What websites allow students to purchase solutions to problems?

Mathematics Educators Asked by Kevin Arlin on September 15, 2020

I am a college instructor who’s just had an outbreak of academic dishonesty connected to students posting take-home exam problems on a platform called Chegg. Chegg collects a membership fee from students and uses it to pay contractors to answer their homework and exam problems, no questions asked.

I could editorialize on the line of Chegg being a scurrilous company that lives off of liquidating whatever trust and integrity still exist in academia while exploiting contractors who seem to be mainly from the developing world, but more important is that I currently know of no other websites where students can as easily receive complete solutions to problems quickly.

For instance, on Mathematics (Stack Exchange site), "problem statement questions" are generally closed immediately, while other platforms I’m aware of are mainly forums with a small population of volunteer participants capable of solving problems beyond the high school curriculum.

Are there other sites comparably problematic to Chegg that other instructors keep an eye on for students getting complete solutions to problems?

4 Answers

Some of Chegg's competitors are Studyblue, Course Hero, Slader, and Cramster. However, Chegg is the market leader by a mile.

It's a little difficult to sort out which of these businesses actually sell solutions, because they don't admit they do that. For example, the NY Times did a softball interview recently with Chegg's CEO, where they asked, "Many teachers believe that their students are using Chegg as a means by which to cheat. Is this a problem? And if so, what are you doing about it?" He answered with lies and evasions:

It’s always been a problem for colleges. Let’s face it: Students have always found a way, whether it’s in fraternities, or whether they go to Google. But Chegg is not built for that. We have built technology that removes copyrighted material before it even gets posted. If we’re notified by a professor or a school that there’s copyrighted material, it immediately gets flagged and then removed.

(None of this is true. Chegg is built for that, and their entire business model is based on illegal use of copyrighted material, i.e., the questions themselves. The publishers tried to get Chegg to take down copyright-violating material, and ultimately gave up because it was like whac-a-mole.)

I would actually love to see a careful, impartial analysis of which web sites do what and how their business models work, but I haven't been able to find one. It's pretty difficult to know exactly what they're doing unless you pay for an account yourself. But just anecdotally, in my department the issues are 100% Chegg. It's especially bad now that we have the campus quarantined, so that all tests have to be take-home. One of my colleagues found all of his finals on Chegg last semester. He ended up not grading the finals and assigning projects instead. The consensus in my department seems to be that starting next semester we'll start just doing a half-hour, synchronous quiz every week, instead of big exams. This will hopefully make it harder for students to post exam questions on Chegg and get answers in time.

In comments, Peter Saveliev wrote:

They are just exposing some pre-existing problems in academia.

I don't think this is true at all. When I started teaching in 1996, problems with students cheating on homework were minor and intermittent. It was easy to nip it in the bud if you cared enough to read any student work. Today it's a qualitatively different environment. In classes where professors continue to count homework as a significant portion of students' grades, cheating is nearly universal. It's very corrosive, because students come to believe that they can't compete on an even playing field if they don't cheat.

Correct answer by Ben Crowell on September 15, 2020

one that hasn't been mentioned is Slader. I only learned about it through this article on cheating in a Princeton math course:

Answered by usr0192 on September 15, 2020

Not organised sites like Chegg but I try to keep an eye on several sources.

  • Freelance "teachers" who solve exercises, sometimes somehow disguised as classes - classes where your exercises are solved. They can be found by Googling the name of the subject and "exams", the name of the institution or the exercise. It's easier in languages other than English because the first pages of results in English get flooded with banks of exercises and other legitimate resources. A few examples in Spanish: "exams by WhatApp", "we solve assessment exercises".
  • WhatApp groups (or similar media): Although that isn't a commercial service solving exams, I've seen class WhatsApp groups where results circulate freely and exercises that are supposed to be solved individually (including exams) became a team assignment. Some independent tutors often take part on these groups in order to publicise their for pay classes - with different levels of spam.

However, keeping an eye on those groups - and even sneaking into WhatsApp groups or forums where professors aren't expected to be - just served me to confirm the obvious fact that students cheat when they can cheat. How to solve that is probably out of the scope of the question.

Answered by Pere on September 15, 2020

If you are teaching algebra or calculus courses, Mathway and Symbolab have algorithms that allow paying users to see full solutions with steps shown. The algorithms often do strange things that no human would do, which allows you to catch students who use them.

For example I gave the following question:

Use the comparison test to show that this series converges: $sum_{n=1}^infty frac{n+4}{n^3 + 4}$

Symbolab* starts by comparing the fraction to $frac{1}{(2n+1)^2}$ (???).

A few of my students made the same comparison. That gave me enough evidence to start looking into their other answers, which of course were also copied from various online sources. This was enough evidence to open academic integrity cases against them.

*: I think it was Symbolab. I let my subscriptions run out for the summer, so I can't check it again right now.

Answered by Chris Cunningham on September 15, 2020

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