The SAT is Corrupt. No One Wants to Know.

“We got a recycled test, BTW. US March 2014.”.

This was posted on the College Confidential site, very early in the morning on December 6, the test date for the international SAT.

Did you get it?

Get what?

I mean how do you know it was a recycled Marhc test? Do you have the March Us test?

Oh, no. I just typed in one of the math questions from today’s test and the March US 2014 forum popped right up.

And of course, the March 2014 test thread has all the answers spelled out. The kids (assuming it’s kids) build a Google doc in which they compile all the questions and answers.

This is a pattern that goes on for every SAT, both domestic and international. The kids clearly are using technology during the test. They acknowledge storing answers on their calculators, but don’t explain what allows them to remember all the sentence completions, reading questions and even whole passages verbatim, much less post their entire essay online. Presumably, they are using their phones to capture the images?

They create a google doc, in which they recreate as many of the questions as can be remembered (in many cases, all) and then they chew over the answers. By the end of the collaboration, they have largely recreated the test. They used to post links to openly with any request. But recently the College Confidential moderators, aware that their site is being exposed as a cheating venue, have cracked down on requests for the link, while banning anyone who links to the document.

So floating out there somewhere in the Internet are copies of the actual test, which many hagwons put out (and pull them down because hey, no sense letting people have them for free), as well as the results of concentrated braindumping by hundreds of testers.

For international students, “studying for the SAT” doesn’t mean increasing math and vocabulary skills, but rather memorizing the answers of as many tests as possible.

And those are just the kids that aren’t paying for the answers.

The wealthy but not super-rich parents who want a more structured approach pay cram schools–be they hagwons, jukus or buxiban–to provide kids with all the recycled tests and memorize every question. No, not learn the subject. Memorize. As described here, cram schools provide a “key king”, a compilation of all the answer sequences for sections, using all the potential international tests. They know which ones will be recycled because the CB “withholds” these tests.

Of course, the super-rich parents don’t want to fuss their kids with all that memorizing. Cram schools have obtained copies of all the potential international tests by paying testers to photograph them. Then they pay someone to take the SAT in the earliest time zone for the International, and disseminate the news via text to all the testers. They just copy the answers from the pictures. Using phones. Which they have told the proctors they don’t have, of course.

I don’t know exactly how all this works—for example, are the cram schools offering tiered pricing for key kings vs. phoned in answers? Do different cram schools have different offerings? I’ve read through the documented process provided by Bob Schaeffer of FairTest (a guy I don’t often agree with), and it seems very credible. He’s also provided a transcript of an offer to provide answers to the test. Valerie Strauss got on the record accounts of this process from two international administrators, Ffiona Rees and Joachim Ekstrom.

Every so often Alexander Russo complains that Valerie Strauss shouldn’t do straight education reporting, given her open advocacy against reform.

Great. So where’s all the other hard reporting on this topic? The New York Times, whose public editor Margaret Sullivan just encouraged to “to enlighten citizens, hold powerful people and institutions accountable and maybe even make the world a better place”, bleeds for the poor Korean and Chinese testers anxious for their scores and concerned they’ll be tarred with the same brush. Everyone else just spits out the College Board press release–if they mention it at all. While most news outlets reported the October cancellation, few other than Strauss reported that the November and December international tests scores were delayed as well.

At the same time Strauss reported the College Board is stonewalling any inquiries as to how many kids were cheating, how many scores were cancelled, or what it was doing to prevent further corruption, an actual Post “reporter”, Anna Fifield, regurgitates a promotional ad for a Korean SAT equivalent coach.*

Well, you can understand why. The millionaire Korean test prep coach-called-a-teacher story is one of the woefully underreported stories of the 21st century. I mean, we only had one promo put out by the Wall Street Journal the year before, and another glowing testimonial CBS a few months later (even mentioning the tops in performance, bottom in happiness poll). But really, only one or two a year of these stories have been coming out since 2005.

So you can see why the Post felt another story on a Korean test prep instructor making millions required immediate exposure, if not anything approaching investigation or reporting.

These stories are catnip to reporters who get all their education facts from The Big Book Of Middlebrow Education Shibboleths. First, unlike our cookie cutter teacher tenure system, Korean teachers work in a real meritocracy where kids and their parents reward excellence with cash. Take that, teachers!

