PRESSURE'S ON

So much cheating apparently goes on in the SAT that non-students are now banned from taking it

Questions are leaked. Answers from old versions get sold. Impersonation abounds. The SAT—the US’s main college entrance exam, taken by more than a million high school seniors a year—is no stranger to cheating scandals.

College Board, the organization that runs the SAT, is putting its foot down. When the next test is administered in the US this Saturday (March 5), the only people who will be allowed to sit the exam are college-bound students and those using the score to apply to financial aid programs—no test prep professionals, providers, or counselors. College Board spokespeople say the move, announced Monday (Feb. 29), is designed to weed out people “who may be in the business of wanting to compromise test content.”

Anyone signed up for the March 5 test who doesn’t meet the above criteria has been deregistered and moved to the next testing round of May 7, where security risks are estimated to be lower because people will have to sign a disclosure form.

Will this really curb cheating? The change, the College Board says, was made to “ensure that everyone taking the test is doing so for its intended purpose”— which presumably means preventing nefarious test prep companies from stealing questions and selling them.

There’s another explanation. This weekend will be the first administration of the redesigned, potentially bug-ridden SAT. “I just think they don’t want professional eyes looking closely at the first version of the new test that’s already been controversial,” says Robert Schaeffer, public education director at the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, a watchdog group.

Banning non-students from the test won’t stop students themselves from cheating, in any case. That problem hasn’t a good fix. Perhaps it’s one reason US colleges are increasingly dropping SAT requirements and relying more on measures of applicant quality such as essays, extracurriculars, and special demonstrations of talent.

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