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How students turn to 'essay mills' to help them cheat
This story is from The Essay Cheats , an episode of Business Daily on BBC World Service. It was presented by Ed Butler and produced by Edwin Lane. To listen to more episodes of Business Daily, please click here . Adapted by Philippa Fogarty.
The first time Chris wrote an essay for someone else, he was paid in food. A friend said his student girlfriend needed help, so Chris agreed to proofread her essay. But it needed more than an edit – “the logic was too messy” – so he rewrote the whole thing.
College admission scandals have been thrust into the worldwide spotlight in the midst of the scandal in the US involving dozens of rich and famous parents (Credit: Getty Images)
It did the job: the essay was good and the student got a high grade. Chris’s friend was pleased too. “He treated me to hotpot in Singapore – that was the first time I’d been to a hotpot restaurant,” he recalls.
Then the student asked him to help her with another assignment. “I said: ‘I can’t eat hotpot every day, I should charge a price.’ Then she introduced me to her classmates and that’s how everything began,” says Chris.
Today, he runs what’s known as an ‘essay mill’ – a highly lucrative business writing assignments for students struggling to complete them on their own.
Student cheating has been in the spotlight recently, after the US college admissions scandal made global headlines. It’s not the first such scandal: India, for example, is still dealing with the fall-out of apparently large-scale medical school admission examination fraud.
But it’s not just admissions: there’s also the problem of what some students do once they get into university - and the role played by people like Chris.
After studying in Singapore for many years, he’s now back in China where he writes essays and farms others out to a team of workers for student clients as far afield as Australia and the UK. His business can turn over as much as $150,000 a year.
It grew after that first student moved to Australia to do her master’s degree and passed his name on to other people. He writes at least one essay a week but, as a global studies major, farms assignments on subjects like business and finance out to his specialists. He charges about 1 RMB per word, so a 1,000-word piece would come in around 1,000 RMB (£115, $150).
I tell [the students] every time: ‘You can refer to my essay, but you cannot submit it directly to your professor’. But what they do – I cannot control [that]."
Chris – who doesn’t want to share his surname – suggests what he’s doing sits somewhere between cheating and teaching.
“I tell [the students] every time: ‘You can refer to my essay, but you cannot submit it directly to your professor’. But what they do – I cannot control [that]. There are certain students who actually learn from me, so I think it is in a grey area.”
Sometimes, he says, he wants to say no. “I told myself I should quit because this is cheating – they didn’t learn anything from me. Then one month later they call me again, saying, ‘Could you please help me again because I need to pass this assignment in order to graduate’. Then I say OK, if that is the case, I will help just this last time. I really want them to learn but it’s just difficult.”
Essay mills have become more popular worldwide, as has university exam fraud. Pictured here are French high school students sitting an exam in 2018 (Credit: Getty Images)
Gareth Crossman of the UK’s Quality Assurance Agency takes a considerably tougher line. He believes that, as well as undermining their own education, the students’ actions have bigger implications.
“They are also cheating wider society, because you do not want people going out into the workforce who are frankly unqualified,” he says. “The Royal College of Nursing has expressed concern about this being a phenomenon, with nurses coming out without proper qualifications.”
“I think the fact that institutions are increasingly willing to accept that this is an issue – and a reputational risk that is attached to it – is to their credit, but it shows that this is a significant issue that does need to be addressed.”
Crossman cites research published last year by Swansea University indicating up to one in seven students around the world might be cheating in this way. It’s not a new phenomenon, he adds, but one that has greatly increased in scale due to advances in technology and how essay mills have harnessed them.
“We’re all used to seeing ads pop up when we go onto social media sites that indicate what they think our interests might be, and you’ll find exactly the same thing with essay mills,” he says. Struggling students – those who search ‘how do I get help with my essays’, for example – will be targeted.
