Lessons from the College Admissions Scandal, Part 1: Proctors

The college admissions scandal involving Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman has the world of test prep and college admissions consulting dominating headlines. In this blog series, we’ll examine lessons from the scandal.

For those of us in the college prep industry, some of the revelations in the Hollywood college admissions scandal have been shocking. For example, the plan to bribe coaches of college athletic teams was so audacious, involving so many people and suspicious elements, that it’s shocking anyone believed they could get away with it.

The SAT/ACT cheating allegations, however, are far less surprising. To recap, a college consultant is accused of bribing a test administrator, who used several methods to help students cheat the SAT or ACT, including having an adult take the test for them, directly guiding students to the correct answers, or changing students’ answers after they had finished testing.

Many think of the SAT and the ACT as monoliths: deeply important, deeply secretive, and stringent with rules and regulations. In reality, only the development phase of these tests follows those protocols. Once the test gets sent out to thousands of schools across the country for administration, things get far less structured.

Over two million students take the SAT each year, and a similar number take the ACT. The College Board (who administers the SAT) and the ACT organization do not have nearly enough staff to proctor tests for all those students, so they hire part-time temp workers. These workers are often teachers, but pretty much anyone with a college degree can proctor the SAT or ACT. The vetting process is minimal, the training almost nonexistent, and the oversight weak. Even test center administrators, like the one charged with falsifying students’ tests, are not highly trained professionals but simply school guidance counselors or administrators looking to make a few extra bucks. 

So, what’s the lesson for the rest of us, the 99.99999% of us who don’t plan on bribing our kids’ way into an elite college? I’d say it’s the knowledge of just how disorganized the test administration process can be. We’ve heard of all sorts of proctor mishaps: proctors who give less than the allotted time, fail to give warnings or write end-times on the board, give incorrect breaks, allow loud noises or blatant cheating to go uninterrupted, take away legal calculators or pencils, and more.

Students, you need to be prepared for this test day uncertainty and prepared to speak up if a proctor does something that puts you at a disadvantage. All of our students—and any well-prepared student—will know the exact order, timing, break structure, etc. of the test. If the proctor deviates, say something! If you don’t say something during the test, you won’t be able to afterwards. Once the test ends, the only things the College Board or ACT can do are cancel the scores of everyone in the test room (NOT GOOD) or encourage you to test again at the next test date (NOT HELPFUL). So don’t be shy. As a well-prepared student, you know the test structure better than anyone else in the room. It’s your responsibility to advocate for yourself if necessary.