Cheating College Essays

Question: Although I browse College Confidential, I have not much glanced at the Essays section until yesterday, and a question pops up: To what extent are colleges aware that applicants receive so much essay writing help, editing, revising, etc? What do they do if they find out that the college admissions consultant wrote the essay?

You’ve hit a nerve with me. This essay business has gotten way out of hand, and it’s near the top of the (lengthy) list of my admissions-process frustrations. College folks claim that they can usually sniff out essays that are not the student’s original work. But I disagree. Of course it’s true sometimes … particularly now that a growing number of admission officials are requesting the writing-sample portion of the SAT or ACT so that they can compare work that was done in proctored conditions with that done at home–and which may have passed through many drafts (and many hands) before submission.

Among college staff, guidance counselors, and teachers there are two camps. The first includes those who say, “Admission officials should use only the essays that are produced in proctored sessions to be sure that the applicants themselves are the authors.” The other camp, however, maintains that even the best writers deserve a chance to edit and revise and that a short and pressured test administration does not produce the sort of writing sample–or revealing information about the applicant–that the traditional college essay is designed to do.

Personally, while I can see where each argument has its merits, I land in the first contingent. There is not only rampant “cheating” out there–with students paying ringers to compose their essays (or to whitewash their fledgling efforts beyond recognition), but also there is way too much gray area when it comes to what is ethical and what is not.

For instance, I read Acceptance, by Dave Marcus (a book I highly recommend. It shadows one outstanding guidance counselor in Long Island and shows us what the guidance gold standard should be for all our kids.) The seniors at Oyster Bay High School, who were profiled in the Marcus book, took a fall-term elective class called “Essay Writing for College,” which was co-taught by the head of guidance and the AP English teacher. Even if the instructors did not write a single word of the student prose, certainly the advice they provided, their attention to detail, and the time allotted to the task gave Oyster Bay students a huge edge over their counterparts elsewhere who didn’t have access to comparable expertise.

Similarly, many high schools that do not offer a dedicated class like the one at Oyster Bay nonetheless include college essay-writing as part of the English curriculum. Many other schools, of course, do not. College officials will rarely know if an essay has had the benefit of an English teacher’s intervention nor how extensive this intervention might have been.

Personally, I have seen hundreds of essays that I am certain are not the student’s original work … even some pretty lousy essays that reflect their too-many-cooks construction. I’ve also seen some wonderful essays that I’m sure had no adult intrusion and yet might still trip the sensitive seismographs of suspicious admissions evaluators.

Although application forms commonly require students to supply a signature that attests to the originality of all materials, it’s not really clear where one draws the line. For instance, if a parent, teacher, or other advisor tells a student that his or her opening paragraph is a snooze and suggests a snazzier one to replace it, is the work still authentic? I have reviewed countless essays myself over several decades, and yet I continue to struggle to find that fine line between “editing” and “altering.”

If I ruled the world, entire college applications would be done under proctored conditions in a single Saturday-morning session, much as the SAT’s and ACT’s are conducted now. All writing would be authentic (albeit not perfected due to the time constraints). The application would also include a slew of short-answer questions–such as Princeton’s renowned “hodge-podge” queries. (“Your favorite book,” “Your favorite movie,” “Your favorite keepsake or memento,” “Your favorite source of inspiration,” etc.) But in my application utopia, these questions would vary from year to year to help guard against professional tampering. (“Geez, Louise, do you really think any Ivy will admit you if you list The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants as your favorite literary work?”)

Now back to your initial question: Most college admission officials claim that they are aware that essay doctoring is out there, but I think they often repudiate just how rampant it is. They fail to take appropriate steps to safeguard against it, and they also fail to set consistent guidelines to define what sort of help is permissible and what isn’t. (Yet even with crystal clear boundaries, there are always those who will blatantly ignore them. For instance, an independent counselor friend of mine recently told me that a current client is irate because she refuses to write his essays. The parents claim that the other private counselors in their purview always author the essays.)

