Science & Tech

University essay written by AI robot earns passing grade

University essay written by AI robot earns passing grade
Today Explained: What Is ChatGPT?

A graduate decided to try out the controversial bot ChatGPT to write a university essay - and it managed to secure a pass.

The AI software allows users to ask any question and receive an AI-generated answer in seconds which mimics the style and syntax of a human response.

The chatbot has concerned schools and universities across the world since it launched three months ago, with worries that it could cause more students to use the tool for their work.

Educational institutions are already taking action as students in America have been banned from using the software in schools while UK universities are "scrambling" to review how they can detect its use.

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Pieter Snepvangers graduated from uni last year but decided to put this AI software to the test to see if in theory it could be used for coursework.

The 22-year-old told the bot to put together a 2,000 word piece on social policy - and impressively the chatbot managed to complete this task within 20 minutes.

Pieter then asked a lecturer to mark it and give their assessment - and couldn't believe it when the tutor gave the essay a score of 53 (a 2:2).

Pieter Snepvangers asked ChatGPT to write a university essay which was graded a 2:2 by a lecturerThe Tab/Pieter Snepvangers/ SWNS

While it wasn't the top grade, the paper still managed to secure a pass.

The lecturer said they could not be certain it was written by AI software, reports student news siteThe Tab, and added it was a bit "fishy" with no depth or proper analysis - but said it was reminiscent of work by 'lazy' students.

His feedback continued: "Basically this essay isn’t referenced. It is very general. It doesn’t go into detail about anything. It’s not very theoretical or conceptually advanced.

"This could be a student who has attended classes and has engaged with the topic of the unit. The content of the essay, this could be somebody that’s been in my classes. It wasn’t the most terrible in terms of content."

He added: "You definitely can’t cheat your way to a first class degree, but you can cheat your way to a 2:2.”

But getting the chatbot to write the essay wasn't as straight forward as one may assume.

Pieter started off by simply asking the software the essay question and requested 2,000 words with references.

Initially, the software only managed to give back 365 words at first - only 15 percent of the requested number.

The graduate decided to take a different approach and asked the software 10 separate questions all relating to the essay question, and eventually managed to get 3,500 words from the software.

Pieter Snepvangers with the essay created by the chat robot The Tab/Pieter Snepvangers/ SWNS

He then went about taking the best paragraphs the software had given, and copied and pasted them in an order that "resembled the structure of an essay".

He didn't change or rewrite any of the words, and his essay was complete in 20 minutes.

Pieter said: "All in all, 20 minutes to produce an essay which is supposed to demonstrate 12 weeks of learning.

''Not bad. I nervously sent it off to my lecturer and awaited the verdict."

In the feedback, the lecturer described how "good proper language" was used and said he could have been convinced it was written by a “lazy” student who hadn’t put too much work in and was “waffling”.

A lack of in-text referencing was ChatGPT's only downfall, however the lecturer said if a student "had sneaked some in which seemed plausible", the essay would be given a mark of 53.

They also said that if Pieter had simply added references from the module's reading list, he "might even have hit high 50s".

The lecturer even admitted that out of the essays he had marked so far, a shocking 12 per cent of them show signs of being written using AI software.

Pieter said: "The truth is the software doesn’t give you the answer in one go. You will have to structure its responses in a more coherent order.

"But I spent 10 minutes doing this and got a 53, it wouldn’t have taken much longer to add a few references from the reading list and bump it to a high 2:2.

"ChatGPT is only three months old. You wouldn’t bet against it being able to write an essay worthy of a 2:1 in another three months," he added.

Pieter graduated from the University of Bristol with a 2:1 in Politics and Social Policy. He lives in London working as a writer.

Additional SWNS reporting by Athena Stavrou.

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