Up to one in seven students around the world might be cheating in this way
“They present themselves as providing this bespoke study aid service that’s entirely legitimate. They use phrases like ‘100% plagiarism-free’, which might make it look like some mark of quality but it's basically saying to you that you can hand this work in as your own and it won’t get picked up by plagiarism software.”
It’s a market-led business, he says, which can make providers large amounts of money. “If you go on to some of these sites, they’ll sometimes have sliders where you say ‘this is the quality of work that I want, this is how many words it is, this is the level’. If you’re talking about a 10,000-word dissertation at a 2.1 [grade], that’s going to be thousands of pounds.”
Still legal, anyway
Quality, Crossman says, varies. Some people have clear expertise and others are “barely literate”. And then there’s the risk of getting caught.
Chris says between 5% and 10% of his clients have been caught. “I told them, you should not submit this directly to your teacher. You should take a look and do some changes. They didn’t listen to me, so it’s not my fault,” he says. But that didn’t make them stop cheating, just adapt: “They kept using me and changed it to their own words.”
Chris says between 5% and 10% of his clients have been caught
He says that he wants to stop doing this kind of work, but his clients ask him not to. And now he has workers who depend on him. “I have to pay them, because they only rely on this in order to earn money. If I quit, nobody supports their family, so I don’t want to quit right now.”
Crossman says his organisation has written to relevant tech players to ask them to block paid-for advertising for essay mills. He says some social media firms, notably Google, have stopped essay mills advertising through them in the UK at least, but there’s been no similar clampdown from Facebook. And despite legislation in a few US states, New Zealand and imminently the Republic of Ireland , essay mills do remain legal throughout most parts of the developed world.
Experts say that essay mills and plagiarism services reach students through social media (Credit: Alamy Stock Photo)
Crossman says while there’s no particular group or demographic that cheats, it’s the more vulnerable students who may end up using essay mills.
“There might be reasons why international students might be more vulnerable, they don’t have the support networks, they don’t have the family networks, sometimes they don’t have the language skills,” he says. “That’s really beholden on institutions to make sure that any student who might be seen as struggling is identified and given support.”
New plagiarism software is also emerging which picks up copied work and can also spot if a piece has more than one author or varies from the author’s voice – “apparently we all have tells in the way we write”.
But it’s just one strategy for tackling a significant challenge. “Yes, technology is advancing,” he says, “but there is no magic bullet.”
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An opinion essay
Learn how to write an opinion essay.
Do the preparation task first. Then read the text and tips and do the exercises.
Information will soon be so easy to find on the internet that people will not need to remember anything. Do you agree?
Nowadays all the information we could ever need is available online and some people say that means the end of having to learn anything.
It is true that these days everything you want to know is a few clicks away as long as you have internet access. However, not everyone has working internet all the time, for example in certain buildings or remote locations, so we do need to be able to remember information. Moreover, it takes time to look up everything you need to know online, whereas remembering something is immediate. The human memory is a much more efficient system.
Another problem is the quality of the information online. How do we know if it is accurate or reliable? We need to think about other facts we know and remember how to compare information from different websites. Knowing (and remembering) how to find certain information will be more important than knowing the information itself.
Finally, the internet is a good tool but it is not a useful replacement for our brains. If we did not remember anything, we would all spend even more time on our phones and computers than we already do, which is not good for society.
In conclusion, the internet offers us many things but it is still important to use our knowledge and memories. We need our memories to function without the internet and we also need to know how to use the internet properly.
- Read the question carefully. Respond to all ideas in it or all parts of it.
- Plan your ideas first and then choose the best ones.
- Introduce your essay by restating the question in your own words.
- Show understanding of both sides of the argument.
- Use linking words to connect your ideas.
- Draw your conclusion from the main ideas in your essay. Don't introduce new ideas at the end.
What do you think about the question? Would it be better or worse if we never learned anything and just used the internet instead?
I think it become worse and dangerous for our society, we need to control it making rules. Without internet, many skills and knowledge could´nt be used.