In the vast majority of cases, college officials can only guess that a personal statement is not original. Unless the student has submitted “Self-Reliance” — or perhaps one of the more memorable samples from the countless essay how-to tomes that now abound–chances are that admission committees can’t ever be 100 percent sure that an essay is not the applicant’s own. But if the suspicion level is high, it will certainly work against the student as the yea and nay votes are tallied. If it’s really high, the admission staff may contact the guidance counselor to discuss their concerns.

Like many things in life, the essay-writing debate boils down to a personal-responsibility issue. There are those who won’t play by the rules and those who will–even if they pay a price for doing so. Two years ago, when my own son was competing for the graduation-speaker honor at his elementary school, he had to submit a speech to be adjudicated. I tossed out a very general idea (“Why don’t you mention every student in the class by name and include a memory of each one of them?”) My son told me that, although my suggestion was decent, he could no longer use it because it wasn’t his. “I didn’t tell you what to write,” I explained. “I just gave you a direction to head in.” “Nope,” he insisted. “Can’t do it now.” Then he turned the computer screen from my prying eyes and tackled the task without assistance.

Well, my son got the job anyway, but I realized that afternoon that I might have to steel myself for the day when he sends in all his college essays while I–despite my eons of expertise–get nary a peek. If nothing changes between now and then, his staunch insistence on authenticity might hurt him in the race for space at the most selective schools. But, even so, I have to hope that–for him and for all others like him who know in their hearts what is really their own–the loss of admissions advantage will be supplanted by a lifetime of good karma instead.

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Almost every student has some difficulties with college essays and passing the college exams, that's why essay writing service is so popular nowadays. It is impossible to know everything. And the more we learn, the more we understand that fact. Doubtless there isn’t anyone who has never cheated in college. And now, the examination period crept invisibly, there is neither the time nor the desire to study the whole material which students have been searching for months. And here it is! The perfect opportunity, unexpected chance to cheat the exams.

Today, there are a great number of options and ways to cheat an exam. New technologies have made that process much easier for students than ever before. The Internet has become an irreplaceable part of our lives, digital technologies have almost captured it. But at such situation there is a rather big plus because the modern technologies can help us in carrying out controls and passing important exams when examinator keep his eyes on the students every single moment. The ability to cheat is a perfect skill, which masterly use the 98% of students.

The cheating process requires the development of specific skills, mastery of certain psychological techniques. It cannot be done without peculiar skills, attentiveness, responsiveness. In brief, the cheater should have a well-developed motor skills: quick and precise interaction of basic human sensory systems. Also, it is in some kind a teamwork, for instance, a student might call the examinator with a question, which will take teacher’s attention away from the other students. Now, they have just a moment to find needed crib, look at their gadgets or do anything else to help themselves to find the right answer. 
So, let’s back to the main purpose of our research: the popular ways of students cheat in college.

1. Cheating with a crib.

A student without cribs are not a student. Every new generation of students brings its idea to the process of cribs invention. And with the Internet development even the laziest student can make cribs. A good estimate is guaranteed if the crib is prepared correctly and student use it efficiently.

What is the crib?

Crib or cheat sheet is a compressed material on any subject, which reflects the most important and relevant information for each question. The crib is a kind of a response plan, closely configured and recorded on a particular medium.

Next, we try to consider the main types of cheat sheets:

1.1. Simple crib

It is a piece of paper which consists of a small written  in theses text to response to one or more questions.

1.2. Cheat sheet bomb

It is a pre-written cheat sheet with the correct answers to the questions. It takes a lot of time to prepare such crib, but it is one of the best methods to pass the exams. Before writing “bomb” student has to go to the other group exam, listen to the questions, write down all important things and then prepare the  precisely the same correct answers.

1.3. Cheat sheet invisible bomb

The student has to write the answers to the list, each answer on a new one, but first he/she has to place under the list a blank piece of paper. Than student must  press harder on the pen. The first list of paper can be thrown out. At the exam, student pulls a ticket and took a clean-looking piece of paper, but in reality he already has a ready answer for it.

1.4. Crib-book

It is a little book made of torn pages from the main one. It is hard to prepare such crib, but then you will write text it without wasting time.

