Cyber cheat network grows

November 1, 2002

Students are openly swapping A-level coursework assignments to plagiarise from one another's work on one of Britain's most popular revision internet sites.

Within hours of logging on to the website, The THES was able to obtain a completed B-grade assignment from a second-year A-level student. The student confirmed that he had sent similar completed coursework to fellow students.

A THES reporter, posing as a year 12 A-level student, also got advice on how to use the web to find other material to plagiarise.

One website user, who claimed to be a college lecturer, offered to help students with assignments in return for a £100 fee. His identity could not be verified as The THES went to press.

Exams watchdog the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority said this week it would seek meetings with the exam bodies and website owners to discuss The THES's findings.

The cheating takes place through the site's discussion forum, where users can post messages and where content is more difficult to control. The website's owners do advise users not to plagiarise. On one discussion forum, students appeal for and offer completed coursework for A levels, particularly the new vocational A level, the AVCE.

The AVCE has more assessed coursework and fewer traditional exams than the A level. The forum archive is littered with appeals for specific assignments and promises of swaps or even cash payments.

The THES spoke to one student, whom it has chosen not to name, who was offering a completed assignment in marketing for the AVCE business qualification.

Within hours of being approached, he emailed The THES with a completed 20-page B-grade assignment, forming a significant part of the final exam grade.

He said: "Hope you do well." He also confirmed that he had sent another completed assignment to another user, who had failed to send promised material in return.

Another student, known as "Dr X", said he would send coursework for the science AVCE in return for other pieces of coursework. "The thing is, I need year 2 assignments. I want to swap coursework. If you can get any year 2 ones... let me know."

He then offered some advice on where to find material to plagiarise:

"Follow the outline plan for the assignment and just copy and paste from the internet. Copy and paste is the key to all your assignments apart from unit 1 which is a load of bundles."

Another student announced he was setting up a website dedicated to swapping coursework and asked all students with grades above a B to email him.

The site, which claims tens of thousands of users from GCSE students to undergraduates, has been previously criticised for offering an "essay lab" of model essays up to university level that students can plagiarise.

Although the site warns that users should "never ever cheat or plagiarise when doing coursework or exams", it offers a number of "tips" on how they can pass the model essays off as their own.

The guide said: "Remove the 'courtesy of' and our author's name and add your own name and the date at the top. Change the title to the actual one you have been set... use a thesaurus to change some of the bigger words into different big words - but make sure you get the nuance correct."

A spokesman for the QCA said: "The QCA would expect anyone facilitating the free exchange of coursework as an aid to learning to adopt a responsible approach by clearly pointing out that passing off someone else's work as your own is cheating. Students need to be aware of the penalties of being caught. We expect website publishers to take the appropriate action to prevent plagiarism.

"The QCA will be discussing this problem with awarding bodies, examination centres and websites to ensure that everyone involved is aware of what constitutes cheating and the damage that it does to the credibility of the examination system."

There was no response from to inquiries as The THES went to press.

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