Massive Breach of SAT Questions Threatens Test Integrity

Posted By Ashley Eneriz on August 23, 2016 at 7:06 pm
Massive Breach of SAT Questions Threatens Test Integrity

Nearly all college-bound students dread the SAT, but the test remains an important channel to determine eligibility for schools and scholarships. The leak of hundreds of confidential SAT questions and answers from the latest version of the test is a big deal for test-takers and evaluators alike – test-takers fear they’re competing against students with an unfair advantage; test-evaluators worry results won’t be accurate.

A little background: David Coleman took over in 2012 as CEO of College Board – the nonprofit that runs the test – and launched a process to re-do the SAT to align with the common-core principles adapted in schools. The new test took several years to redesign and was released in March to great fanfare. But only a few months later, a person with access to material for upcoming versions of the new exam provided Reuters, the international news agency, with the breach. The leak includes hundreds of SAT questions and answers, including 21 reading passages and about 160 math problems.

The College Board posted the following statement on its website:

“The theft of unpublished test content is a serious criminal matter. The College Board and our partner ETS are responding quickly and deliberately to investigate and resolve this matter. To be clear, this stolen content has not been administered to students. Therefore, no students have or will be impacted by this theft.

As the investigation is ongoing, we are limited in what we can share. We want to assure you, our members, that we are taking the stolen test content off the SAT administration schedule while the investigation is under way.

We will continue to update our members on the progress of the investigation.”

Leak not the first problem for SAT

Reuters has targeted the security of the SAT for months. The investigative team documents many issues the College Board has had with Asian countries trying to gain access to the test and give the information to students to gain excellent scores. In an effort to limit access to SAT questions, the College Board even banned tutor and non-students from taking the test, but that did little to help the problem.

In fact, teachers stood outside the testing area, ready to gain any insight from students who just took the test. The same day of the test release, other test takers leaked the information online.

The College Board even canceled the SAT in January in select sites in China and Macau just hours before the students were scheduled to take the test. The administration did so because of an earlier breach.

Critics have long contended that the College Board’s reuse of its exams from year to year presents a problem, and they’ve also questioned why exam questions are the same for all countries. With the ease and availability of the internet and smart devices, it is impossible to keep important test questions off the web. The only way to have a secure test is to issue a new test each year at the same day and time for each student worldwide – a nearly impossible task.

How does the breach of SAT questions affect students?

The SAT leak is a big deal and will set back the College Board dramatically. However, students, those who have taken the new test and those still yet to take the test, have no reason to worry, according to Sandra Riley, vice president of communications at the College Board. She told The Washington Post: “[One] thing I want to emphasize is that no students are affected by this. I want to avoid any confusion that would cause unnecessary anxiety among students.”

The Future of the SAT

The benefit of the SAT test has been under long-standing speculation. Many colleges and universities have dropped the requirement for the SAT score for admission. But even though fewer colleges require the test, more students are taking it. Last year, a record 1.7 million students from the Class of 2015 signed up for it.

Should students still take the test? While many colleges no longer require the SAT score when applying, a strong score can still set college applicants apart. Since the test is not as widely required, many students will not take the test. This means the application process will much more competitive. Students wishing to gain a small edge over the competition will still try to score well on all tests.

Ashley Eneriz
Ashley Eneriz is a financial writer who has been published on Business Insider, Time, MSN, and Yahoo. She is also a children's book author on Amazon and the blogger behind

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