Examiners wondered how much was students' own work
Examiners say they detected "blatant copying of material from the internet" in some of this year's coursework for GCSE English.
Staff at the AQA exam board are said to have been surprised at some of the more obvious examples.
They also said some schools gave students so much help it amounted to "a kind of mass plagiarism".
Another board, Edexcel, said teacher guidance stretched or even went beyond what was acceptable.
The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA)
watchdog is shortly to publish the results of a two-year inquiry into
cheating in school exams.
moderators would find several paragraphs beginning with exactly the
same sentences, and paragraphs would be arranged in identical order
Coursework is expected to be one of the main areas identified as a problem.
The AQA examiners' report deals with the version of the
board's English syllabus taken by most candidates this June - more than
424,000 in all.
It said there had been considerable publicity about the availability of essays on the net.
Moderators - who check samples of the coursework which
has been marked internally by schools - "found some quite serious
instances of blatant copying of material".
They warned that candidates found to have cheated would
always be reported and in serious cases most probably would be
"Moderators have expressed some surprise at the more obvious examples they have seen," the report said.
The style of some written pieces was so different from
the rest of the candidates' work they wondered how teachers had failed
to challenge it, especially as they knew the candidates much better
than the moderator.
In some schools many candidates responded to a set text in such similar ways it was hard to tell them apart.
"Often moderators would find several paragraphs
beginning with exactly the same sentences, and paragraphs would be
arranged in identical order."
Schools are allowed to use "scaffolding" - giving students an outline of the structure, to marshal their thoughts.
"Scaffolding is undoubtedly an effective strategy for helping students to structure writing," the examiners said.
"But a distinction has to be made between using
scaffolding as a teaching tool for individual learners and using it en
masse with classes for a single task which is going to be submitted for
They felt that in many cases it restricted candidates rather than helping them.
"In the most severe cases, moderators found themselves
having to make judgements about whether there was so much scaffolding
and so little of the candidate's work that it was a kind of mass
'Teaching by numbers'
AQA's staff were not alone in having concerns.
At Edexcel, examiners said there were very few examples of blatant plagiarism, though it was "still very much an issue".
They added: "More insidiously worrying is the growth of
what one moderator described as 'teaching by numbers' and there were
other references to 'over reliance on teacher notes' and 'similar
responses within a centre'.
"In such cases teacher guidance to candidates stretches
what is acceptable to the limit (and beyond) by providing over detailed
essay plans, which specify what should go in each paragraph, including
the points to be made and the quotations to be used," their report
Among other things this made external moderation very
difficult, if not impossible, "because it is unclear what work is the
Edexcel's design and technology examiners saw more
instances this year of candidates writing "unsuitable and inappropriate
comments about their teachers and the exam in general".
They added: "This must be discouraged as it can be, and in some cases, it is, very offensive."