About half a million U.S. students took the new SAT exam earlier this month. International students will take it in May. But test prep companies in Asia already have stolen sections of the test.
According to a Reuters investigation published on Monday, a Korean-language test prep site has a reconstruction of an entire reading section — complete with five text passages and 52 questions.
It’s unclear how the tests were stolen. Leaked test forms are nothing new, but the magnitude of the problem has grown in recent years, particularly overseas, according to Neal Kingston, a former testing researcher and professor of educational psychology.
“We had small scale compromises of small numbers of forms, back in the late ’80s and early ’90s,” Kingston told CNNMoney. “At that point in time, I would not have called it a major problem. There wasn’t as big an industry.”
International students who want to attend American schools often pay test prep companies to help them get ready for college entrance exams, including the SAT.
While most of these companies use old tests and practice questions to tutor students, some resort to stealing current tests, according to the College Board. That’s because the publisher of the SAT, the College Board, recycles questions in different versions of the test issued to different regions.
Questions are reused to make sure enough people answer the questions to get a large enough sample size for statistical analysis. Another reason has to do with the high cost of making different versions of the exam.
Students who study from stolen materials get a leg up because there’s a chance they’ll see the questions again during an actual test. At that point they might already know the correct answers, or be familiar enough with the test that they can spend more time on things they don’t know.
For many people who didn’t grow up learning English, the SAT reading and writing sections can be more difficult than the math sections. Any amount of extra practice or intelligence would be valuable — and opportunistic test prep companies are more than happy to oblige.
Certain test prep companies send people to testing sites to question students about the exam when they leave, according to Kingston. Sometimes they use spies to take the tests to memorize the questions or take photos of test materials. And if all else fails, “cheating schools” (as Kingston likes to call them) scour for clues about the tests on Internet forums like College Confidential.
Related: Meet the new SAT
The College Board acknowledged some of its past problems and remedies in a letter to Reuters, which the College Board referred CNNMoney to.
In 2013, it reduced the number of test administrations in South Korea, Egypt and Saudi Arabia after exams were stolen.
In January, the College Board canceled tests in China and Macau after it found evidence that certain test forms were being sold.
And during the registration process for the recently redesigned test, it identified people “meeting criteria associated with a higher security risk” and rescheduled their test dates.
“With the new SAT, we will continue to take bold actions to stop cheating and theft,” the College Board said. “We constantly enhance our security efforts.”
Now that it’s aware of possible leaks of the new test, the College Board could also decide to use different versions for the May test date too.
But to fix the ongoing security issues with standardized tests in general, administrators would have to find a way to create more questions and new tests on the fly, according to Kingston. Some of those methods are currently being researched right now.