(Reuters) - At least five times in the past three years, U.S. high school students were administered SAT tests that included questions and answers widely available online more than a year before they took the exam, a Reuters analysis shows.
Reuters reported last month that the College Board, the not-for-profit that owns the college entrance exam, had often reused SATs overseas after first giving the test in America and even after some test questions began to circulate online.
The news agency also reported that the organization had sometimes recycled exams in the United States, including last January. That was during a regular Saturday exam sitting, the day most Americans take the SAT.
But the College Board has recycled SATs more frequently than the occasional Saturday. Reuters found that tests were also reused in the United States during special midweek sittings, on Sundays and during makeup exams, even though some questions and answers from those tests had been discussed online.
A test given on Wednesday, April 15, 2015, for example, previously had been administered in June 2013, Reuters determined. A copy of that test booklet was available in advance on a website called CrackSAT.net. Between the time the booklet was posted and early 2015, the website reported that the document had been downloaded more than 53,000 times.
It’s unclear how many students took the exam during the five sittings Reuters identified. The College Board has said that it’s unable to assess how many test-takers may have seen recycled exam material online before taking the test.
Reusing test items is common in the standardized test industry. It helps ensure that scores on different versions of an exam are comparable. It also reduces costs.
But if some test-takers see the exam beforehand, they may gain an unfair advantage and a better chance to secure coveted spots at top universities. That leaves college admissions officers concerned about the validity of scores.
“What I am hearing is there is a growing and vocal voice that is urging the College Board not to recycle tests,” said Anne Richardson, who chairs the international advisory committee of the National Association for College Admission Counseling. “I think that is becoming the number one issue in terms of test security.” NACAC, a group that includes university admissions officers and high school counselors, has more than 15,000 members.
The NACAC committee brought up the reuse of SATs during a conference call today with the College Board. “They listened, we listened,” said Richardson, who is director of college counseling at Kents Hill School in Maine. “We are confident that, together, positive steps are being taken.”
The College Board has reused SAT test material overseas even after being warned that the material had leaked, Reuters reported last month. In some cases, the College Board acknowledged that it also used test materials that it considered to have been compromised. The breakdowns in test security – particularly in Asia - were more pervasive that the College Board has disclosed publicly. The stories can be found at reut.rs/1Sr9cIy and reut.rs/1SiZ16P
The SAT is used by thousands of U.S. colleges to help select applicants. A redesigned version of the exam debuted last month, but College Board officials told Reuters they plan to continue the practice of recycling exam material.
A growing number of high school juniors now take the SAT during midweek sittings. Schools in more than a half-dozen states - including Connecticut, Delaware, Idaho, Maine, Michigan and New Hampshire - and in cities such as New York, Seattle and Washington now offer the exam on what is known as SAT School Day. The College Board states on its website that “during the 2015–16 school year, over 500,000 students” will take the SAT on a school day.
Zach Goldberg, a College Board spokesman, declined to comment on the use of recycled tests in America. “It is the College Board’s long-standing policy that in the interest of test security we do not comment on specific test content or the test form schedule,” he said.
In addition to SAT School Day, the College Board also has given recycled tests during other special U.S. test sittings, including on Sundays and makeup test days, according to online discussions among test-takers.
For example, some students who took the SAT on Sunday, October 19, 2014, reported online that the exam was the same test given on a Sunday in June 2013.
“What makes you think it was the same test?” a test-taker asked on College Confidential, a website popular with college applicants.
“Because if you look at the answer thread for the June 2013 Sunday tests, it’s all the answers of the test I just took,” another test-taker responded.
A discussion thread in June 2013 contained a long list of questions and answers on the test given at the Sunday sitting that month, including math problems and reading passages.
One test-taker reported that the test previously had been given several times before: “The november 2008 was the same test as the sunday june 2013. Also the december international 2012 and january 2011 international are also the same as the june 2013 sunday test.”
“I can’t believe they would repeat a test 4 times,” another person responded.
Some students who took the SAT on two makeup test days last February reported online that they were given tests that had been used before. Questions and answers from those exams were discussed at the time the SATs were first administered - and can still be found online.
The College Board instructs students not to disclose test questions after taking the SAT. But many American students go online immediately afterward to discuss questions and answers.
Shortly after the SAT was administered on an SAT School Day in April 2015, for example, test-takers on College Confidential discussed creating a Google document they could share online.
One soon did. “i would suggest opening this link incognito!!!!!!!!!” the document begins. “WHAT WAS THE ABSWER TO SECTION 3 NUMBER 20?!?”
Another contributor said the test had been given before, in June 2013. The person provided a link from CrackSAT.net to a copy of the test. Participants in the online discussions said that same exam also had been administered overseas in June 2014. Chatter about some of the answers was in the shared Google document.
The CrackSAT website offers SAT practice tests as well as what it calls “Real SAT Tests” for download. In February 2015, the site indicated that the test that soon would be given again in April 2015 already had been downloaded 53,671 times, according to archive.org, which archives websites.
Reuters did not receive a response to an email sent to the contact email address on CrackSAT.net. The site’s Internet registration lists a non-existent physical address in Toronto, Canada, and a non-working telephone number. Until last year, it was registered at an address at a university in Beijing, China, according to DomainTools.com, a research service.
The April 2015 midweek SAT test administration was not the first time test-takers reported online that an exam had been recycled on an SAT School Day.
A posting on College Confidential in February 2013 stated: “Ok, so I took the test yesterday, February 27th 2013 in a school day testing. And today after searching for some SAT vocab words that appeared on the test, I discovered that the exact test that I took was used in 2006, 2010, 2011, AND 2012?!”
The test-taker concluded: “If you just read past discussions of the SAT test before you take the actual test it might be easy to cheat! I’m concerned!”
Edited by Blake Morrison.