The Problem with Recycled Tests

I’ve been in the habit of taking the June ACT test and October SAT test for several years now. I generally view the June ACT as one of the more challenging tests of the year, although generally not as difficult as the December test.

I was surprised to find my June 11th test in English and Math to be easier than I had expected. The Science section was not as difficult, other than one passage, as I had expected. I sensed there was something different with this test. As soon as I left the test and checked my emails, I read that the June 11th international test in both Hong Kong and Korea had been cancelled only hours before the test was to have taken place. (1) Why? Because the ACT had apparently shipped its tests two weeks early and somehow that test had been leaked or compromised.

It is unclear if the ACT had planned on using the same form of the test both internationally and in the U.S. One would suspect that if the test had been confirmed as comprised in Asia that it would be possible that students had also seen it in the U.S.

What we do know is that the U.S. June 11th test was identical to the Feb, 2015 ACT – in other words, a recycled test.

The question is, did the ACT plan on using this recycled test in Asia, and had it been leaked sometime following Feb, 2015? Did the ACT assume that it was unlikely that U.S. students had seen this test, and so they kept the June 11th test as the Feb, 2015 test per the original plan?

OR did the ACT send a new form of test over to Hong Kong and Korea, and the new form was compromised in the two weeks leading up to the test? And if so, did the ACT take precautions to last-minute switch the form of the June 11th test in the U.S. to a recycled test (the Feb, 2015 test)?

I don’t know the answer to this yet.

What I do know is that the ACT and College Board have been in troubled waters with cheating scandals for some years now with their use of recycled tests, particularly in Asia. Even though it would increase costs to have six or seven different new tests each year for each of the test dates, stopping the use of recycled tests would level the playing field and would allow students and families to rebuild their trust in the ACT and College Board.

At least the ACT cancelled the June 11th test in Korea when they confirmed the leak. College Board, on the other hand, has continued to move forward with recycled tests in Asia even in the face of known compromises. Making matters worse, College Board refuses to discuss this topic when investigative journalists call. (2) To top it all off, it appears that College Board has already recycled the New March SAT in the U.S. by reusing it in June. (3)

Clearly, the use of recycled tests has its benefits for some students – particularly those who have somehow been provided access to those leaked tests. In addition, for even those students who haven’t seen the leaked tests, an older recycled test can at times present as just a bit less formidable. But in the end, given how nerve wracking test prep and test taking is for juniors and seniors in high school, I am quite sure that students don’t want to compete with an unknown quantity of other students who were “advantaged” by prepping with the very test that they now confront for real on a National Test Day.




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