Some 1,500 South Korean students who dream of attending elite American colleges are scrambling after the U.S.-based administrator of the SAT cancelled the scheduled May 4 session of the exam because of allegations of widespread cheating. It’s the first time the SAT test has been called off in an entire country.
Officials decided to cancel the exam after discovering test questions circulating in test-prep centers in the country, according to the Wall Street Journal. The College Board, which administers the SAT in the U.S., and the Educational Testing Service (ETS), the nonprofit organization that develops, publishes and scores the tests, issued a statement, saying they had made the “difficult, but necessary” decision to cancel the exam. “This action is being taken in response to information provided to ETS — the College Board’s vendor for global test administration and security — by the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office regarding tutoring companies in the Republic of Korea that are alleged to have illegally obtained SAT and SAT Subject Test materials for their own commercial benefit.”
The details are scarce, but a CNN report says the prosecutors’ office in Seoul confirmed it had raided several testing centers for evidence, and the Journal story notes that at least 10 staff members of test centers have been barred from leaving the country while the prosecutors’ office investigates.
Test center managers told the Journal that the problem is widespread and that official test booklets can be purchased from brokers for about $4,575 — a relatively small price to pay for families fighting to gain admittance to Harvard, Stanford and other prestigious American schools no matter the cost. According to the Institute of International Education’s most recent annual report, South Korea sent 72,295 students to study in the U.S. in the 2011–12 school year, making the country the third largest provider of foreign students to U.S. colleges after China and India. Worldwide, international student enrollment at U.S. colleges has soared in recent years, with a record 764,495 foreign students attending American universities in 2011–12.
This is not the first incident of SAT cheating in South Korea. In 2007, some 900 students who took the exam in January of that year had their scores canceled after an investigation found an unknown number of students had seen at least part of the exam before the test was given. The latest incident, plus a string of scandals in the country over the past year that saw at least seven lawmakers accused of academic plagiarism, caused a South Korean national newspaper to question whether its citizens are unusual in their willingness to cheat.
But South Korea is hardly alone — the high stakes nature of the exam has fueled cheating elsewhere, although on a smaller scale. Of the nearly 3 million SAT exams taken worldwide each year, at least a few thousand are canceled because of suspected cheating. Several hundred other potential test takers are turned away at the door each year because of questionable identification. In 2011, 20 students in Long Island, New York, were charged with cheating on the SAT — five were accused of taking the test for others and 15 were accused of paying them $500 to $3,600 to take the exams.
The College Board and ETS say they expect to be able to offer the SAT in South Korea in June, but in the meantime, and out of fear of additional problems, there have been reports of students flying to Japan and Hong Kong to take the test there in order to get their scores in time to apply for college in the U.S. this summer.