What Fuels Rampant Cheating on the SAT?

It was Robert Yerkes, a comparative psychologist at Harvard University who had been a major in the U.S. Army during World War I, who proposed conducting intelligence tests for new military recruits. He sought to make the process of promotions within the military more efficient and objective. With the help of other psychologists, Yerkes developed the first nonverbal test called "Army Alpha." In 1926, a young psychologist called Carl Brigham, who helped Yerkes develop the test, used them to create the Scholastic Aptitude Test, which is now called the SAT Reasoning Test.

Designed to test scholastic abilities, the SAT became the yardstick used by member universities of the U.S. College Board in 1938 to choose scholarship recipients. Starting in 1942, the SAT was administered to all students in the U.S. applying for university admission. Today, SAT exams are administered seven times a year -- six times in Korea -- drawing 3 million applicants from around the world. In 2000, a student at Daewon Foreign Language High School became the first Korean to get a perfect SAT score.

There are more than 100 crammers in the affluent Gangnam District in southern Seoul that specialize in SAT preparation due to the national obsession with sending our children to schools in English-speaking countries. During winter or summer breaks, Korean youngsters studying in the U.S. and Korean Americans come to Seoul in search of the best SAT crammers, which can charge W10 million (US$1=W1,150) for a three-week course. Successful tutors can make nine-figure salaries and are scouted by rival crammers.

An SAT tutor in his 30s at a private crammer has been arrested for allegedly obtaining copies of SAT exams four times since October last year. He got three students taking the SAT to hide small blades in their erasers and cut out pages of the test or input questions on the exam into their scientific calculators. There have been no fewer than seven incidents reported in Korea where SAT tests were leaked. In 2007, all 900 test takers in Korea even had their scores invalidated.

In January last year, another tutor at a crammer in Gangam allegedly paid SAT takers in Bangkok to e-mail scanned copies of sections of the test and, taking advantage of the time difference, e-mailed them together with the answer sheets to two Korean students who took the same test twelve hours later in Connecticut. The moment he got the copies, the tutor informed the parents, who are said to have greeted the news with cheers. This twisted view among parents that the end justifies the means when it comes to their children's educational goals, along with the greed of crammers, is turning Korean youngsters into cheats.

By Chosun Ilbo columnist Cho Jung-hoon

englishnews@chosun.com / Jan. 26, 2010 14:34 KST