In-class essays will kill the essay mill

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Julia Driscoll/The Occidental

Professors need to stop allowing their students to write essays outside of class, because many of them are not writing their essays at all.

College students around the world are buying essays through online “essay mills” — websites where you can legally purchase a made-to-order, top-caliber paper — and turning the plagiarized assignments in with their own name in the header. This system is not only unfair to the hardworking students who play by the rules, but it also blatantly violates collegiate plagiarism codes and should result in students being expelled. However, it is difficult for a professor to determine that a hired professional, not the student, wrote the paper. The only solution that would fully eliminate this cheating is for institutions of higher education to switch to in-class essay writing.

More than a few writing professors are likely wringing their hands as they read this, crying, “But what about revision? What about the art of a finely-crafted essay?” As a former writing advisor in the Writing Center, I agree wholeheartedly with these concerns; writing clearly and precisely is one of the most valuable skills in life, and revising is the key to good writing.

After having students compose their first draft in class, professors should give detailed feedback and require out-of-class rewrites. This write-first, revise-later process will stop the cycle of students wasting their time procrastinating and mulling over their papers as they try to fight through writer’s block. Instead, they can spend their time the way they should — learning how to mold their words into strong and convincing prose. Professors would then be able to compare the original essay with the final draft to check for plagiarism. I find it very unlikely that, with a full original paper already written and detailed feedback from the professor, students would still pay hundreds of dollars to buy an essay.

If students bring in some preliminary notes, ideas or quotes, the in-class writing environment won’t be as stressful as some might think. We learn that writing is a structured and rigid process, but it’s supposed to be messy at first. In-class essays would encourage students to appreciate the editing process more. It eliminates the anxiety of having to write something perfect the first time.

The pricing of these papers — 10 to 40 dollars per page — adds to the inequity of the essay mill system. Students who are financing their own college tuition or their own living expenses likely do not have the $100 to $400 it takes to buy a 10-page paper. Meanwhile, students who come from wealthy families and have free access to their parents’ credit cards are easily able to pay for these services. This only builds upon an already unequal higher education system — the same children of celebrities and millionaires who bribe their way into prestigious colleges are able to ace their essays without typing one original thought. When students don’t write their own papers, they lose out on worthwhile writing and learning opportunities. Today’s students have grown up in an era where they can buy pretty much anything online. All the goods in the world are just a credit card number and a few clicks away from being delivered to your doorstep. But money can’t buy you invaluable writing skills.

There’s no doubt that starting a paper is hard. However, if professors require students to start their papers in class, it makes the writing and editing process easier in the future. Moreover, time management is a useful skill for college students to learn. In-class essays, which would be similar to the Cultural Studies Program (CSP) Timed Writing Exam, would teach students to quickly organize their many ideas in a short amount of time.

Professors need to make it just as hard to cheat on essays as is it is to cheat on exams. Exams take place in classrooms, where professors can closely watch student behavior and even confiscate phones before tests. Just as they would hand out a study guide before a test, professors should give essay prompts a few classes ahead of time, allow students to research and form their ideas and then proctor essays in the same way as other tests.

Students, it’s worthwhile to write your own essays. Learning how to write and communicate your ideas is important for any job you pursue. And professors, before you assign your next out-of-class essay — think about who’s really writing it.

Eliot Brody is a junior Urban & Environmental Policy major. He can be reached at ebrody@oxy.edu.