Cheat sheets – how do schools police on-line essay buying?

The new wave of on-line courses and web-based resources have brought with them ease of research and a wealth of knowledge easily accessible at the fingertips of students in high school and higher education the world over.  Sadly, but inevitably, not all students will use the power of the internet as intended – as a study tool and not an opportunity to save time and cheat their way through assignments and exams.

Essays on tap with on-line essay-writing sites

On-line ‘essay-writing’ services have evolved from libraries of pre-written text plagiarized from existing bodies of work into what some of these businesses describe as ‘100% original custom essays’ that would pass any copyscaping tests for duplicated content and stolen work.  Guarantees of deadline delivery and promises of good to excellent grades are clearly enough to whet the appetites of students who burn the midnight oil on a daily basis in the attempt to submit papers on time.

In their purest and most ethical form, these sites offer proofreading and fact-checking, that students studying content-heavy courses like law would appreciate and be smart to use for the benefit of a fresh pair of eyes. makes it clear that their service ‘ is no different from using journals, newspaper articles, question-and-answer study books or, indeed, the past paper answers that your own tutor hands out in lectures or seminars. They are just a very powerful learning resource but catered to your own topic.’  This however, appears to be the exception rather than the rule, with the bulk of essay writing sites offering what they call ‘a fully comprehensive service’ that only requires the client to hand in the finished piece of work.  There is no legal recourse for this kind of cheating, in the event that the site is not just a scam that will take money in return for substandard work or not deliver at all, the ethical question is the major factor here.  If cheating of this kind is detected, institutions will surely take action against the offending student but this does not stop these sites from continuing to operate.

Distance learning  and the cheat-free way forward

With remote and distance learning becoming more popular and gaining the same value as traditional degrees, according to, cheating at home is almost uncontrollable.  Peter Taylor, the chair of the UK’s Open University’s academic conduct group told the bbc – “It’s a common problem across the sector – how do you know that the individual taking the exam is the right person?”  The university offers on-line courses as well as the opportunity to take exams remotely – something that is clearly a concern as far as cheating is concerned.  Although the Open University is one of the pioneers of distance learning, they still have not come up with a full proof method of cheat-free remote evaluation. Passwords and security tests can easily be shared and there’s no real guarantee that the person taking the test is the student who is meant to be sitting the exam.

Expensive keystroke identification methods and iris recognition by webcam are still a long way in the future, so institutions rely heavily on the ethics of their students and an ‘honour code’ they hope students will abide by.  Taylor added, “Their computer would be locked down so that it can’t use other materials. If you’ve got an appropriate webcam – that can provide you with effective invigilation…”  “I’ve not yet seen systems which I’m confident about at the moment – but I don’t think it will be too long before these problems are resolved.”



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