The tools of deception can be Kleenex tissues, ID badges or even water bottles.
Like master spies, students devise intricate ways to cheat on quizzes, final exams or vocabulary tests, often forgetting the consequences of an easy A.
Marissa Harding, 18, a senior at Cross Creek High School, has seen students take cheat sheets into vocabulary quizzes, sometimes even putting the answers on the back of chairs they sit behind.
"They spend a lot of time thinking of ways to cheat rather than trying to study," Marissa said. "I don't know if they don't want to learn it or like to see if they could get away with it."
Lauren Bigham, 18, a senior at Augusta Preparatory Day School, has seen her share of cheaters as president of the school's Honor Education Council. One of the council's duties is to recommend punishment for honor code violations, including cheating.
"I don't think (students) enter into it" with those intentions, she said. "Bad situations will arise, and some people need a way out."
Lauren said that with so much emphasis on grades and so much riding on academic excellence, students resort to cheating.
"There's so much pressure on students today - especially upperclassmen - they start to think: 'I want to pass this class; I want to get into Georgia; I need a good grade."' she said. "The pressure is overwhelming sometimes."
Whatever the motivation or the method, it's only a matter of time before cheaters get caught, said teachers and administrators.
"It's going to catch up with them," said Betty Peebles, Evans High School's vice principal.
Penalties for cheating vary by county and school.
Aiken County schools classify cheating as disorderly conduct, with penalties ranging from a verbal warning to in-school suspension. Typically, the student will fail the exam and the parents will be notified, school officials said.
In Columbia County, students caught cheating get a zero, have their parents contacted, get placed on probation and have to relinquish their posts if they hold an office in a club or on an athletic team.
A student caught cheating in Richmond County typically gets a zero on the assignment and can face in-school suspension.
Despite the punishments, Ms. Peebles said, there will always will be some students who cheat.
"I don't know what a good deterrent is," she said. "I think as long as they think they can get away with it, they will try. But it doesn't help them succeed."
In fact, taking a zero on an assignment "can be devastating on your final average," said Margaret Riedell, a professor in the School of Education at the University of South Carolina Aiken.
"It's not worth getting a few more points on an exam if it interferes with your grade in a course," she said.
Beyond tarnishing a student's transcript, cheating can also blemish a student's image.
Harlem High School Vice Principal Ellen Lewis said that along with seeing students attempt to put wax on Scantron sheets, hoping to fool the grading computer and get perfect scores, she has seen students ruin their reputations.
"It makes a teacher overly cautious, and they'll watch a student" who was caught cheating, she said. "It's very difficult to gain a reputation back.
"A lot of times, students ask for recommendations. When (teachers) know the person is a cheater, it's not always easy to get that. They're not going to put themselves out there for that."
Augusta Preparatory's honor council is working to make students aware of the less-immediate consequences of cheating.
"We're trying to teach them that (cheating is) not worth it," Lauren said. "I'd rather get a zero than have my honesty and honor questioned."
Reach Kamille Bostick at (706) 823-3223 or email@example.com.
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