The rise has been blamed on the increasing pressure of year 12 and COVID-19 stress.
It represented a 27 per cent rise in offences from 2019 and a 14 per cent rise from 2018.
Plagiarism was the most common form of malpractice with 545 offences, up 30 per cent from 2018, followed by collusion with another student, assessments being submitted late and using unauthorised notes.
English Advanced had the largest number of cheating students with 88 offences recorded followed by English Standard with 86 infringements.
Society and culture recorded the highest rate of malpractice – 5.5 cheating offences per 1000 students.
Professor Phillip Dawson, from Deakin University’s Centre for Research in Assessment and Digital Learning, said it was reasonable to think COVID-19 had an impact on the rise.
“Some researchers have said relationships between teachers and students and their interaction can be protective against cheating,” he said.
“It was a very hard time and research suggests that when people are in desperate circumstances they find it more difficult to resist cheating.”
Craig Petersen, head of the NSW Secondary Principals’ Council, said while it was positive the offences had been picked up the figures indicate how high-stakes exams and assessments continue to place enormous pressure on students.
“There is huge pressure on students to do really well in the HSC and that can lead to an environment where cheating occurs. But we are also getting better at detecting when cheating happens and more sophisticated with detection technology which could also be a factor,” he said.
The data is based on a malpractice register all schools with HSC candidates are required to maintain for school-based assessment tasks.
The register was set up in 2014, seven years after the Independent Commission Against Corruption investigated cheating in take-home exams.
The 2021 cheating offences were recorded across 216 schools, compared to 220 in 2020 and 222 in 2019.
There was also a spike in serious offences relating to HSC examinations with 41 students fronting the authority’s Examination Rules Committee for 43 cheating offences. This was up on 28 students in 2020, 35 in 2019 and 26 in 2018.
Among the 2021 exam cheats was a student who was caught referring to notes, another who was seen using a mobile phone, and a candidate who was wearing earbuds.
Penalties ranged from being given a score of zero and being disqualified from the subject.
There were a further 215 instances of students found to have not made a serious attempt at an examination, for example submitting an obscene response or only attempting multiple-choice questions.
Academic integrity researcher Cath Ellis, who is a professor in the School of the Arts and Media at UNSW, said that “anecdotally, there has been an increase in cheating behaviours” in the higher education sector since the beginning of the pandemic.
“This is largely because there has been a shift to more online assessments in higher education so that is almost certainly presenting students with new opportunities to cheat.”
“The companies that provide cheating services are aggressively targeting students often through social media, and it is highly likely they are targeting both tertiary students but high school students. The COVID-19 impact has put pressure extra students,” Ellis said.
A NSW Education Standards Authority spokeswoman said incidents of cheating in 2021 were “incredibly low” among the state’s 75,000 HSC students.
“The vast majority of HSC students follow the rules in both HSC exams and school-based assessments, so these small instances of malpractice should be kept in perspective,” she said.
“Whether it’s attempted in the exam room or when working on an assignment from home, cheating will not be tolerated and students will be caught.”
Dawson said that based on his review of published research looking specifically at the tertiary education sector about one in ten higher education students in Australia have “outsourced their work to someone else at some point”.
“There is also some evidence overseas of increased use of online cheating since the start of the pandemic,” he said.
“There needs to be increased awareness of the different specialist technology exam cheating tools out there like exam cheating calculators and hidden earpieces. There are more of those products out there, and they are being marketed towards students.“