The SAT has a cheating problem in Asia

Bad time for a score delay.
Bad time for a score delay.
Image: Reuters/Tyrone Siu
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Responding to allegations of cheating based on “specific, reliable information,” ETS, the company that administers the SAT college admissions exam, will delay scores for all students living in South Korea and China who took the test on Oct 11.

The company referred (paywall) to “organizations that seek to illegally obtain test materials for their own profit, to the ultimate detriment of all students,” indicating that answers might have been found in advance and shared with students before the test.

That the scores are being withheld based on where students live instead of where they took the test supports that interpretation. Students in China have to travel to take the test because it is only administered at a few private schools there.

The company expects to have the scores out by mid-November, in time to apply early to schools. Students will have a very short amount of time to let their score help them to determine whether to make an extra reach for a dream school with an early application. They’ll be provided a letter to send to schools, explaining the delay.

This is not the first cheating scandal in the region. South Korea saw a May exam canceled last year, and scores cancelled in 2007. Test centers in mainland China have been closed due to widespread cheating allegations. This might be the most serious so far though, in that it affects two entire countries of test takers at the same time for the first time.

And the potential leak of questions could bring into doubt scores around the world.

This comes as the demand from foreign students continues to skyrocket:

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While it’s easy to discount student concerns as they’ll get their results eventually, the choice of where to apply early is a very big one.

At elite schools in particular, there’s a significantly better chance of getting in when you apply early. It’s a smaller pool of applicants that are demonstrably (and legally) committed to the school. That’s particularly appealing in an environment where students apply to more and more schools and its hard to be sure who will actually commit. The result is that half of the class at many schools are early admits, who have a much higher acceptance rate:

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This is the second year running that there’s been a significant cheating issue, and it’s definitely affecting students who did nothing wrong. As the stakes and numbers of students continue to rise, ETS needs to find a way to crack down more effectively on cheaters.