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Posted at 12:13 PM ET, 03/25/2010

When kids cheat on SAT, ACT

By Valerie Strauss

What happens to students who cheat on the two college admissions exams, the SAT and the ACT? Not as much as you might think.

It isn’t particularly easy to cheat on these exams, but that doesn’t stop some students from trying.

They do it in all the ways you might imagine: Copying off someone else’s paper, texting on a cellphone for answers, bringing in cheat sheets, having someone else take the test for them.

And some cheat in ways you might not consider: In South Korea, a test prep tutor was investigated for allegedly buying scanned copies of sections of the SAT and then emailing them, with the answers, to South Koreans in Connecticut who were going to take the test 12 hours later.

Another SAT tutor in South Korea was arrested for getting students taking the SAT to put test questions into a calculator they were allowed to use, and to hide small blades in their erasers that they used to cut out pages of the test.

So, you ask, what happens to students suspected of cheating on the SAT or the ACT?

I asked both the College Board, which owns the SAT, and ACT Inc., which owns the ACT, to explain what triggers suspicion of cheating and what happens to students found to be cheating.

Ed Colby, spokesman for the ACT, said he couldn’t tell me exactly how many investigations are conducted each year for security reasons. Tom Ewing, a spokesman for the Educational Testing Service, which administers the SAT for the College Board, said there are a few thousand questionable test scores each year out of more than 2 million tests.

Both said a review of a student’s test could be triggered in one of several ways, including an audit that flags scores that have risen dramatically, or by a tip from outside parties, such as a guidance counselor, college admissions officer or NCAA official.

Test supervisors also report any irregularities that occur on the day of the test. And both organizations have anonymous hotlines which anyone can call with information about breaches in test security.

In some cases, handwriting experts will be called in to check whether the handwriting on the written portion matches other work by the person who was supposed to take the test.

Sometimes, the student is able to answer the questions and the case is closed. Other times, a student is given several options:

*He/she can retake the SAT or the ACT free of charge.

For the ACT, if the new composite score is no more than 3 points lower than the questioned score, then the questioned scores are deemed valid, Colby said.

Ewing didn’t say how close the new SAT score had to be for the questioned score to be accepted. But the score has to jump a few hundred points to be questioned in the first place, he said.

*The student is given a chance by both organizations to provide an explanation and documentation of how the scores jumped.

*Students can decide to cancel the scores, which is not seen by ACT or ETS as an admission of guilt. The ACT and the ETS can also decide unilaterally to cancel the test scores, and notify the student (who can request arbitration from an independent party if desired) as well as the schools that received the scores.

But--and this is a big but--the schools aren’t told why the scores were cancelled.

In fact, both organizations tell the schools that there are a lot of reasons that scores are cancelled, including a student’s illness or disturbances at the test center.

A student can cheat and get caught--but the college or university that has accepted him or her won’t find out from the ETS or the ACT.

What do you think of this policy?

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By Valerie Strauss  | March 25, 2010; 12:13 PM ET
Categories:  College Admissions, SAT and ACT  | Tags:  SAT and ACT, cheating on SAT, college admissions, college admissions tests  
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I live near Cerritos, CA, a city that has many people from South Korea. These citizens, mainly middle-class professionals, worship education and pressure their offsprng to do their very best at school. Many of these Korean-American children attend a magnet school for gifted students called Whitney High. According to the grapevine, this school is well-known and coveted even in South Korea. There is even a book about this school entitled School of Dreams.

That's the good news. The bad news is that there are often newspaper stories about frenzied cheating at the prep academies that prepare students for the entrance exam into Whitney. In the school itself, there is intense competition for good grades and this too leads to many problems. Some children don't respond well to the pressure and have physical or mental breakdowns.

Does this give you insight into the DC situation?

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | March 25, 2010 3:54 PM | Report abuse

i got a 2160 first time and a 2230 2nd time taking it, whats the point of cheating? Its not like "o i cheated,sweet not im going to get into Harvard" then they fail every class?
Its not hard to improve scores dramtaically my friend went from a 1850 to a 2270, it just takes hard work and study
At the end cheaters always lose

Posted by: kevin969813 | March 27, 2010 8:40 PM | Report abuse

Yeah, it's hardly a coincidence that the systemic cheating comes from South Korea. It's brutal over there; kids spend 40 hours a week in test prep memorizing--not learning, just memorizing--vocabulary words and whole strings of sentences that they will write in their essay, despite knowing very little English. One test prep company over there displays--with pride--an exasperated letter from a Harvard president asking them to please stop sending them kids with 2400 SAT scores who couldn't speak English. As if that's the test prep company's problem.

Most cheating is minor and incidental. The systemic stuff is bad. The Koreans literally send people in just to scan and memorize test questions and send them to kids back east.

The GRE was banned in China; the SAT should be banned in South Korea.

Posted by: Cal_Lanier | March 28, 2010 12:18 AM | Report abuse

Cheating is never the answer. If one is struggling with their academics, then he/she should seek assistance.

C2 Education, Inc. is a tutoring service provider that focuses on students between the grades K-12. We offer extensive tutoring for taking standardized tests (SAT & ACT, AP and SAT Subject Tests, and etc).
If you would like more information, please visit:

Here are more source-reference links:

If you are seeking advice for college admissions or have any other questions, please feel free to call our toll free number: 1(800)777-7000

Posted by: Eplee87 | March 30, 2010 3:10 PM | Report abuse

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