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Taking the SAT is hard enough. Then students learned the test's answers may have been leaked online

Taking the SAT is hard enough. Then students learned the test's answers may have been leaked online
A student uses a preparation guide to study for the SAT. (Joe Raedle / Getty Images)

On Saturday, Huzail Hassan was one of the thousands of anxious students across the United States who took the SAT, the college entrance exam that’s been a dreaded rite of passage for millions of American high school students since 1926.

“As soon as I walked out, I was feeling like I didn’t do my best,” Hassan said Sunday.

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The 16-year-old junior at Etiwanda High School in Rancho Cucamonga said he spent more than 200 hours studying for the exam. He was also taking classes at a local community college.

“I didn’t really have a break,” he said. “I just really wanted to do good on the SAT.”

But none of that seemed to matter after he got a text from a friend who told him the College Board had reused an exam from last October and that the answers to the reading test had been leaked online.

“I checked on Twitter and so many people had taken screenshots,” he said. “I looked it up and it was the same exam. It had the exact same questions and it had the answer key.”

The SAT is administered by the College Board, a nonprofit organization made up of more than 6,000 educational institutions. Officials with the College Board declined to comment on the students’ specific allegations regarding Saturday’s test.

But Zachary Goldberg, the senior director of media relations, said the organization has systems in place to thwart would-be cheaters.

“We have a comprehensive approach to test security, and go to great lengths to make sure that all test scores we report are accurate and valid,” Goldberg said on Sunday. “As part of our approach, after every test administration, we take additional quality control steps before scores are released. If we determine a student gained an unfair advantage, we will take appropriate actions, including canceling test scores.”

Millions of high school students around the world take the college entrance exam every year. The test lasts about three hours and is intended to assess whether a student is prepared for college. U.S. colleges have long relied on SAT scores to help them decide which applicants to admit and which to reject.

But in recent years, a series of scandals has called into question the credibility of the College Board and the integrity of its exam.

In 2015, more than a dozen Chinese nationals were swept up in a federal investigation of a Pittsburgh-based cheating ring. Students were accused of participating in a scheme where they paid up to $6,000 for others to take the college entrance exam for them.

It echoed a plot uncovered by federal investigators in 2011 in which students of an elite high school allegedly paid thousands of dollars so that 19-year-old college student Sam Eshaghoff would take the SAT for them.

The severity of the College Board’s problems was revealed in a 2016 investigation by Reuters. The news agency found that leaks were not only pervasive, but that the organization continued to administer SAT tests that included questions whose answers were widely available online.

The security breaches and scandals undermined the trust that college officials once had in the College Board. A survey conducted by the National Assn. for College Admission Counseling, or NACAC, found that nearly 60% of four-year colleges had concerns over fraudulent application materials.

In 2016, the association went further by issuing a statement to testing companies, calling on reforms to ensure the security and integrity of college admission tests. Last year, it followed up with those requests in another statement.

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“Recognize that while the re-use of entire standardized test forms or test questions is a long-standing practice, the proliferation of modern communications technology today has rendered it vulnerable to easy exploitation,” the association said in its statement.

The leaks and cheating scandals prompted the College Board to tighten its SAT exam security, and the organization said it would scale back on reusing college entrance exams.

But the new allegations suggest the problem persists.

Hassan and other students who took the test on Saturday now find themselves wondering how many of their fellow test-takers relied on the answers that were posted on a Chinese website. They alleged that the test was taken down after students began complaining about it on social media.

Meanwhile, a petition to invalidate the August test results has begun to circulate.

“As a senior in high school the experience of constantly trying to be more involved and better than the next person is already challenging,” Diana Dahlan of Los Osos High School said. “But to think that after all the work me and my peers have put in, we won’t be given a fair shot because of the failure of the College Board to do their job is very disappointing.”

Hassan said he was angry with the College Board.

“They keep saying we’re not going to let this happen again, and yet they reused a test,” he said. “They don’t live up to whatever they say.”

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