Some students believe they can “beat” Turnitin through various means. If you google “can students trick / cheat / beat Turnitin,” chances are you’ll find plenty of results suggesting ways to do so.
We want to assure educators that we stay on top of this information and regularly update our algorithms to take such “tricks” into account. Turnitin understands that because plagiarism changes over time, we must always evolve to adapt to the latest academic integrity needs.
Since we’re well aware of these “tricks,” why are they even out there? The authors of these “tricks” are mostly essay mills. This is no coincidence: essay mills, whose end game is for students to purchase an essay, have a vested interest in attracting students back to their services. Essay mills are likely unaware that we have a suite of products that combat the entire spectrum of cheating, which includes contract cheating.
Bottom line: reviewing our Similarity Reports, regardless of the percentage shown as the Similarity Score, is the best practice for ensuring that students aren’t able to “beat the system.”
By looking at the Similarity Reports, educators have complete transparency into whether or not academic misconduct has occurred.
What tricks do students try?
Over the years, we’ve become aware of hundreds of rumors. Here are a few “tricks”:
One commonly proposed trick is to replace a common character like "e" throughout the text of their paper with a foreign language character that looks like an "e" but is actually different (for example, a Cyrillic "e").
Turnitin’s Response: We’ve created a map of similar-looking characters. Our algorithms replace such characters with the corresponding standard English character--and does a match against words containing every character variable.
THE THESAURUS MANEUVER
Replace words in the original text with synonyms.
Turnitin’s Response: We detect synonyms in our software.
MACROS IN DISGUISE
Others advise using Word Macros or pdfs to disguise copied text.
Turnitin’s Response: Turnitin’s algorithms strip macros from Microsoft Word Documents for Word 2003 and prior. When we strip a macro from a Word or pdf file, whatever character the student originally had in the file will appear. If a student starts with a “~e” and replaces it with a standard “e” using macros, Feedback Studio will strip the macros and the original “~e” will appear in the paper. This means the “~e” will appear in the Similarity Report and the file available for educators to download. For Microsoft Word 2007, we don’t accept macros-enabled (.docm) files. (We do, for the record, accept standard .docx files).
THE CLOAK OF INVISIBILITY
Replace all the spaces in a paper with invisible (white) text. Like.this.except.the.periods.would.be.whited.out. Orxlikexthisxwithxthexxxwhitedxout. Also.this.is.a.lot.of.work.
Turnitin’s Response: Feedback Studio will not accept papers that appear to have this condition based on abnormal word lengths. In addition, the text-only Similarity Report displays all text regardless of the color used by the student.
THIS IS “MY ESSAY”
Put quotation marks around the entire document.
Turnitin’s Response: This does not work because Turnitin does not automatically exclude quoted material. Only the instructor can change the default setting to exclude quoted material from Similarity Reports. The Similarity Report would also show the quotation marks at the beginning and end of a paper in the same size text as the rest of the paper. If the instructor chooses to exclude quoted material, Turnitin displays a warning when a large percentage of a paper appears within quotation marks.
A PICTURE IS WORTH A THOUSAND WORDS
Insert an image of the text so it looks, for example, like a 5-page essay.
Turnitin’s Response: Our algorithm detects paper and word length. And will flag such a paper.
Turnitin algorithms are updated on an on-going basis to make the Similarity Reports more accurate and informative. As an instructor, your best defense is to ALWAYS review your students' Similarity Reports - even for Similarity Scores shown as zero. All attempts to game the system then become pretty obvious.
All of the "tricks" discussed here rely heavily on the assumption that the instructor will not look at the Similarity Report. So make a quick scan of each Similarity Report part of your standard practice when evaluating papers.