Appendix: Notes from UCAS online

Size and presentation

How to provide your personal statement

You can enter up to 4,000 characters (this includes spaces) or 47 lines of text (this includes blank lines), whichever comes first. You do not have to use all the space provided. When you save text, the system will tell you how many characters are still available or if you have used too many characters. You can preview your statement after you have saved it.

You will not be able to change the presentation of your personal statement by using features such as bold, italic or underlined text or foreign characters, such as á, ë, õ. If you use these types of formatting or foreign characters, they will be removed from the text when you paste it onto your application and save it.

We recommend that you prepare your personal statement offline using a word-processing package and copy and paste it into the Apply system. This is because Apply will time-out after 35 minutes of inactivity. When you enter your personal statement directly into Apply, you must save it to prevent your work being lost.

Plagiarism - Similarity detection

UCAS Similarity Detection Service - guidance for applicants

This guide is designed to help applicants using the UCAS application system to understand our Similarity Detection process. All personal statements received in support of an application are subject to testing. It has been widely broadcast that some example personal statements found on the internet have been used by applicants, in some cases word for word. The system, called Copycatch, is used to identify statements that show similarity, quantify the suspect material and report the findings. It is a tool designed to help the admissions staff at Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) judge applications, and it is the universities and colleges who will decide what action, if any, to take regarding notified cases.

Research has shown that 95% of applicants using the UCAS application system did indeed write their own personal statements but the number who made use of other people's material was sufficient to justify the implementation of the Similarity Detection Service.

What the Similarity Detection Service does

The personal statement in each incoming application is checked against a library of all personal statements previously submitted to UCAS and sample statements collected from a variety of web sites and other sources including paper publications. Each personal statement received at UCAS is added to the library of statements after it has been processed.

Any statements showing a level of similarity of 10% or greater will be reviewed by members of the UCAS Similarity Detection Service team. HEIs will be notified on a daily basis of any cases where there are reasonable grounds for suspicion. Applicants will also be notified that the UCAS Similarity Detection service has found that their personal statement merits investigation. The decision about what action, if any, to take regarding notified cases rests with the admissions tutors at individual HEIs.

The Copycatch process ignores 450 commonly used words that many applicants almost inevitably use in their statements such as 'and', 'so' and 'with', and also ignores a selection of commonly used words and phrases including 'Duke of Edinburgh' and 'football'.


Copycatch is a process that identifies sentences in a personal statement that are matched to other personal statements already held in the Copycatch system. Levels of similarity are reviewed by trained staff who decide whether you and the institutions you are applying to need to be notified that similarity has been found. Ultimately it is the institutions you are applying to that decide on the significance of the results and what action, if any, to take.

Notification that a report has been sent to HEIs

If Copycatch identifies a significant level of similarity in your personal statement and the Verification staff decide to inform the HEIs you have applied to, you will be notified by email, if you have a verified email address. This email will include instructions explaining how you can view the output of the detection program by using Track, including access to a frequently asked questions (FAQ) section giving advice and guidance.

The report sent to you is identical to the report sent to the institution. It will display 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 in your sentence which are different from the one matched with it by the program are highlighted in black. Underlined black

What the sentence colours mean
Red is used for the sentences from the most matched statement.
Blue is used for the next best match if there are least 3 sentences.
Pink is used for the third best match if there are at least another 3 sentences.
Brown is used for any other matches if there are at least 3 sentences.

Grey is used for sentences for which no match has been found in the indexes 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 like the 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 you had written the first sentence and found it reported like that immediately above, it would mean that the word town was not in the matched sentence, nor was the word found. The word fascinating was not found as an exact match but is sufficiently similar to the equivalent word in the matched sentence to be identified by underlining. 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 markup the sentences. The date is merely indicative of 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 web site, 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 web site, or have been used in a modified form in a personal statement within the UCAS collection.

Why the program works

A personal statement of 4000 characters will contain approximately 600 words, about half of which will be words that are eliminated from consideration (see above).

Under normal circumstances, if two personal statements are selected at random and compared you would expect very little or no similarity. Most sentences written in them are significantly different.

This means that if Copycatch finds two sentences in different statements which have exactly the same words, it is considered very probable that one is a copy of the other or that both have been copied from a third source. Of course this can and does happen in essays if a quote, taken from a text, is included, but is very unlikely to occur in a personal statement. It is when Copycatch finds a number of identical or similar sentences in a personal statement and a file held in the library that a similarity report is generated.

Last modified: Friday, 24 June 2011, 10:49 AM