattentive Presentation is characterized by symptoms such as distractibility, difficulty focusing, poor organizational skills, frequent daydreaming, forgetfulness, a proneness to boredom, and an avoidance or dislike of activities requiring sustained concentration (such as reading). Frequently, when this subtype of ADHD occurs in intelligent and hard-working students, they are able to perform well in class and on tests either because they are not sufficiently challenged, or because they work long hours outside of school to keep up with work. Further, they do not possess the overt behavioral disruptiveness characteristic of their hyperactive-impulsive cousins. Students with ADHD Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Presentation are frequently identified in early childhood because they can be such “nuisances” within the classroom. For the “softer and gentler” inattentive students, their disorder can be signaled by inordinate hours of studying for seemingly simple assignments, zoning out in class, forgetfulness, and difficulties following instructions. If these students can be identified early, they can attain a psychoeducational assessment from a qualified licensed psychologist who can provide a diagnosis and outline a plan for academic accommodations.
As for cheating, the earlier students can be identified as suffering from attention and learning disorders, then the more students can gain deserved assistance, so that they never feel compelled to take matters into their own hands.