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How to Cheat TurnItIn and How to Cheat the Cheaters

May 18, 2009

After my post yesterday I started poking around the interwebs for plagiarism. I googled two things: 1) free online plagiarism checks that use Google’s algorithms to help me find content on the web, and 2) guides on how to trick SafeAssign and TurnItIn. My searches came up with both.

PlagiarismDetect.com is a website that, with a free registration, will scan documents for plagiarism not only against the web generally, but also blogs, books and .pdf’s. Very nice. However, I’m really not sure what the motives are of the administrator or what they intend to do with this vast treasure trove of undergrad papers, so I only scan questionable paragraphs rather than whole papers. The whole website could be a front for a paper mill operation for all I know!

More interestingly, I ran across a thread on Chronicles of Higher Education Forum on how to cheat TurnItIn. I recommend everyone check out the thread not only because it provides information on what to look for, but also for sheer humor. Apparently a panic-stricken and highly confused student posted a comment asking for help on gaming TurnItIn at around 5:00AM a few weeks back. Nothing like asking professor on how to cheat!

Of course, this would all be much easier if either students stopped plagiarizing or I stopped caring that they did. However, I don’t think either is likely to happen anytime soon.

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15 Comments
  1. May 19, 2009 8:32 pm

    Plagiarists are scum, find them and beat them (academically). Then when they cry you can forgive them…

    • March 31, 2011 11:44 pm

      Wow. I would love to be in your class!

  2. Mary permalink
    May 28, 2009 10:11 pm

    Hi Jim. You have compelled me to come out of lurking in the shadows.

    Gee. Cheating is such hard work now. Wouldn’t it just be easier to do the paper in the first place?

    I try to make my assignments relatively difficult to replicate. So, of course, a few students have found creative ways to fabricate instead. This confuses me because, well… see previous paragraph.

    • May 29, 2009 9:43 am

      Mary, thanks for breaking radio silence. I also attempt non-traditional assignments that students can’t obtain easily elsewhere. It always surprises me that some students will spend will spend so much time (and money!) trying to avoid learning.

  3. missivesfrommarx permalink
    June 2, 2009 10:31 am

    That thread on the Chronicle is too awesome! Thanks for sharing.

  4. June 9, 2009 11:37 pm

    TurnItIn has some definite limitations, at least as used at our institution. I put a journal article I was writing through TurnItIn to see if it picked up anything I’d missed. It contained a significant review of literature in a particular field, so I wanted to see what it would look like.

    It suggested that I might be quoting from an economics journal and an article on church music, neither of which I had consulted, but these two articles had used the same sorts of generic linking phrases as I had. There are a number of examples similar to “It should be noted, however, that the work of Parry, Lord and Havelock …”, where the words in bold are the non-original words, which are picked up as plagiarism. Obviously, one needs to use one’s common sense in interpreting the results.

    I often find myself agreeing with Mary that it would require less effort to do the assignment in the first place than to run the risk of being caught plagiarising. At least if you acknowledge that you have basically strung together lots of other people’s words with some joining sentences, most markers would give you credit for recognising which bits were relevant to the assignment. Or would they? :-)

    • June 10, 2009 10:47 am

      Judy,

      You’re right. Common sense is required for any of the automated plagiarism checkers. I had one flag a student because of the date (!). The checkers work for the most egregious examples (cut-and-past from Wikipedia) but often times that’s about it.

      I’m also confounded by the amount of effort (and money) students will invest in not doing the assignments. I often warn my students on the first day about plagiarism and tell them of the consequences (failure of the course, academic probation, expulsion, etc.) and tell them that it’s not worth it to get caught plagiarizing in a basic core class. But every semester, some students do….

  5. jake permalink
    December 8, 2009 2:07 am

    Turnitin.com is totall BS i cited my paper and i didnt plagarize. But my prof thought that I wasn’t original enough so i have to do a 9pg paper over agian. o yeah its a music class…F him

  6. August 28, 2011 3:15 pm

    i am a poet, in college, and i hate plagiarism. but, i am also terrible at writing long papers. would anyone be able to give me a few tips on writing my own paper, that would make it easier? -Casper

  7. christal heard permalink
    November 1, 2011 6:42 pm

    im a hs student and i think turnitin.com is the work of the devil lol i hope you all get viruses from the program (dieeeeee turn it in!!!!!!!!!) just though id bring a little humor and the teenage perspective to this topic

  8. Amanda permalink
    November 19, 2011 12:07 am

    I use SafeAssign as a senior at university. It always highlights something, no matter how hard I work at avoiding it. I really hate the fact that I have to maintain paranoia for ten hours while my pages are scanned by the program. I have never once intentionally plagiarized, but when you have a fifty page paper, a lot of things can be misunderstood thanks to the prevelance of the internet. I understand the purpose of these programs, I simply wish I could scan it privately first to ensure I am not going to embarrass myself. Also, when you have twenty pages of handwritten notes on potential comments from research, mistakes can absolutely happen. Well intentioned people, who are not intending to publish any of these menial assignments, frequently get the back end of this.

    I appreciate reading the comments here to achieve a little further insight on how the actual education staff perceives us poor children, though. Thank you for continuing to save us from the throws of ignorance on bloody stupid argumentative papers. Monkey work is not worth my tuition.

  9. December 7, 2011 1:13 pm

    @Amanda: If your instructor is any good, he or she will not consider you a plagiarist. What people need to realize is that Turnitin, SafeAssign, and related products are not *plagiarism* detectors; they are just tools that highlight (as happened Judy above) material that is the same as that found elsewhere. It is up to the instructor to look at the flagged material and determine whether it is stolen or whether it is simply a coincidentally identical phrase – which, as Judy points out, can happen a lot in academic work. It’s not something to be embarrassed about; experienced academics read and write a lot of material, and we end up using and re-using phrases because they do the work we need them to do. There’s nothing wrong with that, and no instructor should hold that against you.

    On the other hand, Turnitin will catch a student who buys a paper from essaymania.com or lifts whole passages out of SparkNotes or Wikipedia, and that’s what we’re really looking for.

  10. Nunyobiz permalink
    October 29, 2012 11:49 pm

    Now, as to the classes I remember the most from. Were classes where we had alot of discussion in the class. In Class worksheets and group work. Try interacting with your students, have practice tests. Stop assigning papers cuz they dont teach us a single thing, I have had this conversation with many fellow students and they all agree that we dont learn ANYTHING. The class I remember most from was one in which the majority was students and instructor sitting around talking almost as friends and discussing the subject matter. This was done on a daily basis and I still remember more from that class than any other. Break this old school cycle of papers and try something that works and teaches me something.

  11. Scott permalink
    December 10, 2012 1:43 am

    As a student I can tell you that the reason student cheat is because we all have this underlying fear that if we do something and mess up were screwed, this is what the Grading System has taught us. But if we cheat we feel as if we will do better, sometimes it can be less work sometimes not. Either way we do it out of fear instilled on us since we were little. The fear of being wrong.

  12. Scott permalink
    December 10, 2012 1:44 am

    And I wrote that really fast. My English and Grammar is a lot more apt then that.

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