1.5. Table cheat sheet

Now more and more often, it is prohibited on the exam to have something that is not associated with the procedure. If the message about future control catches student off guard, he/she can quickly write a small post on the desk with the basic information - dates, formulas and names, etc. It is also used in the case when you know the audience of an exam. It will be enough to come early to take a comfortable place and write on a table or a chair a needed cheat sheet.

1.6. Bottle crib

It is a well-known and popular trick with a bottle of water or the empty box or jar, when student write a cheat sheet on the back side of the bottle label with soda or hide a crib in the juice jar.

1.7. Clothing cheat sheet

A student can tip, sew, wrap or paste a piece of paper with the needed text to the skirt, a sweaters’ sleeve or dress. Students also may wear hats, jackets to an exam.

2. Cheating with the help of modern technologies

The rapid development of technology makes it possible to cheat from our mobile phones, portable music players, tablets, e-books, the micro earpiece. Even 10 years ago, the average cheater could not even dream of such a variety of devices, but now, cheat sheet using with the help of modern devices is a widespread practice. Here are eight most recent high-tech cheating techniques, some of which were designed in a well-known China:

2.1.Electronic cribs 

The most modern mobile devices can read the main text formats, so students may download the needed file with ease.

2.2. SMS/MMS

The technique is simple, popular and effective. Test questions are sent to a friend who is looking for information in the pre-abandoned books, the Internet or another device. And then send the SMS or MMS (photo) with the answer.

2.3. Mobile Internet 

Students can easy use the independent search for finding different essays, controls, answers. They can open anyone essay writing services sites.

2.4. Earpiece (Headset handsfree, with Bluetooth)

Due to earpiece compact size, inserted in the ear earpiece remains virtually invisible to observe the teacher's exam. The essence of cheating to record the answers to the questions and then listen to them, or in real-time mode or to dictate responses to the friend, who, for example, is in the neighboring audience. The headset needs to connect to the Bluetooth-module and then a mobile phone sends a signal to it.

2.5. Watch-cheatsheet  

There is also a new secure cheating method - the use of the clock. It is a unique solution to pass the exam with just a little risk to be caught on the hot. No one will notice that the clock can store a text document with answers and prompts.

2.6. Camera Glasses 

Such glasses we have already seen in the popular films, but also simple students may use such Chinese electronic device as a perfect cheat sheet. A remote shutter device activates a micro camera that allows photographs of test questions to be relayed to the students eyes.

2.7. High-tech pen with a light 

Students all over the world can  order several “High-tech Cheat Pens” from China. Some high-tech pens have a small screen to display test answers. Others have used infrared light pens to display answers when exposed to paper.

2.8. Wired Clothes 

There is something new - a high-tech T-shirt. It incorporated a tiny camera that plugged into a phone to transmit information. 

3. Cheating signs and the secret of students body     

3.1. Examinator always is watching for signs of cheating 

Students have a very good phantasy and memory. The day before the exam  they may create their own language of signs. For instance, on a multiple choice test, if the answer is A, they can touch the left ear. If the answer is B, they can touch their nose, and so on.
All students know that there is no talking allowed during the exam, but they can whisper in a secret way to another student to get a needed answer.

3.2. Look for writing on the student’s body 

The most longstanding cheating methods are to write answers on a student’s left or right hand or arm, hide it between fingers, or another body part with the use of colour pens.
Students, especially females, and especially on hot weather may write notes on their legs. They will then wear a skirt of a particular length that covers the writing, but that can be inched upward to reveal the notes.  Often a lot of students use alcohol wipes to remove pen ink from their skin before turning in their exam the table of the examiner.

The examiners are students in the past and they know a lot of students’ tricks. And if they do not know something they are taught by the students themselves under their unsuccessful cheating. Teachers are  also versed in all modern technological devices. And if your attempt to get the cheat sheet remained “unnoticed”, if the examiner keeps silent, in principle, it means that he agrees with the status quo. So do not fidget, fuss and look around! But it is more important to remember that the primary and irreplaceable crib, it’s your head.

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