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I believe that, The internet become even more dangerous for young people who barely discovered the world around them, If they count on it for seeking information without parental supervision, it would be a disaster!
In nowadays,there are many ways to reach information.The Internet is just one of them but maybe most promising one.The Internet helps us to find information easily and efficently.
However there are some negative sides of Internet.For instance realibilty of information.There are no real control on Internet.I reckon there will not be soon.This reduces the trust in internet.This is why People will always need another source to be make sure and need to remember information.
It is also necesseray for objectivity. You can not just have one source and expect true and impartial information. It is against nature of science.This is not how science works.People must have and process the information.In this way we expand our knowledge.When we make brainstorm we always end up with another information. If we don’t have and process the information how Science works?
I suppose in the future People will never trust completely to Internet. They will always need another source and they will need to interrogate source of information.In conclusion Internet is by far most promising invention People have ever invented.However Internet is not beyond our brain and imagination.We will always need to posses and process the information.
It is about my hometown: My hometown is a beautiful, attractive and cool. N'beika is one of the most famous places in Mauritania where attractive views and economic capacities are in. It is located in Tagant which is in middle of the map. Therefore, It is one the biggest cities in the country. As there are interesting geographical features such as: high Mountains, nice valleys, light hills and wonderful pools. Historically, N'beika played an important role in culture, trade exchange and fighting colonialist. Also it has saved historical landmarks, for example: manuscripts, books and cities which the most important is Gasr Albarka. In the north, there have tourist views and in the East big mountains with lovely valleys like Matmata where there are some Alligators in and other attractive animals. As well as from the south and the west there are some fields, forests and farms. Moreover, people are interested in agriculture, trade, development and education. Furthermore, there are many schools and Mahidras and three colleges providing well-deserved education to students. What's more, mall shops is offering demands and created jobs for unemployment. There are different favourite for people , some of them are crazy about football as youth, and some people like doing agriculture and development. Moreover, there are entrepreneurs doing a small business like selling clothes, pitch, barbershop... etc. In conclusion, N'beika is a gift of Allah that has given to people to spend nice moments in order to feel happy and to invest for everything we want due to gain lots of money .
I believe it is amazing updated technology which has helped us a lot in our lives. In todays era everyone has access to internet over the globe. you can easily find all the information on internet that is required to you. Even though learn many new skills which aren't even taught you from the help of internet. it is good help for book writer like us where we can be part of book writing communities or book writing resources to enhance our skills and provides more guidance to others.
It would be unfortunate if we never learned anything at all. It is true that the Internet has become such a vital part of our social lives, and has made information accessible. However, Relying on the Internet all the time may hinders our growth as a person whereas, using our memory to remember things and recalled information can widen our horizons, broaden our perspective and harness our skills. Learning is a lifelong process that enables us to function effectively and brings out our full potentials.
Without learning the internet would not exit. There needs to be learning to develop skills and knowledge.
I think it become worse and dangerous for our society. We need to control it makes rules and regulations.
Todays, many people are browsing on the internet to learn or to find informations about something they already knew or not. First of all, The internet helps people to browse any type of informations their are looking for, however to start searching what you want you have to pay for Data to have connection. Moreover you may have a Smartphone or a Personal Computer to go browse through it. On the other hand, internet has many advantages. People can save their data Online or something they don't want to forget or loose. Internet has many other tools like online Calendar, but is it while it can replace our brain memory? To sum up, internet helps people to find information easily, furthermore we have to be aware of those information and be able to distinguish good or bad information. In that case internet cannot replace our memory.
Why do we write essays? The purpose of an essay is to show your understanding, views or opinions in response to an essay question, and to persuade the reader
An introduction should outline your key ideas and hook the reader's interest. Learn how to write an introduction to an essay with BBC Bitesize KS3 English.
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Tips · Read the question carefully. · Plan your ideas first and then choose the best ones. · Introduce your essay by restating the question in your own words.