Then, unlike American moms and dads, Korean parents care about their kids and put billions into their education. Take that, parents!

And oy, the faith Anna shows in her subjects. Cha is a “top-ranked math teacher” who “says” he earns a “cool $8 million last year.” Cha says he’s been teaching for 20 years, but refuses to give his age and there’s no mention of the topic or school he attended for his PhD, or if he ever got one. But he’s got a really popular video, so he must be great!

Some outlets are less adulatory. The Financial Times points out that the Korean government is cracking down on hagwon fees and operating hours, and preventing them from pre-teaching topics. Megastudy, the company in the 2005 story linked in above, just went up for sale because of those government changes. Michael Horn of the Christiansen Institute is doing no small part to alert people to the madness of the Korean system. The New York Times, despite its tears for the Korean and Chinese testers, has done its fair share to report on the endemic cheating in Chinese college applications.

But when it comes to the College Board and the SAT, everyone seems to be hands off the international market. At what point will it occur to reporters to seriously investigate whether a large chunk of the money spent on cram schools is not for instruction, but for “prior knowledge” cheating? When will they ask the Korean cram school instructors if they are fronts for an organized criminal conspiracy, if the money they get is not for tutoring, but for efficient delivery of test answers on test day? And how many of those test days are run by the College Board?

People think “well, sure, there’s some cheating, but so what? Some kids cheat.” Yeah, like I’d be writing this if it were a few dozen, or even a few hundred kids. Asian immigrants cheating on major tests in this country is in the high hundreds a year. Maybe more. In China and Korea? I suspect it’s beyond our comprehension, us ethical ‘murricans.

One of the depressing things about the past three years is that I start looking into things more closely. I never really trusted the media, mind you, but I did assume that journalists skewed stories because of bias. I fondly imagined, silly me, that journalists wanted to investigate real wrongdoing. Yes. Laugh at my foolish innocence.

Consider what would be disrupted if public American pressure forced the College Board to end endemic international student cheating. First, the CB would lose millions but weep no tears, it’s a non-profit company. hahahahah! Yeah, that makes me laugh, too.

But public universities increasingly rely on international student fees and the pretense that they are qualified to do college work. After all, the thinking goes, we accept a lot of Americans who aren’t prepared for college work—may as well take in some kids who pay full freight. Private schools, too, appreciate the well-heeled Chinese students who don’t expect tuition discounts.

So suppose public pressure forces the College Board to use brand new tests for the overseas market, require all international testing to be done at US international schools, use different tests at different locations. The College Board might decide that the international market profits weren’t worth the hassle for other than US students living abroad (as indeed, the ACT seems to have done for years). Either way, a crackdown on testing security would seriously compromise Chinese and Korean students’ ability to lie about their college readiness and English skills.

A wide swath of public universities would either have to forego those delightful international fees or simply waive the SAT requirement, but without those inflated test scores it will be tough to justify letting in these kids over the huge chunk of white and Asian Americans who are actually qualified. No foreign students, more begging for money from state legislatures. Private universities would have a difficult time bragging about their elite international students without the SAT scores to back thing up.

Plus, hell, we changed the source country for zombies because we didn’t want to piss off China. Three years ago, the College Board wanted to open up mainland China as a market. 95% of the SAT testers in Hong Kong are Chinese. Stop all that money flowing around? People are going to be annoyed.

At this point, I start to feel too conspiratorial, and go back to figuring that reporters just don’t care. I’ve got a lot of respect for education policy reporters—the Edweek reporters are excellent on most topics—and most reporters do a good job some of the time.

But the SAT is basically corrupt in the international market. I’ve already written about test and grade corruption among recent Asian immigrants over here, particularly in regards to the Advanced Placement tests and grades.

Yet no one seems to really care. Sure, people disapprove of the SAT, but for all the wrong reasons: it’s racist, it’s nothing more than an income test, it reinforces privilege, it has no relationship to actual ability. None of these proffered reasons for hating the SAT have any relationship to reality. But that the SAT is this huge money funnel, taking money from states and parents and shoveling it directly or indirectly into the College Board, universities, and the companies who have essentially broken the test? Eh. Whatever.

