According to social experts, Americans rank high among the most competitive, stressed-out people in the world. It is a culture that demands the best in all aspects of people’s lives. Many people, regardless of occupation or income, claim there’s just not enough time or resources to get everything done without risking failure and rejection if it doesn’t.

If you’re starting your test prep for college entrance exams, this pressure has probably already begun to build. It may even have started before high school when you began to get the message that you needed to buckle down, earn high grades, and ensure your success and acceptance into the college world beyond high school. The message is clear: “You must be the best to get ahead.”

Just how far are people willing to go to be successful? In the past decade, numerous research projects (including studies by the Rutgers University Management Education Center and the University of Santa Clara Center for Academic Integrity) concluded that cheating among students is rampant — 70 to 90 percent of students admitted to cheating! Some cheating can be attributed to plain old laziness and the avoidance of solid test preparation, but many students cited reasons such as not having enough time to get everything done, let alone studying. Most disturbing of all, many of the students polled believe that cheating is an acceptable practice because “everybody does it.”

Students apparently aren’t the only ones cheating, either. Since the advent of standardized testing in elementary and secondary schools, reports of teachers using test prep to help their students to cheat in order to earn bonuses or assure continued funding for their schools continue to emerge. With scandals all over the papers about athletic suspensions for steroid use and prison terms for unethical accounting, why aren’t students and educators more fearful of the repercussions?

Even standardized tests like the ACT, SAT, and PSAT aren’t immune from the taint of cheating. Fueled by pressure from parents and others, students are more compelled than ever to earn the “perfect score.” Incidents of cheating have been prevalent enough that stricter methods of ensuring accountability have been put into place. Technology such as text messaging and digital-readout pens, as well as incidents involving impersonators and “insiders” have all led to an atmosphere where students entering the hallowed testing halls can now expect to have to thoroughly prove who they are, and to divest themselves of any electronic gadgets before they step onto the testing floor.

Unfortunately, the underlying message from much of the available research is that cheating seems to be firmly engrained in the culture. The pressure to achieve remains high, but that doesn’t mean you have to cave in. Developing a test preparation plan and following through will help you prepare for the exam and reduce the temptation to cheat. Getting ahead by cheating doesn’t level the playing field for those who walk the straight and narrow, so don’t fall prey to what others consider OK. Cheating is wrong, and in the long run, it will cause more harm than benefit.

One of the best ways to avoid cheating is to prepare yourself well for testing. You can do that using test prep resources like the free practice tests for the SAT, ACT, and PSAT, all available here at Peterson’s.