Contract Cheating: Reasons Behind It And Ways To Stop It

Contract Cheating: Reasons Behind It And Ways To Stop It
Summary: Contract cheating is not a new concept in education, but it remains a problem. This article discloses the essence of the issue and suggests ways to stop it.

Contract Cheating: A Challenge For Modern-Day Educators

Education can greatly help develop critical thinking, creativity, interpersonal and professional skills. However, these outcomes can’t be achieved if students hire someone else to do their work. This so-called “easy” way of getting good grades may be convenient, but it is not harmless. It complicates the true evaluation of knowledge and abilities among students. This style of cheating can also cause irreparable damage to the reputations of educational systems. Why is contract cheating a major challenge for educators? How much does it impact academic integrity? How can we stop it? Let’s explore these questions and ways to combat the issue.

What Is Contract Cheating?

The term “contract cheating” was first coined in 2007 by Clarke and Lancaster in their study on detecting cheating in higher education. It is not new for students to employ third parties to complete their assignments without the teacher’s permission. However, the problem is growing more prominent every day.

Contract cheating can appear in various forms. Here are several of them:

  • Unpaid help from friends or family members, requesting them to do the task in the student’s place
  • A paper downloaded from a free essay website and used as student’s own work
  • An academic assignment written by third-party services in return for money

The latter is the most harmful form, as it encourages more businesses, known as “essay-mills,” to emerge and commercialize education. The exchange of payment that occurs between the parties, labels contract cheating as deliberate and intentional. This allows students to purchase their way toward a degree. At the same time, it devalues the work of other students who play by the rules.

Contract cheating is a complete dismissal of the studying process and principles of academic integrity. Finding ways to stop contract cheating in higher education, as well as K-12, is a top priority for all educators.

Contract Cheating In Numbers

We are seeing increased numbers that confirm growth in the essay-writing services market. This is an unfortunate result of globalization and the ability to anonymously access online resources. In 2014, the self-reported contract cheating rate was averaging 3-4%. According to recent stats, around 31 million students admitted to buying a previously completed university assessment. This represents 15% of university students who potentially cheated in one area or another. Yet, it is only the tip of the iceberg. Fortunately, to support this fight, a small share of students are ready to report their involvement in paying third parties to complete academic work.

Even though contract cheating is an obvious threat to higher education, no one seems to have a clear vision of the market’s tendencies. Most media resources and academic journals agree that contract cheating is on the rise across all disciplines. However, there is little to no reliable measurements or research data to support just how true this is. One thing is clear: essay writing companies will continue succeeding as long as there is an increasing demand from students.

A Brief Overview Of The Contract Cheating Market

Websites that sell ready-made papers emerged in the early days of the internet. It was an even greater problem for educators until various tools, like plagiarism software, were developed. Such tools allow you to process a massive number of online resources and compare them with a student’s written work. Unfortunately, it only helped to temporarily resolve the problem.

Today, the contract cheating market has changed its business model by offering custom papers for students who want higher grades. Cheating services, also known as essay mills, take a swing at a considerable market share and plan to achieve it through all means available. They might even promise to mimic a student's unique writing style to ensure a 100% quality outcome. Just imagine, one study that was conducted several years ago estimated [1] that revenues from contract cheating in the United States might exceed $100 million.

Essay mills have turned contract cheating into a business model. They’re using powerful marketing and persuasive techniques to draw the attention of potential consumers. Advertisements are shown on social networks, personal blogs of influencers, and other websites that young people visit while surfing the web.

In one of their articles, BBC highlights that even popular YouTubers, some of them aged only 12, are being paid to personally endorse some contract cheating services. Writers who work for such companies are aware of academic integrity guidelines, so they compose the writing with little concern for being caught. Also, some companies provide a money-back guarantee in case of a bad mark or result.

Regardless of attractive offers and promises, the reverse side of the coin is not so pretty. First of all, the originality of a written work is questionable as the content may be Google translated from a foreign website or rephrased from an existing study. In the case of a low-quality paper, there is nothing students can do besides write a bad review of the provider. Usually, the contract writer is protected by terms and conditions that place all responsibility on students and declare their misuse of the products. In terms of legality, there is nothing to directly address with such companies. In the majority of cases, their websites contain disclaimers stating their products should only be used as a reference or study aid. Even if it were possible to enforce the law and shut down some companies, they will likely re-emerge in a new form as many of them are offshore firms.

Reasons Behind Contract Cheating

Many reasons push students to use someone’s help in writing academic works. At first, it seems to be a faster and more reliable way of receiving good grades. But, is it worth it? Unfortunately, students often don’t fully understand the risks that are involved.

The majority of academic researches identify the following reasons why students rely on contract cheating:

  • High stress and time pressures during the study process
  • Personal or family pressure to achieve better results
  • A lack of motivation
  • A lack of confidence in academic writing and conventions
  • Studying in a second language or distance learning
  • A misleading expectation that cheating will bring positive results
  • Poor understanding of what can be constituted as cheating
  • A “normalization” of cheating and the perception that others are doing it successfully
  • Lenient approaches of educators in regards to cheating and the unforeseen likelihood of being caught

Regardless of the reasons or intentions, any form of contract cheating is recognized as academic fraud and misconduct.

Ways To Combat The Cheating “Epidemic”

Over the last decade, educators have published many studies and recommendations to prevent the contract cheating “epidemic” among students. Part of their studies offers improvement opportunities like checking the rough drafts of a student’s work, implementing increased control, and discussing the risks of contract cheating.

The other section of their studies focuses on the early detection of students that need extra support when writing as well as proven methods on how to motivate students. The key is to concentrate all efforts on increasing academic integrity in hopes of developing a new generation of ethical and knowledgeable professionals. Nonetheless, third-party writing services adjust their strategies as new requirements arise. They adopt more sophisticated contract cheating methods that can pass through the plagiarism checkers now being used by educators. Unfortunately, common plagiarism tools are not likely to reveal a сheating attempt masked by pages of unique text.


Contract cheating is flourishing these days, and that’s a shame. While students keep hiring someone else to do their job, essay mills will continue feeding off human laziness, fears, or desires to find shortcuts. Luckily, innovative technologies in the education system have laid a solid foundation for the prevention of contract cheating. They also help educators detect students who need guidance early on.

By spending less time evaluating papers, educators will be able to pay more attention to students’ needs and motivate them to improve their unique writing skills. In turn, there will be a significant investment in the development of ethical professionalists who carry an individual voice and honest intentions.


[1] Cheating 2.0: How to Fight Back Against ‘Contract Cheating’