The people who are hurt by this: middle and lower middle class whites and Asian Americans. So naturally, who gives a damn?

enlighten citizens, hold powerful people and institutions accountable and maybe even make the world a better place

Sigh. Happy New Year.

*In the comments, an actual SAT prep coach making millions–no, really, he assures us, millions!–simply by being a fabulous coach with stupendous methods is insulted that I insinuated that the Washington Post story was on an SAT prep coach, rather than the Korean equivalent of the SAT. I knew that, but at one point referred to the guy as a SAT prep coach. I fixed the text.


About educationrealist

91 responses to “The SAT is Corrupt. No One Wants to Know.

  • Roger Sweeny

    “None of proffers have any real relationship to reality.”

    ?? I think there may be a proofreading problem in this paragraph.

    Otherwise, nice article. It’s annoying that so many people don’t care–but articles like this may help change things. So many journalists profess to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable” while they actually “comfort my people and afflict those people.” But perhaps this will shame a few into living up to what they say they believe in.

    • educationrealist

      Fixed the glitch–thanks for pointing it out!

      I don’t think so. Did you see the new NY times piece on Chinese cram schools, without a single mention of cheating? I’m actually writing about that–may do 3 posts in a week!

  • James Thompson

    A very worrying matter. One way to deal with the problem might be to compulsorily re-test a sub-sample of students on a well-guarded alternate form, over-sampling the international markets where teaching is most suspected. The other approach would be for universities to give their own tests prior to confirming a college place for candidates.

    • anonymousskimmer

      I honestly don’t see how this would help as the college board absolutely knows that cheating is going on. All this would do is confirm that.

      However, if your idea is used as a re-test within a test (ala the “experimental” sections already in use, or a small number of “easy”, “medium” and “hard” questions inserted into the regular sections in a random manner for each day/time zone of the test) could be used to highlight every tester who is an almost guaranteed cheater.

  • James Thompson

    Sorry to be obtuse. The answer is to put in a fake answer. That is, to create a litmus question to which the favoured SAT specimen answer is in fact wrong, but candidates would need to really understand the subject in order the pick out the actual correct answer.

    • anonymousskimmer

      Another good idea.

      • educationrealist

        They catch kids cheating now. All that happens to the kids they catch is they are allowed to take it again.

        So if they did something like the litmus test, the penalty would have to be you can never, ever sign up for an SAT again. Ever. Full stop. You wouldn’t be able to take the test again or submit the scores you had.

        The larger problem is the huge profit making organization set up around it. I don’t think there’s any way to ever end it without just ending testing in those countries. Period. Give it to US organizations working over there (schools) and make them take the same test on the same day as the US kids.

        But a lot of people lose money with that method.

      • anonymousskimmer

        “But a lot of people lose money with that method.”

        With denied admit kids suing schools over affirmative action, you have to wonder if kids would sue the college board for knowingly re-using compromised (old) tests which give the same sort of leg-up to dishonest applicants as affirmative action gives to honest applicants.

  • Kosher Kowboy

    A. The College Board should publish old SAT questions as soon as the scores are released. They could make big bucks this way, selling question books, and break the backs of the test copying mafia.

    B. Likewise, they should never recycle a test, nor should they give the same test around the clock on the same day. There is no reason the test in Hong Kong needs to be the same as the test in London and the test in Los Angeles.

    Problem solved.

    Yeah people can study the old question books. But if questions are never recycled, who can gripe with that? They’re just learning the types of problems that are asked. And I consider that a legitimate study technique. I vaguely recall studying for the SAT circa 1985 or so by taking old tests that had been published by the College Board.

    • educationrealist

      The College Board does make big bucks that way. And there is a reason–they don’t want to lose money giving all those separate tests. I mean, why recycle in the first place? Why not give the exact same test on the same day?

      • surfer

        I thought there was some sort of psychrometric benefit from the experimental section? They have a reason for select amount of recycling (to norm questions), but they really do a lot more than they need to. Which is just dollars.

  • Mark Roulo

    “Using phones. Which they have told the proctors they don’t have, of course.”

    Cheating via phones (vs cheating vs. non-phone mobile devices) is fairly easy to defeat, but the folks giving the tests have to care.

