Students tempted to use essay writing services that claim to guarantee A-grade papers are more likely to receive shoddy work that would fail an A-level, as well as putting them at risk of being caught cheating, according to the exam regulator Ofqual.
An investigation by the watchdog found that online services failed to live up to their claims of high-quality writing and research, despite charging up to £220 for an essay. In many cases, essays were riddled with basic writing and composition errors, and received very poor or failing grades from independent examiners.
One essay “read like the work of an unengaged, untutored and floundering student”, according to an examiner, while another was damned for “Americanised versions, confused punctuation within sentences and errors of grammar and expression”.
Ofqual said that while it had no evidence that students were using the services to submit essays as their own, its chief regulator, Glenys Stacey, said: “Exam boards should also be doing everything they can to stop these essays being submitted into the system and they have a responsibility to ensure their malpractice monitoring systems are effective.”
Exam board representatives said they had seen few or no cases of commercially written essays being submitted.
The report’s authors concluded: “We would suggest that given the exceptionally low quality of the work commissioned, there is probably minimal damage inflicted. If anything, the fact that it is not possible to simply purchase a grade A GCE A-level essay is an exceptionally encouraging outcome.”
Ofqual’s investigation, conducted by the policy consultants London Economics, approached three organisations – Custom Essay, UK Essays and UK Essay Writing Services – and commissioned two essays from each, one a 2,000-word essay on the significance of the National Insurance Act of 1911 from an A-level history paper, and the other a 1,250-word essay on newspaper coverage of Nelson Mandela’s death from an A-level English language paper.
Only one of the six papers received a clear pass mark of B, while the other five received poor or ungraded marks from examiners, who had been briefed on the origin of the essays.
“These essays are poor quality. Anyone who buys them isn’t getting value for money. And more importantly, while there can be valid reasons for students buying these essays, such as essay practice or research, any attempt to pass this work off as the student’s own is cheating,” Stacey said.
The essay writing services defended their work saying they offered research services and not finished essays. “We are extremely disheartened and disappointed by the wholly inaccurate and presumptuous report published by Ofqual,” said Tony Eynon, chief executive of All Answers, which runs UK Essays.
Eynon said the London Economics report was “deeply flawed and inconsistent, using a prejudiced approach in marking the essays”, arguing that the examiners were tipped-off about the source of the essays.
The different services charged between £70 to £220, depending on length and subject. All six essays were delivered on time and only one showed signs of plagiarism. The use of American spellings suggested several of the authors were located outside the UK.
Reviewing the essays and their marks, the report said: “The assessment of the various coursework essays by external examiners was almost universally negative. Although in a number of cases, essays were reasonably well structured and used relatively sophisticated language, the almost universal ignorance of the scope of the work to be undertaken and associated criteria for assessment, combined with the utter lack of in-depth analysis, suggested that the essays were written by relatively competent writers ... who simply addressed whatever essay commissions present themselves.
“Overall, the commissioned essays were considered to be of poor quality and fell well short of what might be expected from a representative student at this stage of their academic career.”
A panel of examiners looked at samples from essays provided by internet companies answering an English A-level essay question on Nelson Mandela’s death and the media.
Firm: Custom Essay
The narration of the death of Mandela was accompanied with numerous statins [sic] of his achievement and his requirement to all people. Every person or institution wanting to live the legacy left by Mandela would be moved by the text since it reminds each and every person of the importance of being willing to sacrifice for the sake of the world.
This essay is crudely structured, poorly written and almost entirely descriptive. The weaknesses in expression and the errors in punctuation, spelling and grammar would restrict it to a GCSE Grade D/E. It is nowhere near A-level standard in my judgment.
Grade: E or Ungraded
UK Essay Writing Services
The genre of the texts if largely informatory since it follows the newspaper reporting type of composition. They seek to make the reader know of a certain thing that has happened. They want to bring to the know how the events took place and what they resulted in. generally, it is about presenting news to the readers.
The expression is limited. There are a considerable number of stylistic infelicities and a fair number of grammatical errors.
In addressing such sensitive political material, these examples of media reporting have had to tread a slippery path between the opposing philosophies and interests of their varied readerships, and what is politically and socially acceptable.
The conclusion of the essay is entirely generic. Any reader of the final paragraph would be challenged to guess from which subject this writing has been taken. It could be history, politics, citizenship, economics... There is no language content here.
Grade: D or C
Among the company’s under fire for their controversial services is UK Essays, owned by Nottingham-based parent company All Answers Ltd, which told this newspaper that international students and the heavy workloads required by top universities were fuelling the company’s rapid expansion.
Providing bespoke essays and dissertations with a “guaranteed” first class grade, UK Essays charges students typical fees of £800 and £400 for original pieces of work written by hundreds of freelance and inhouse staff at its headquarters at Venture House, Nottingham.
According to the company’s CEO, Daniel Dennehy, the number of students requesting bespoke essays is increasing by about 2,000 students a year, with the company now generating turnover of £5m last year.
Mr Dennehy strongly denied that UK Essays was facilitating cheating when questioned by The Telegraph, adding that his company provided “valuable services to overworked students”.
Another is Essaywriter.co.uk, which admitted that it sold essays to several thousand students in the UK last year - of which more than five percent were Oxbridge students. The company added that whilst its traditional customer base was mainly international students, the number of UK students had increased by a fifth since 2015.
Commenting on the figures, a spokesman for the Department for Education said: “Plagiarism is not acceptable and represents a clear threat to standards in our universities.
“We are looking closely at the issue of plagiarism in Higher Education and are having active discussions with the sector about what more can be done to tackle this unacceptable form of cheating.”