ugust 25th, the most recent SAT test date, has turned out to be a rather inauspicious day for hundreds of Chinese test takers.
For starters, because of Hurricane Lane, there was a mass test cancelation in Hawaii, a popular test travel destination for Chinese students, leaving dozens of Chinese high-schoolers who spent upwards of 20,000 yuan ($2,900) on flights, hotels, and SAT registration fees with empty pockets and nothing to show for their effort and expenses. However, for the hundreds of other Chinese students who took the SAT across the rest of the United States, the outcome is even foggier.
In order to apply to most colleges and universities in the US, students have to take the SAT, a standardized aptitude test administered by an educational non-profit called the College Board. But, in China, the SAT is highly-controlled, only administered and available to a relatively small number of students at select international schools.
Since many families in China’s ever-growing middle class see having their children study abroad as the highest symbol of status, China has seen the birth of a massive education industry focused around SAT consulting and, increasingly, SAT tour agencies. These agencies not only provide training classes and prep materials, but also accommodations and round-trip airfare to places where students can take the test, like Hong Kong, Vietnam, or South Korea.
The reason that the test is not commonly administered on the Chinese mainland is simple: rampant cheating. Over the past decade, Chinese students have become notorious for cheating on the SAT. In fact, a 2014 Chinese student-led scheme was so salacious that it inspired the 2017 hit Thai film Bad Genius.
Therefore, the vast majority of Chinese students interested in going to college in the US have no choice but to pack a suitcase and go abroad. However, given the ever-increasing number of students clamoring for their chance at an American education and the limited capacity of nearby testing centers, droves of Chinese high-schoolers are now moving farther and farther out.
While a Chinese student would usually have to pay between 5,000 to 8,000 yuan to travel to Macau, Taiwan, or any other nearby test center, more are now upping the expense and flying to Hawaii and even the continental US. It is here that the College Board is facing a problem that it did not anticipate.
The SAT is a global test, and given that one’s scores can mean the difference between going to your dream college or your backup school, test security is always a serious concern. The SAT is given on the same weekend across the world, but it is feasible that students who take the test in one earlier time zone could steal the test for students in a later one. This has led the College Board to use different tests in different regions, and it is here that the migration of Chinese students has really come back to bite the organization.
It turns out that the SAT administered in the US for August included many of the exact same questions published in an SAT practice test provided by the College Board in Asia last October. It’s not unheard of for the College Board to reuse questions — after all, tests are hard to build and practice tests are often filled with questions from past tests — but this does seem like a case of severe of myopia on the part of the organization. By not recognizing the reality of Chinese student migration, the College Board put itself in the awkward position of inadvertently masterminding its own SAT cheating scheme where virtually every Chinese student who traveled to the US had an unfair advantage on the August test.
While many Chinese students may have been filled with glee over so many of the questions that they meticulously studied also appearing on the test, they will be not so happy when the College Board cancels their test scores, a solution proposed by a petition that has gained more than 2,000 signatures. Though the College Board has responded a little more cautiously, claiming that it will investigate the matter and cancel scores if need be, it is still possible that, hurricane or not, many Chinese students will have their August SAT scores wiped out.