THE BIGGEST THREAT TO THE SAT may be the billion-dollar test prep industry it has spawned. An exhaustive two-part investigation by Reuters reveals the extent to which test-prep centers—especially the notorious cram schools in China and South Korea—have been getting early access to SAT test questions. Their methods vary from the unscrupulous—sending employees to memorize or photograph questions—to simply trawling online forums where students discuss the test.
It wouldn’t be such a problem, the reporters suggest, were it not for the fact that the College Board recycles questions for use on international exams. The reporters “tallied 14 times since late 2013 when SAT content was publicly exposed before an international sitting of the test.” College Board says it has, and will continue to re-use the same questions—and even entire sections—from tests given in the U.S. This, according to the reporters, is a “fundamental weakness in the system.”
Even the re-designed SAT, offered for the first time this March, may have been compromised. One Chinese test-prep firm sent teachers to interview students following the test.
As long as the SAT is one of the main gate-keepers to college admissions, the perverse incentives for gaming the are likely to remain for students, universities and the fiercely cutthroat test-prep industry. The killer quote in the story comes from a South Korean test-prep operator: “It’s like doping in the Tour de France. “If you don’t do it, someone else will.”