Old SAT Exams Get Reused
Tuesday, January 30, 2007; 5:42 PM
-- A possible security breach on the SAT exam in South Korea is highlighting a common but little-known practice by the College Board: reusing entire SAT exams that have already been given.
At least one student who took the exam Saturday had access to the questions ahead of time, according to the Educational Testing Service, which writes and administers the exam for the College Board and is investigating.
Actually, hundreds of thousands of people had already seen the test. The SAT exam administered worldwide on Saturday was identical to the one given in the United States in December 2005.
However, the exam was not supposed to have been publicly available after that sitting. The Korean student appears to have seen a portion of the 2005 test without realizing it would be repeated, an ETS spokesman said.
The College Board has a long-standing practice of recycling not just individual questions but entire exams. Three tests administered in late 2004 and 2005, as the SAT was transitioning to its new format, were repeats from recent years, according to Steve Quattrociocchi, head of the test-prep division at The Princeton Review.
The ACT, the country's other major college entrance exam, declined to comment on its policy for reusing entire exams, but Quattrociocchi says it does the same thing.
For some experts and testing critics, the practice raises questions about security and fairness.
"In this environment, when everybody's talking on the Internet and taking test-prep ... you would think if they wanted to make the test as fresh and new and uncorruptable as possible, they would release a new test every time," Quattrociocchi said.
The exam has hundreds of questions, and the College Board has said there is little or no advantage for students taking an identical exam. So it reuses some exams to keep test-development costs _ and prices for taking the exam _ down.
There are seven tests given each year. Of those, four exams are made publicly available afterward, ETS spokesman Tom Ewing said. Those exams are never reused.
But the other three are candidates for reuse. ETS says test books are carefully collected after those exams. But since the recycling practice is well known in test-prep circles, the questions on these exams are like gold to test-takers and tutors.
"Certainly there are students who keep their booklets," Quattrociocchi said. Regardless, test-prep companies can practically reassemble them. While he says Princeton Review does not collect full copies of the copyrighted exams, it sends students and employees to take the test each time it's offered and report back. An hour after Saturday's exam, he said, the company had figured out the exam was a repeat.