SAT Exam "Recycling" Causes Test-Security Fiasco

University Testing

The College Board cancelled the January 28, 2007 SAT scores of 900 Koreans because some students previously had access to the questions. The reason test items circulated in advance is that the exam was identical to the SAT administered in December 2005.


Though the December 2005 SAT was not made public under "Truth in Testing" provisions, which apply to questions and answers from only four of the seven SAT administrations each year, students post items from every exam on the Internet. In addition, some coaching schools have run sophisticated operations to collect entire exams, either by sending in teams of test-takers to memorize the exam or by obtaining entire forms.


The College Board offered no reason to believe that the prior-exposure problem was confined to one Asian nation. Having seen exam questions previously can give test-takers a significant advantage both practically and psychologically.


This is not the first time an old test was reused. When the "new" SAT was introduced in March, 2005, the "Sabbath Observer" version given on Sunday was nearly identical to the regular test administered the previous day (see Examiner, Spring 2005).


The College Board, which owns the SAT, and its contractor, the Educational Testing Service, justified the test recycling practice by claiming that it costs "probably $350,000" to create each new exam. But 326,000 students took the January SAT, paying a base registration fee of $41.50. That means test-makers took in more than $13 million at this administration. Given that huge revenue stream and the fat surpluses historically enjoyed by the College Board and ETS), the companies had no credible financial excuse for cutting corners (see Examiner, May 2006).


Students whose scores were cancelled were given two options: retest for new scores or receive a refund of their registration fees. Given ETS financial reserves and the inconvenience for students whose scores were cancelled even if they had not seen a single item in advance of the test day, the company should have given the examinees both a refund and a free retest.