The truth about workplace cheating

When it comes to cheating on an exam, the sentiment often thrown around is that “you’re only cheating yourself” implying that not only is it a near-victimless action, but one that at most, might cause a twinge of moral discomfort without any real consequence.  

But does that theory hold any weight in reality?

The truth about cheating in an exam—often known as test fraud—is that not only is it not a victimless action, but it’s also one that can have lasting repercussions for the perpetrator.

For anyone who’s ever been tempted to commit test fraud, here are 5 consequences you might face.

test fraud

1. Test fraud threatens your professional progression and reputation 

As with any negative behavior, there’s every chance that test cheating will follow you around should you be caught, and what can take a lifetime of building— such as your integrity— can be quickly torn down. 

 Many certification providers warn would-be cheaters that should they be caught committing test fraud, not only will their certification be revoked, but they can also be disqualified from ever trying to attain an accreditation from that company again: 

“Test takers who are found to have broken the exam rules or are found to have pre-knowledge of exam items will often have their scores and/or qualifications, credentials, etc. invalidated or revoked if they have already been issued. In more serious cases, test takers can be banned from future testing, resulting in a severe impact on career advancement or professional reputation, or the individual may be subjected to legal prosecution for copyright infringement or fraud.”

ATP, 2022

The long-term professional and personal ramifications of cheating in the workplace can be dire and are absolutely never worth the risk. Even if you are never confronted with having cheated on an assessment, the vicarious consequences will almost certainly catch up to you. Most notably, this will be in situations where your skills don’t meet the needs of your job role, causing you to make mistakes that aren’t expected from an allegedly certified individual. This can lead to disciplinary action and have a hugely negative impact on your career.

2. Test fraud devalues certifications  

Another consequence of cheating in a workplace assessment is that you’re not only causing yourself a potential problem down the line (finding yourself out of your depth, facing disciplinary action, having a certification revoked) but you’re also contributing to the erosion of the certification for the entire industry. When a certification is continually handed out through ill-gotten means, its worth is rendered meaningless. The respect the accreditation once had drops, and you might just find that the certification you cheated to attain no longer carries the same weight it once did. It’s a high-risk and long-term low reward action.  

3. Test Fraud creates a culture of cheating for everyone 

When a behavior becomes normalized, it tends to perpetuate itself. Test fraud is no different. In many organizations where cheating has become a common occurrence, the perpetrator has started a domino effect whereby once others become aware, and the action becomes normalized as ‘no big deal’, it propagates.  

It’s not just that someone creates a culture of cheating for their peers, however, they also create one for themselves. Once one act of exam fraud has been successfully committed, an individual is almost unavoidably pushed onto a path of further cheating. This is in large part due to not having the knowledge needed to pass the initial test, meaning all subsequent tests are, by default, too advanced to pass organically.

4. Test fraud can have serious health and safety consequences  

test fraud

The most extreme consequences of cheating in professional settings are those tied to health and safety. Many high-responsibility positions require—quite rightly—training and assessments that ensure an individual has the appropriate knowledge and hands-on competence in order to do their jobs. Whether it’s operating heavy machinery, becoming a paramedic, or working with children, many jobs can have a direct impact on people’s welfare and so require vigorous training and valid certifications. If someone engages in test fraud, however, and succeeds, this can have very real consequences on all involved. A bleak example of this occurred in 2020 when the BBC reported that a plane crash in Pakistan that caused the deaths of 97 people was ostensibly the result of test fraud through attaining fake licenses.  

While this is an example taken to the extreme, there are many other risks to welfare that can come from test fraud, with consequences that are long-lasting for all involved.  

5. Test Fraud muddies L&D data 

It’s been shown that one of the key things people look for in their careers is an ongoing opportunity for professional development. Without it, very often people look to jump ship—which is why showing accurate data on training effectiveness is so vital. Without it, employers are less likely to invest in L&D programs and more professionals become disenchanted. By cheating in professional exams, you contribute to this cycle and not only help create worse conditions for others but in the long run, for yourself too.  

But you would never commit test fraud, right? 

test fraud

Test fraud is complicated, and it’s not correct to assume that only ‘bad’ people cheat. The truth is that test fraud is committed by people from all walks of life for a myriad of reasons, though they tend to have three things in common. Explore why people commit test fraud in our white paper: The Psychology of Test Fraud.  

Concluding thoughts

Test fraud is never victimless, and even if you succeed in escaping any primary consequences straight away, you are nevertheless contributing towards are greatly reduced level of reliability and validity for certifications as a whole. For certification providers and employers, it’s critical to make employees—and indeed, any level of test taker—aware of the consequences of cheating in workplace exams. By approaching this issue holistically, from informing candidates of the repercussions of the act, to using robust proctoring services, test fraud success can be reduced and certifications can be protected. After all, by protecting certification and assessment validity, we’re often protecting people too. 

If you’re looking for information on best practices for combating exam fraud, research on the theories surrounding it, or anything in between, visit the Questionmark Test Fraud Hub today.