Can markers detect contract cheating?

Dawson, P. and Sutherland-Smith, W., 2017. Can markers detect contract cheating? Results from a pilot study. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, pp.1-8.


Contract cheating is the purchasing of custom-made university assignments with the intention of submitting them. Websites providing contract cheating services often claim this form of cheating is undetectable, and no published research has examined this claim. This paper documents a pilot study where markers were paid to mark a mixture of real student work and contract cheating assignments, to establish their accuracy at detecting contract cheating. Seven experienced markers individually blind marked the same bundle of 20 second-year psychology assignments, which included 6 that were purchased from contract cheating websites. Sensitivity analyses showed markers detected contract cheating 62% of the time. Specificity analyses showed markers correctly identified real student work 96% of the time. Our results contrast with contract cheating sites’ claims that contract cheating is undetectable. However, they should be taken with caution as they are from one course unit in one discipline.

Dr. Thomas Lancaster is an international expert in academic integrity, best known for raising awareness of contract cheating through leading research and other activities. He regularly provides expert seminars and media commentary. Thomas is a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and a Computer Science practitioner. To discuss opportunities to work with Thomas, please contact
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