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What It’s Like to Be a Professional Test Taker

"There's so many ways not to get caught that we have never been caught."
Photo via Flickr user Ikhlasul Amal

Finals season is in full effect. Everyone, or at least everyone I know, has procrastinated to the point of desperation. At this point there's really no shame in entertaining the idea of just hiring someone to write your paper on 19th century French Modernism and the Inevitability of Change in Proust's In Search of Lost Time.

In fact, there's big business in professional essay writing and test taking with sites like Craigslist offering various 'specialty writing services.' But it's not just lazy students using them. Online schools and courses have become popular options for many, including busy professionals, military service people, and international and mature students, and that popularity has given rise to pay-for writing and test taking services. One of the those is Pay Me to Do Your, a US-based company that started six years ago as a tutoring service. With high demand for test takers and experts to complete assignments or online courses, the company now offers a wide range of options from essays to the full completion of any online course. We spoke with manager Tom* to see what it's like to write other people's assignments for a living. VICE: How many requests do you guys receive on average?
Tom: It's very seasonal, obviously. As the finals weeks are coming up here in the fall semester we have a big influx. What's the most common request?
Right now the most common request is gonna be essays, math, statistics, economics, and management entrance kind of courses. Human resources. And it's through the website, right? So it comes from kind of all over?
It's mostly concentrated in the big cities in the United States, but we get Canada, we get Australia, England. Some random countries like Korea, Japan. Mostly it's right in the United States, but there's definitely an international trend going on, too. Could you tell me a bit more about that?
It's US citizens but they're in the military. They're stationed all over the world [and] in Canada. They're getting paid extra to go to school, plus a raise as soon as they get their degree. And on top of that, they're constantly busy and their life is kind of crazy with travel and their military routine. And then another big category that we have is international students… some come from the Middle East, and they come to the United States and they take an online class that's actually based United States but they're still located in the Middle East. In a lot of ways, we get some people who might be in the middle of their degree and they come down with sickness or their family member comes down with a sickness and they literally have to be caretakers or they're sick themselves and they still want the degree. So there's certain instances where, even though the company might seem on the outside like a company that's immoral, we're actually doing things here and there that really, really, benefit the students. And in the background, the online schools aren't making out that bad either because now we're opening up avenues for them. The online school wouldn't have got these certain customers if they weren't able to use our services. The online schools actually need people to report higher grades. It looks really good for any school to show that their students are getting A grades. It looks good for schools to show their enrolment up. It looks good for schools to show that they have students from all over the world. How does it work in terms of a professor noticing that the student's work is different from everything else they've written?
To be honest with you, this is where it gets kind of dark. These online schools are processing so many students that some of the teachers barely read the work, let alone go through it to say "Hey, let me compare this to their past essays." In a lot of ways, the quality of the education with online schools is never gonna be like what you're thinking, like traditional brick-and-mortar schools where students go there and they make relationships with their professors and this and that. So mostly that's that case. You could turn in anything and just judge on quality alone with no previous examples. With that said, there are students who know the professors and maybe had a couple classes with them or they know that the professor is somebody who is really going to look into that and they'll ask us to read examples or essays that they wrote before and kind of put it in their style. Is there there a liability waiver somebody signs?
Yeah, there's an online contract and a money back guarantee. You can tell the students, if your professor says anything, "I went to a writing centre and they helped me at the writing centre." Or "A friend or family member helped me write this," or "I hired a tutor." It's not illegal to hire a tutor. There's so many ways not to get caught that we have never been caught. Online teachers would actually face a lot of, I dunno know—I don't wanna say lose their jobs, but the administrators at these online schools don't wanna lose customers, or they don't wanna lose students and the teachers don't want their classes to have lower attendees. It doesn't make any sense to penalize the student or kick them out of school, or even call them out. It makes me as a person who helps people with their classes feel a lot better knowing that they're actually not going to get as much out of their school as like when I went to college. I went to real school and I got a lot out of every class and then I started taking these online classes and realized they're giving the same amount of credits and the students really aren't getting a lot out of it. Sometimes it's just like a joke. An honest joke where you can just find all the answers online anyways. It's kind of sad if you look at college nowadays but the trends are definitely changing in terms of the quality of education. What's the most complicated request you've gotten?
There was a doctor who had his PhD in medicine and he was practising at a hospital and he needed to get his doctorate in business because he wanted to become CEO of the hospital. He's making a lot of money. He's got a PhD already in medicine, and he's gonna make about five times more if he gets his certificate that says "PhD in Business." Operational Management and Organizational Behaviour was the class that we helped him in. I personally didn't have a PhD in Business. I'd never taken a business class before in my life. I was a history major. And when I started taking the courses for him, I was kinda scared. But to my surprise they were some of the easiest things I have done in my life. The teachers wouldn't give you below an A-grade. They wanted their stats to be as high as a doctorate level program. They wanted everybody to have As. It looks really good for the school, it looks good for the teachers. So as much as I could mess up the class, the teachers would hand me back work and say, "Change this and this and this so that I can give you an A." It was probably some of the easier classes that I've ever taken and you could only get an A. They wouldn't give you anything lower. A lot of students call [and say,] "I have an in-class test, can I talk to you secretly over my cellphone and send you pictures of the test and you send back the answers while I'm in class?" And we've done it. It's just a lot of headache. It's really expensive and you never know what can happen with those kind of things. So we steer clear of the really difficult stuff. How much do you charge?
One test can be about $750. And that's on the high end. If we were going to do an online class [with] finals week coming. Someone calls us with a couple hours left before the test started and we could log right in for them. Accounting, 300 or 400 level Accounting, if they didn't give us a lot of time, it would be about $500. If they scheduled us a couple weeks out for a Master's level accounting online final, we could bring it down to you know, $320-$350 because they gave us time to plan. There's a lot of planning, seeking out the experts, having somebody available at that time. We do entire online classes from start to finish and those go for about $1,500 all the way to $3,000 a class. *Names have been changed for privacy. This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Follow Lisa Power on Twitter.