This guide is designed to help UCAS applicants understand our similarity detection process. All personal statements sent to UCAS are tested for similarity.
There are some example personal statements on the internet that have been used by applicants, in some cases word for word. The service we use, called Copycatch, finds statements that show similarity, works out how much of the statement may have been copied, and reports the findings. It helps admissions staff at universities and colleges judge applications, and it is the institutions who decide what action, if any, to take regarding notified cases.
Research has shown that the majority of UCAS applicants do write their own personal statements. However, the number making use of other people's material was high enough to justify the introduction of the Similarity Detection Service.
Each personal statement is checked against:
Each personal statement received at UCAS is added to the library of statements after it has been processed.
The Copycatch process ignores commonly used words that many applicants use in their statements such as 'and', 'so' and 'with'.
Copycatch also ignores a selection of commonly used words and phrases including 'Duke of Edinburgh' and 'football'.
If Copycatch finds a significant level of similarity in your personal statement and the Verification staff at UCAS decide to inform the institutions you have applied to, we will let you know by email (if you have a verified email address). This email includes instructions on how you can view what Copycatch has found in Track, and gives you a link to frequently asked questions for further advice and guidance.
The report sent to you is identical to the report sent to the institutions. It displays your personal statement marked up to identify sentences similar to others in the Copycatch system.
We use four colours (see below) to indicate significant matches with other statements and grey to show sentences which have not been found to match.
Within matched sentences, words which are different from the one matched with it by the program are highlighted in black. Underlined black is used to show that the word is related but not identical.
Grey is used for sentences for which no match has been found and for very short sentences, which don't get checked.
I grew up in a city near the sea and have always been fascinated by marine life.
If you had written this sentence and found it shown in red as above when you checked the notification report, it would mean that it had been exactly matched to a personal statement stored in the Copycatch library.
I grew up in a town near the sea and have always found marine life fascinating.
If the sentence you had written was marked in your report like the one above, it would mean that:
The blue colour also shows you that the match was found in the second most matched statement.
The dates on the matched personal statements
At the bottom of the marked up personal statement, the number of sentences matched to library or internet sources is shown in the same colour as that used to mark up the sentences.
The date shows how long this personal statement has been in the UCAS collection. It does not mean that this particular statement was the one used as the source for the current personal statement.
Both may be taken from a source outside the library, or there may be other related files inside the library which have not been shown because there was no additional matched information.
The dates on the matching web sources
The number of web source sentences is shown in the same way, but here the date means either the date it was posted to the website, if known, or the date when the web source was identified by UCAS. Again, it does not necessarily mean that the file was the actual source.
As a feasibility study discovered, some web sources are very popular, and may appear on more than one website, or have been used in a modified form in a personal statement within the UCAS collection.
For more information visit the UCAS Similarity Detection Service FAQs page.