Varsity Advice

“Empowering The High School Student Athlete”

When kids cheat on SAT, ACT April 5, 2010

Filed under: News — Varsity Mentoring @ 12:32 pm

What happens to students who cheat on the two college admissions exams, the SAT and the ACT? Not as much as you might think.

It isn’t particularly easy to cheat on these exams, but that doesn’t stop some students from trying.

They do it in all the ways you might imagine: Copying off someone else’s paper, texting on a cellphone for answers, bringing in cheat sheets, having someone else take the test for them.

And some cheat in ways you might not consider: In South Korea, a test prep tutor was investigated for allegedly buying scanned copies of sections of the SAT and then emailing them, with the answers, to South Koreans in Connecticut who were going to take the test 12 hours later.

Another SAT tutor in South Korea was arrested for getting students taking the SAT to put test questions into a calculator they were allowed to use, and to hide small blades in their erasers that they used to cut out pages of the test.

So, you ask, what happens to students suspected of cheating on the SAT or the ACT?

I asked both the College Board, which owns the SAT, and ACT Inc., which owns the ACT, to explain what triggers suspicion of cheating and what happens to students found to be cheating.

Ed Colby, spokesman for the ACT, said he couldn’t tell me exactly how many investigations are conducted each year for security reasons. Tom Ewing, a spokesman for the Educational Testing Service, which administers the SAT for the College Board, said there are a few thousand questionable test scores each year out of more than 2 million tests.

Both said a review of a student’s test could be triggered in one of several ways, including an audit that flags scores that have risen dramatically, or by a tip from outside parties, such as a guidance counselor, college admissions officer or NCAA official.

Test supervisors also report any irregularities that occur on the day of the test. And both organizations have anonymous hotlines which anyone can call with information about breaches in test security.

In some cases, handwriting experts will be called in to check whether the handwriting on the written portion matches other work by the person who was supposed to take the test.

Sometimes, the student is able to answer the questions and the case is closed. Other times, a student is given several options:

*He/she can retake the SAT or the ACT free of charge.

For the ACT, if the new composite score is no more than 3 points lower than the questioned score, then the questioned scores are deemed valid, Colby said.

Ewing didn’t say how close the new SAT score had to be for the questioned score to be accepted. But the score has to jump a few hundred points to be questioned in the first place, he said.

*The student is given a chance by both organizations to provide an explanation and documentation of how the scores jumped.

*Students can decide to cancel the scores, which is not seen by ACT or ETS as an admission of guilt. The ACT and the ETS can also decide unilaterally to cancel the test scores, and notify the student (who can request arbitration from an independent party if desired) as well as the schools that received the scores.

But–and this is a big but–the schools aren’t told why the scores were cancelled.

In fact, both organizations tell the schools that there are a lot of reasons that scores are cancelled, including a student’s illness or disturbances at the test center.

A student can cheat and get caught–but the college or university that has accepted him or her won’t find out from the ETS or the ACT.

What do you think of this policy?

Follow my blog all day, every day by bookmarking And for admissions advice, college news and links to campus papers, please check out our new Higher Education page at Bookmark it!


Is ACT or SAT best for you? –

Filed under: Study Tips — Varsity Mentoring @ 12:30 pm

Is ACT or SAT best for you?

The ACT has always offered Score Choice; students can take the test as often as they wish but only report their best single test date to colleges. Beginning with this year’s graduating class, the SAT now offers the Score Choice option. However, many schools are still requesting all scores from all test dates. Check the policies at each college.

SAT fits student who …

Did well on the PSAT with little or no prep work.

Is a strong reader with a good vocabulary.

Has good recall for historical or literature examples for the essay.

Possesses strong deductive reasoning and is test-savvy.

Is focused and good at puzzles.

Has ear for languages; easily identifies sentence errors.

Is a bright underachiever.

ACT fits student who …

Did well on the PLAN (the PSAT for the ACT).

Earned a PSAT score that is inconsistent with grades and effort.

Reads fast but is not so strong in vocabulary.

Knows grammar and punctuation.

Performs well academically but is likely to experience test anxiety.

Is a “book-smart overachiever” but not the best test-taker.

Is great at writing argumentative essays about everyday issues.

Works quickly – more questions and less time, but less reasoning required.

Test strategies for both

Take practice tests and learn the test directions now.

Write in the test booklet. It’s okay to do scratch work and cross out wrong answers.

Check the grid sheet often to make sure you’re answers align correctly.

Don’t spend too much time on any one question – the easy, medium and hard questions are all worth the same.

Know when to guess. There’s no penalty on the ACT, so respond to every question. On the SAT there is a 1/4 point penalty, so try to eliminate at least one choice, hopefully two. There is no deduction for omitted answers.

Reading sections: Try to complete the fill-in-the-blanks with words that make sense to you, and then look for their synonyms.

Comprehension sections: The first and last sentences of each paragraph are critical.

Math: Questions go in order of difficulty with easy questions first.

SAT Student Produced Response (Grid): No penalty for wrong answers, so guessing makes sense.

Here’s what I’d do

My recommendation is that students take both free practice tests online to determine which test suits them best. You can find a concordance chart to compare results at and type “SAT concordance” in the search box

Read more: