Friday, April 16

SAT Scores of Asian Students Cancelled Over Cheating

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by Jill Robbins

The organization that oversees the leading college admissions test says it has cancelled the scores of several international students and is reducing future test dates overseas in an effort to crack down on cheating.

The College Board, which administers the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), said the students whose scores are in question might not be allowed to retake the test.  It is looking into the scores of other international students, as well, it said.

The Reuters new agency reported the update as part of its ongoing investigation into  the SAT and test taking, mostly in Asia.

Most U.S. colleges and universities use the SAT to measure the capabilities of student applicants. More than 6.7 million test-takers completed the SAT or a pre-SAT test during the 2015-2016 school year,  said Maria Eugenia Alcón-Heraux, College Board director of media relations, to Student Union.

A hidden coil in a shirt, two batteries, a mobile phone and a receiver were found on a student and confiscated by the authorities as cheating equipment for a Chinese test in Chengdu, Sichuan province in 2014. (REUTERS)

Among the class of 2016, nearly 1.7 million students took the SAT at least once in their high school career, Alcón-Heraux responded in an email.

Also in response to the cheating, the non-profit College Board said it will reduce the number of test dates overseas from six to four a year to limit test questions being shared and duplicated.

The international SAT test scheduled for June has been canceled. The next SAT tests will be held in October and December. In 2018, the test will be held in March and May. Some students take the test more than once to try to increase their scores. This must be done within yearly application cycles and deadlines.

A student goes through a security check as she enters the classroom to take the National College Entrance Exam in Shenyang, Liaoning province in 2013. (REUTERS)

The SAT asks nearly 100 questions in three topics: Math, Reading and Writing. Those questions are designed to tell colleges the level of knowledge a student has gained as they approach university. The test is an intense three- to four-hours long, and a student’s higher education and career can hinge on a high or low score.

Because the SAT and similar tests are standardized over a large student population year after year, questions may be used numerous times. Reducing test dates reduces the number of times SAT questions are asked each year. The fewer times the questions circulate among students, the less likely they can be passed on to others.

Sample questions to help students prepare are commonly available online. Students leave the tests and share questions and answers with colleagues. Tutors who help students prepare for the tests are also eager to know what is on the test.

Many companies offer test preparation services and manuals that offer sample questions. Reuters reported extensively last year about the rise and complexity of cheating in Asia to boost students’ access to U.S. institutions.

SAT exams with fresh questions are first given in the United States. The exams are sent to test centers in other countries after that.

A police officer displays a pair of glasses with a hidden camera and a tiny receiver attached to a coin, which are both exam cheating equipment confiscated by the police, in Shenyang, Liaoning province in 2013. (REUTERS)

The College Board had reduced SAT administrations from six to four in South Korea, Egypt and Saudi Arabia after determining in 2013 that tests had leaked there, Reuters reported. At the time, it did not to take similar action in China while knowing a Chinese website had hacked four SAT exams, according to an internal College Board PowerPoint presentation seen by Reuters.

“A spate of cheating incidents in China and other countries ensued,” Reuters reported.

Reuters said that parts of the June exam in the U.S. were duplicated six months later on the test given in Asia. The June test “was widely available in China and had been sold to students in South Korea,” Reuters said, based on more than 200 pages of scans and photographs of the leaked exam.

A year ago, the College Board cancelled test dates at 45 test centers in China and Macau after determining that students may have received copies of the tests in advance.

Also last year, more than a dozen Chinese nationals and dual citizens were convicted of federal charges related to taking the SAT and other exams in Pennsylvania after five years of cheating.

Most of the 13 found guilty of the cheating were deported to China. Chinese students had paid up to $6,000 to have the imposters take the admissions tests for them.

The College Board said it is alerting law enforcement about individuals and businesses that reproduce test content illegally. It said it asked legitimate test takers and those who administer the test to anonymously report cheating.

Peter Schwartz, the College Board’s chief administrative officer and general counsel, said his organization is working to protect exam questions.

“We are unwavering in our commitment to SAT test security and we will continue to confront any efforts to undermine it,” Schwartz said in a statement released by the College Board.

Around 1,200 students at Dongguan University of Technology took their English examination in a large hall so as to prevent exam fraud in 2007. (REUTERS)

However, critics say duplicating questions on the domestic and international exams year after year is a problem.

The College Board “did not say they’re going to stop recycling tests, which is the primary tool used in all these international cheating scandals,” said Bob Schaeffer, public education director for FairTest, the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, to the Washington Post.

Schaeffer said social media contributes to the widespread sharing of test questions.

“The only way to stop unethical test-prep companies and individuals from gaining advance knowledge of upcoming test items is to stop reusing test questions,” Schaeffer said to the Post.

The College Board “has increased test form development to reduce reuse,” it said in a written statement.

“We are reducing re-use,” said College Board’s Zachary Goldberg. “We recognize that’s an issue.”

Steve Syverson, an administrator at the University of Washington-Bothell, has served on the National Association for College Admission Counseling. He told Reuters that the College Board will need to find a way to return to the time when test scores could be trusted.

“The College Board does a lot of good things, but it will clearly be a major challenge for them to restore trust in the integrity of the test,” Syverson told Reuters in 2016.

The test questions are written by Educational Testing Services, headquartered in Princeton, N.J. “ETS develops and administers the SAT” and other exams “on behalf of the College Board,” according to its website. “The College Board, headquartered in New York City, sponsors these testing programs and decides how they will be constructed, administered and used.” ETS says the College Board is its largest client, but works with dozens of other organizations and associations.

Have you witnessed cheating on the SAT? Please leave a comment here.


  • About Jill Robbins
  • Jill produces TESOL-related content for VOA Learning English.