Cheating on the SAT

Cheating on taxes is a global phenomenon. Witness the Panama Papers, the 11.5 million documents made public by a whistle blower within the Panamanian law offices of Mossack Fonseco, revealing over 200,000 offshore companies  set up to hide the assets of the heads of state of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Argentina, the Ukraine, Deng Jiagui, the brother in law of the Chinese President Xi Jinping, British Prime Minister David Cameron and a portion of the FIFA board, including Juan Pedro Domiani, a member of the FIFA ethics committee.   

 Cheating on the SAT is an equally global phenomenon. News from a group of Reuters investigative reporters confirmed that the scope of cheating on the SAT in Mainland China, South Korea, Hong Kong, and even Egypt and Saudi Arabia appears profound. Articles can be found at

The Reuters team counted 14 times since October 2013 that the SAT test content was made available prior to the test’s administration. Many times test content was posted on College Confidential (CC). Other times, such as in Korea, the College Board was warned that the test had been distributed throughout the country. The ETS (which is a contractor for the College Board) administered the test regardless. Upon reviewing the test results, College Board officials delayed release of scores—an indication of irregularities.

 The hope is that with the administration of the new SAT in March 2016 the continued breach of test material will be better controlled by ETC and the College Board. This, however, seems unlikely as the standard policy of reusing test questions continues.

 The College Board administers seven tests a year in January, March, May, June, October, November, and December. Students taking the test in January, May, and October may have a full test booklet, along with their answer sheet, sent to them for a fee. This means that the College Board can recycle questions from the four tests it does not release. Over the years, the College Board has reused unreleased test questions internationally.

Now, however, the College Board and ETS are contending with the tactics of the Korean hagwons and Chinese cram schools. Policies are changing:  for the first time, the College Board prohibited non-students from taking the March 2016 test, a policy that will likely remain intact. Regardless, after the recent March 2016 exam, Sanli, a Chinese test prep company, sent 11 of its tutors to the US to debrief 40 Sanli students as they left their testing centers.  Other centers merely went online to gain information about the exam from sites such as CC.

At some level, as the test is administered in thousands of schools throughout the world, keeping SAT cheating at bay relies on local schools and proctors. A case in point, noted in the Reuters articles, is the Taipei European School, which was responsible for shipping back all its test booklets and answer sheets in lock boxes to a local ETS shipping agent and then to ETS. When the shipment arrived at ETS two booklets were missing.  

As the new SAT over the next 3 administrations gains a solid statistical sense of its new scale, those taking any of these initial SATS are, in essence, being used as guinea pigs. Add to this the aforementioned challenges ETS is facing in keeping a handle on the legitimacy of the testing itself, it might be wise to take the ACT in June, September, or October.  (I noted looking at College Confidential after the ACT April 9th administration there was an ACT moderator on the CC site with the warning: “…discussion of ACT questions may violate your agreement with the ACT.”)

Additionally, more colleges are turning to test optional or ‘test flexible’. Such colleges as Bowdoin, Bates, Pitzer and Wake Forest have abandoned standardized testing altogether. (See the others at Fair Test.) It’s tough enough matching good students with good schools without factoring in the distortion of a questionable test score.