Sorry for the cheesy-sounding alliterative title - I didn't write it that way one purpose.

Today, in my math class I heard one of my (rather apathetic) classmates say something like this:

"I found this website where you can post problems, and math people will solve them for you. So if you post problems from our assignment on there every once in a while, we can have the whole thing done by the end of the week."

I don't know for sure whether this person was talking about MSE - but I would say it's safe to assume so, since MSE is probably the most prominent math Q&A website out there. This made me pretty angry, and I found myself faced with a dilemma... how could I stop this blatant cheating from occurring? In all likelihood, the community would recognize these questions as homework questions, but one can never be sure of the extent to which a slothful student is willing to disguise his or her homework problem.

This gave me an idea - what if, on MSE, we had a database of problems from ongoing contests, nearby tests, and current assignments, to which trusted members of the community can add problems? If this feature was implemented, perhaps MSE could systematically scan questions before they are posted for similarity to questions in this database to prevent cheating. This would certainly save a lot of work for mods, and create a lot of work for people who feel entitled to having their homework done for them.

Anyways, this is just an idea, and I thought I would propose it to the community to see how everybody feels about it. Let me know what you think!

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    $\begingroup$ we do have something like this for ongoing contest. But we do not have man power to go any further imo. Even for contest questions, it is hard to detect once the wording is changed a little bit. $\endgroup$
    – user99914
    Nov 16, 2017 at 0:36
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    $\begingroup$ And as a lecturer, actually I do not find this to be a problem for homework. If they decide to copy their homework, they will taste their own medicine in the exams. $\endgroup$
    – user99914
    Nov 16, 2017 at 0:39
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    $\begingroup$ Actually, such students don't even have to hide or disguise their motives, on MSE, because even blatant PSQ homework questions have an unfortunate following among a number of users who will answer any question, anywhere, anytime, no questions asked. But yes, I understand the anger. Until more users penalize both the askers of such questions, AND the answerers, those seeking someone to do their work for them will be enabled by opportunistic answerers, and will keep coming back. $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    Nov 16, 2017 at 0:44
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    $\begingroup$ "what if, on MSE, we had a database of problems from ongoing contests, nearby tests, and current assignments, to which trusted members of the community can add problems?" Do you have any idea how many current assignments there are at any given time? $\endgroup$ Nov 16, 2017 at 5:59
  • $\begingroup$ Possible duplicate of How to ask a homework question. $\endgroup$
    – user223391
    Nov 16, 2017 at 17:09
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    $\begingroup$ @ZacharySelk your linked question seems to be somewhat orthogonal to this one. This questions ask what others should do if they ask homework question. $\endgroup$
    – user99914
    Nov 16, 2017 at 17:45
  • $\begingroup$ @amWhy: More than once, I've felt a wish to penalise someone for answering a blatant PSQ, But how? If the answer is correct it feels wrong to downvote it. $\endgroup$ Nov 17, 2017 at 23:03
  • $\begingroup$ @Henrik Correctness is not the only criteria warranting an upvote, and there are other, important criteria, like usefulness, that may dictate or justify a downvote, regardless of whether an answer is correct or not. One simply needs to define what a "useful" answer is. I believe strongly that answers which reward askers of PSQs are ultimately NOT useful. Nothing wrong with that. If you hover over the arrows, you'll see the criteria: This answer is useful, this answer is not useful. Has nothing to do with correctness, alone. $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    Nov 17, 2017 at 23:16
  • $\begingroup$ @ZacharySelk I don't think this particular question is a duplicate of that question; this is a distinctly different question than the one you linked to. $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    Nov 17, 2017 at 23:29

2 Answers 2


We do something roughly like this for larger contests, see USAMTS 2017-18 Round 2 Problems for a recent example, it somewhat works but not perfectly.

For more low-key things like homework assignments of some course somewhere I think this is just infeasible. The volume would be just way too high.

Even if it would be automatized and would work, one could see issues. For example, there are plenty of standard examples that will be homework somewhere. It is not clear it is a good idea that nobody in the world should be allowed to ask such a question here during, say, two weeks, just because it was assigned to 27 undergraduates in some college somewhere.

I do not think there is an easy solution to this.

What we might want to do on this site is keep the standards reasonably high so that overly lazy questions do not get answered. This is also in the interest of this site (at least in various users' opinion).

The other thing is that some instructors might just need to adapt the way they use homework. See How to assign homework when answers are freely available or attainable online? on MESE for discussion about this.


This is the result of a wider problem. Whenever you encounter a person who wants to take the easy route usually such individual does not enjoy mathematics (majority of the population). This is quite common in the general population and it has a lot to do with the way mathematics is taught. Since early childhood, kids who tend to be slightly better at anything whether it be math, chess, sports, etc are labeled with some verbal association such as "intelligent, smart, genius, etc". Words that have absolutely no reference to physical processes in the objective reality, but do cause the students who are having more trouble have thoughts like "I am not good at math". This "I am not good at math" is bullshit and having those thoughts greatly limits the learning potential any student has. Generally speaking, a person's lack of understanding or mathematical abilities has to do with him or her believing they cannot do it since an early age. Anyone who loves math, very rarely cheats or takes the easy route.

What has to be worked on is a vast array of educational methods that enhance communication and make learning fun since early childhood. One day in an advanced civilization, almost everyone will be very good at math, which is just a language. Just like almost everyone today is who are good with their verbal skills of their own native language compared to tens of thousands of years ago when our ancestors with a similar brain size were very "bad"(compared to today) at verbal skills due to the fact that it was extremely primitive. Recall that genius is also another bs concept that most people believe. Imagine a very advanced society 1000 years from now, most people from that civilization would be "super geniuses" compared to us. It is all relative.

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    $\begingroup$ I don't see how this is an answer to the question. $\endgroup$ Nov 18, 2017 at 2:34
  • $\begingroup$ @user501270 Again, not really an answer to the question... but I can't help acknowledging that you have a very valid point. I respect that you recognize this flaw in our society, but sadly, there is little that anyone not involved in government (education reform?) can do to fix it... which is why we must seek a more localized way to solve our "lazy OP" problem. $\endgroup$ Nov 18, 2017 at 14:14

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