How to dodge your way through uni without actually cheating

IMG_7898.JPGI was shocked by the report on Wednesday that there’s a thriving business selling university essays. There have always been rumours about this kind of thing happening, so I guess I’d always assumed that some students outsourced help. But the semi-industrial scale of the operation was surprising, to say the least. MyMaster apparently raked in $160,000 last year, which is more than many university teachers make.

Was I the only person who thought the prices seemed competitive, too? After all, a 3000-word bachelor-level essay is only $585. The way university fees are going, it would cost you less to pay someone else to do the degree for you than it would to enrol in the first place.

The other thing about MyMaster that I find truly extraordinary is that they charged different amounts for different grades. We all know that essay marking is somewhat arbitrary – how on earth can they guarantee, say, a credit? I certainly didn’t know how to do that back in my undergraduate days.

The timing of these revelations was also somewhat ironic, at least from my own perspective. As someone who graduated from one of the targeted universities only last Friday, I was disappointed to learn, too late, that I could have just paid someone else to write my thesis. So easy! So unethical, yes; but so easy!

But you don’t need to hire MyMaster to get through university. Instead of paying some dodgy operation to defraud your institution, why not use these tips to scrape through, absolutely free of charge?

Please note that I do not guarantee a distinction, or even a pass.

For the purposes of these examples, I’m imagining that you’re trying to write an essay on the subject of whether or not Australia is made of cheese. For the purposes of your own academic career, I should clarify that as far as I know, it is not.

Use the readings

Almost all university courses come with a helpful selection of readings. In case it’s not obvious, you are expected to, um, read them. That’s why Arts is considered full-time despite having something like a dozen contact hours.

Now I have to confess that I often didn’t quite manage this simple and entirely reasonable request, so I would flick through them in class and find a few choice passages about which to volunteer comments when the time came. The same approach works for essays. You need a few cheese-related quotations, and if you don’t entirely read the article to get a broad cheese sense, who’s going to know?

Well, the lecturer, if the article’s author goes on to disprove the earlier contention – but that’s not hugely common. And since the alternative is handing the essay in late or failing or paying MyMaster, this is probably your least worst option.

Use the readings’ bibliographies

Each of the supplied articles will contain references to more articles about the proportion of Australia that’s made up of cheese. Flick through those and find a few more gems to quote, or solid points to adopt (and reference). It’ll impress the marker more than you deserve. Even if they pick you as a faker, it’ll be a superior class of fakery, and that should deserve some kind of grudging respect. After all, they were undergraduates once too.

Use Google Scholar to find new articles

When I was an undergraduate, going and finding fresh viewpoints on the subject matter required real effort – in my case, a last-minute trip to the library, and hunting through various journals, or on the shelves in the same Dewey Decimal category as the set texts. But now we have full-text searching of academic articles, it’s so easy to do this that you’d be a fool not to.

Google Scholar is great for finding citations, and then your own uni should have journal subscriptions that let you download PDFs or full-text. Honestly, students these days don’t know their own techno luck. Why, in my day we had to use photocopiers!

Agree with your lecturer

Lecturers love nothing more than the sound of their own voices, regurgitated back at themselves on the page. You shouldn’t cravenly agree with the exact argument your lecturer ran – after all, university is all about displaying evidence of independent thought. So instead, quibble with one incredibly minor detail. For instance:

While Australia is certainly made of cheese, not enough consideration has been given to the proportion of cheese that makes up the geological record of comparable countries. The extent of Australia’s cheesy exceptionalism certainly warrants further study.

Of course, you can disagree with your lecturer’s point of view – you absolutely have that right, and if you can prove a contrary argument, you will highly likely deserve a high distinction; although you’ll probably be marked down to a distinction by your sulky marker. But disproving the lecturer’s thesis takes a great deal of effort and original research, and if you are the kind of person who does that, there’s absolutely no point you reading this article.

Refer to your lecturer’s own publications

Unless you’re doing a PhD, only one person is going to read your essay, so flatter them by showing that you’ve read their stuff, or at least flicked through it to find a few choice quotes. Just make sure you do it in the third person, so it’s not completely transparent. For instance if your lecturer is Dr Smith, you might write:

Smith conclusively argues, in what has become a highly influential piece in the literature, that the geological evidence ultimately proves that Australia is largely made of cheese. Or, as she puts it, with characteristic rhetorical flair, “Australia is not so much the Lucky Country as the Lactose Country”.

Write without doing any research at all

Why be flummoxed by a stack of academic references when time is limited? If you hand in a decent essay with zero research, you’ll probably get a pass, at least. You presumably have at least some interest in cheese, if you’re studying it. Perhaps even a few opinions.

It can be quite liberating setting out on an essay without the encumbrance of what other people think. And you might well have time afterwards to go back in and retrospectively insert a few quotes and reference that support your point of view.

The problem

Now, there’s an obvious flaw in all my suggestions. Did you pick it? If so, congratulations, you get a free diploma, which you may Photoshop and print out yourself.

The issue is that doing all of the above requires a certain level of English language ability. You need to be able to quickly skim through academic writing and churn out at least some version of written English.

MyMaster sounds like it is catering  to some who do not have these skills. If so, then ultimately we must surely blame the universities. If they are admitting students without even bothering to check their English ability – for which a simple Skype interview would suffice, with speaking and typing components – then they are devaluing the prestige of their own degrees. And that’s offensive to those who work very hard to get them, and even to people like me who follow the dodgy approach I’ve outlined above.

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