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Articles / Preparing for College / Cheating on The SAT and ACT

Cheating on The SAT and ACT

Dave Berry
Written by Dave Berry | Feb. 26, 2015

I'm willing to bet that many of you high school students out there reading this blog know someone (or have heard of someone) who has cheated on the SAT or ACT. The unfortunate reality today is that academic cheating has reached an all-time high. News stories of mass cheating at such schools as Harvard and even the U.S. service academies have rocked our faith in the younger generation.

When I was in high school, shortly after the earth had finished cooling, cheating involved straightforward methods such as stealing exam copies from teachers' "closets." I knew one senior who, after receiving all the answers to an English exam, carefully wrote all the letter answers to the 20 multiple-choice questions onto a tiny piece of paper, which he then meticulously inserted into the clear barrel of the ballpoint pen he would use for the test. I heard that he got a 95% on the exam. When I asked why a 95 and not a perfect 100, the friend of the cheater to whom I was talking told me that the cheater's logic dictated that a 95 was more believable than a 100, especially for him.

Today's cheating methodologies have evolved far beyond clear-barreled ballpoint pens. Just for fun, I Googled "test cheating methods" (boys and girls, don't try this at home!) and found the usual 6.02x10^23 links to feed devious minds. The one that immediately caught my eye revealed a list of high-tech approaches.

To show how far advanced some of these approaches are, here's a sampling, but without details and links:

- Spy kits: Earpieces, signals and MP3 files

- Bluetooth pens

- Image editing software

- The 'watch hack'

- Storing data on calculators

- Group collaboration and wireless communication

- Invisible ink - for those either over 12 or taking an exam

- Pay someone to take your exam for you

Since I'm focusing on the two biggie standardized tests here, the SAT and ACT, some of the above "high tech" ruses have been overtaken by events and improvements in test security.

So, what's in store for anyone concocting a plan to cheat on SATs or ACTs? New security measures are in place. Here's some background.

"Autumn at University Language" wrote back in 2012:

Due to the recent discovery of several students cheating on college entrance exams, both SAT security and ACT security will be increased. More specifically, strict procedures will be put in place as early as this September to help ensure that students do not pay other people to show up and take the test for them.

Since the point of the increased ACT and SAT security measures is to make it harder for students to claim they are someone they are not, the main change is that test takers will need to upload or mail a photo of themselves when they register for a college entrance exam.

The picture provided will be placed on the admission ticket, which you need to bring with you if you want to take the SAT or ACT. The staff will carry out the increased security by checking the photo that was mailed in or uploaded online against the one on the student's photo ID. The picture that was sent in will also have to match the one on the admission ticket.

As a further security measure for the SAT and ACT, your photo will be placed on the score report that will be mailed to your high school. This way, if the photo is not of you, your teachers will likely notice. Plus, you will need to say the name of your school when you arrive for the SAT or ACT.

Additionally, students cannot register for the ACT or SAT on the day of the test due to the security changes. It will still be possible to take the SAT or ACT on standby, but you will have to register your intent days ahead of time so that you are able to send a photo ...

I wonder how long it will be before these seemingly ironclad measures are defeated by intrepid hackers.

More recently, this past year, Caralee Adams, writing in edweek.org noted:

Administrators of the ACT and SAT report that new security measures put in place to reduce cheating are working.

Since 2012, both college-entrance exams have required students to upload a photo upon registration and present the photo ticket to the proctor at the time of the exam.

Officials from ACT and Educational Testing Services, which administers College Board's SAT, say incidents of impersonation have been cut in half since the new procedure was put in place.

The new process was rolled out following a cheating scandal in Nassau County, N.Y., where students paid people to take the exam for them ...

... In addition to the new photo procedure, ACT has also dedicated a hotline for students to report concerns about breaches, such as copying or test theft. The Iowa City, Iowa-based organization has promoted awareness of the hotline and distributed posters at testing centers. Despite some concerns that high school students might report false claims, Watkins-Schoenig says calls have been credible and there has been an increase in reporting compared to when the calls where fielded on a general ethics line for all tests ...

... One of the biggest threats to test security is use of the cellphone, says Nicosia. To address this concern, ETS testing centers have started using a wand to detect if a test taker has a device upon entering ...

... The move to computerized tests for the SAT and ACT will have pros and cons for security ...

In light of the omnipresent hacking follies whose stories we read about almost every day, that last statement elicits a huge "DUH!" I have to wonder when standardized tests will lose their death grip on college admissions. If you would like some thoughts about that, check out this article where you'll find this piece of news, which is especially good news for those whose SAT/ACT skills leave something to be desired:

... The list of colleges and universities dropping the admissions requirement of standardized test scores continues to extend each year, and with it, a growing number of prospective applicants are treating the testing process as an optional exercise ...

But, the pros and cons of that is an argument for another day ... and blog post.


Be sure to check out all my admissions-related articles on College Confidential.

Written by

Dave Berry

Dave Berry

Dave is co-founder of College Confidential and College Karma Consulting, co-author of America's Elite Colleges: The Smart Buyer's Guide to the Ivy League and Other Top Schools, and has over 30 years of experience helping high schoolers gain admission to Ivy League and other ultra-selective schools. He is an expert in the areas application strategies, stats evaluation, college matching, student profile marketing, essays, personality and temperament assessments and web-based admissions counseling. Dave is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and has won national awards for his writing on higher education issues, marketing campaigns and communications programs. He brings this expertise to the discipline of college admissions and his role as a student advocate. His College Quest newspaper page won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publisher's Association Newspapers in Education Award, the Thomson Newspapers President's Award for Marketing Excellence and the Inland Press Association-University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Mass Communications Inland Innovation Award for the Best New Page. His pioneering journalism program for teenagers, PRO-TEENS, also received national media attention. In addition, Dave won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award for Celebrate Diversity!, a program teaching junior high school students about issues of tolerance. His College Knowledge question-and-answer columns have been published in newspapers throughout the United States. Dave loves Corvettes, classical music, computers, and miniature dachshunds. He and his wife Sharon have a daughter, son and four grandchildren.

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