The College Board, which administers the popular SAT test, has announced an abrupt rule change that will bar adults and all other non-students from taking the SAT March 5. The move, it says, is necessary due to heightened concerns about cheating, and may be connected to an explosion in systemic cheating in Asia.
Typically, the SAT has been open to anybody who wants to take it, not just those who need it for college applications. Notably, many adults who work in the field of standardized test prep take it in order to improve their teaching ability (while also demonstrating their personal expertise).
But now, the College Board is suddenly cutting them off. In an unprecedent move it says is needed to prevent cheating, the College Board is barring non-students from taking the coming March 5 test.
Numerous test prep workers and other non-students (plus some students over age 21) received an email from the College Board earlier this week saying that security concerns had forced the rule change.
“When we closed registration last week, our analysis of registrants showed an unusually high number of individuals meeting criteria associated with a higher security risk,” the College Board said in its email, published by The Washington Post. “As a result, we have instituted a new security measure, effective immediately, which aims to ensure that anyone taking the test is doing so for its intended purpose: to apply to and attend a college or university undergraduate program, or to apply for scholarship, financial aid, or other programs that require a college admissions test.”
For now, the College Board says adults who have registered for the SAT will be able to take it in May due to enhanced security precautions.
The surge in potential cheating is likely connected to the fact Saturday’s administration marks the official debut of the revised SAT. The new test returns to the old 1600-point scale, makes the essay segment optional, eliminates vocabulary as a section, and makes other substantial changes. The change is a high-risk endeavor for the College Board, since a bumpy rollout could fuel the growing trend of colleges making the SAT optional for admission.
The dramatic gesture comes after repeated scandals have undermined confidence in the security of the College Board’s tests. In particular, the surge of Asians taking the SAT to apply to American schools has led to unscrupulous test prep companies elevating cheating to an advanced science. Because the College Board frequently recycles questions from the U.S. versions of the test, a system has developed in which Asian test prep companies pay operatives in the U.S. to either obtain illegal copies of tests or simply take the test themselves and memorize the questions. Prospective cheaters also reconstruct questions by reading online forums where students discuss tests after taking them.
That’s not the only way to cheat. All the tests administered on a given day are identical, so companies will have operatives take a test in an early time zone, then use subterfuge to send phone messages about the questions to those taking the test later in the day.
Thanks to major cheating concerns, scores in Asia have repeatedly been delayed (gumming up the admissions process for many) and sometimes particular regions have had the test canceled entirely.
Bob Schaeffer, the public education director of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, a group critical of modern standardized tests, suggested endemic Asian cheating was a key factor behind the College Board’s move.
“The only way it could be about cheating is if they planned to recycle the March 5 SAT elsewhere,” Schaeffer told The Chronicle of Higher Education. Schaeffer also suggested other, unstated causes could be driving the move.
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