    One can build a fairly reasonable faraday cage room using aluminum foil. Not expensive at all (*).

    The fact that the folks giving these tests DON’T take such simple precautions really suggests that they don’t care. What I want to understand is, “Why not?” How does the college board benefit *enough* from this cheating to make up for the inevitable loss of reputation when this comes to light? Or maybe almost no one cares …?

    (*) One could also NOT re-use tests and questions … duh!

    • Mark Roulo

      To be clear(er). I get how the universities benefit (or think that they do). It just seems that the extra $15K per student per year for the universities is large compared to the ~$50-$100 per student per test. If the College Board was making lots of money per test taker I’d get it.

      • DensityDuck

        The CB makes money from everyone in the world saying “you need an SAT score to get I to college”. That’s a guarantee income stream.

      • educationrealist

        The College Board is making a huge amount of money each test. Many retakers (because, I suspect, some of them aren’t able to get the answers before the test) on a test they spent no money creating, because they’re reusing it.

        Amount of international testers: I went through some of the stats here:

        300,000 international students took the test in 2013, most of them probably Chinese. No idea how many of them are taking the test more than once. That is, 300,000 students took the test is different from saying that the SAT was taken 300,000 times internationally.

        The SAT charges $75 for the test, $100 in India and Pakistan (because they use the old test? I’ve read? Which is crazy?). That’s a lot of money for a reused test. The only thing they have to pay for is the scoring, and all of that is quite easy–the only real expense is the essay reading.

      • educationrealist

        Oops–forgot to add this:

        Moreover, if the SAT used a real test that didn’t allow cheating, not only would the College Board have to spend a lot more money creating it each time, but a lot of the reason to take the test would go away. That is, if the Chinese and Koreans are taking the test multiple times simply because it’s easier to cheat on, the CB is going to lose money twice–first on developing a test that can’t be gamed, second when fewer people take the test. Which is a lot of my point in that link above.

      • surfer

        Just charge enough in Asia to make up for the expense for the extra security and the lost volume. If the kids will spend thousands for fake transcripts, than they can spend $500+ for the test sitting. It’s nothing compared to the expense of going full load to college!

  • Lagertha

    Well, being one of 2 generations having graduated from top 10 American universities, I can honestly say, the SAT is no longer regarded as it was in say, 1979, for my children. My sons ( eldest one is in college currently, w/ Presidential Scholarship: due to high SAT’s) are constantly bombarded with College Board e-mails… still. Sometimes he gets messages to transfer to the elite colleges that rejected him. WTF????? Or do one of their expensive summer-abroad programs..WTF again. And, the CB still sends him messages to take the SAT again? SO, really, the whole business model is so effing “Fail.” But, the CB, Common Core, Charter Schools, and school voucher bureaucrat/plutocrat crowd people are all the same, all honking their wares for the “Americans that are too stupid to read the confusing type,” like Gruber admitted.

    The College Board has practically bombarded my middle son with messages to take the SAT; JUST one more time! But, logistically, the score will not go up more than 5-10 points, and, like, he will “fart in their general direction” if anyone thinks he will sit down again to take the SAT…ever again. He scored well enough in the lower 700’s in math 2, and, well, that’s just fine… to go to any university who wants him; he’s a catch.

    So, the smart guys and girls of 2015 are overwhelmingly moving on to the ACT…the SAT is known to be PLAYED/ a BS/a JOKE. And, as I’m sure many of you have noticed, many of the top LACS and Ivies are disregarding the SAT score all together. Asians ARE being blown-off by the Ivies…it’s true, kinda sad, but kinda funny since they can not wrap their heads around “the diversity issue” and, having the “leadership skills and collaboration skills” on paper – something like All-State-All-Academic/captain of the whatever team; captain of debate club; lead in spring Musical, head twirler, marching band top trumpet….is lost on them.

    The students with the highest test scores and highest incomes are still mostly from the north and central east coast, maybe west coast to some extent and a few pockets in the metropolitan centers of the plains states. I can tell you, the ACT people have sent maybe only one message, but seeing as my son scored a 34, why would they bug him again, or bug me since my credit card was used for payment?

    My middle son has gotten many more acceptances to colleges than my eldest did even that my eldest scored almost to perfection with the SAT, and, particularly with the Math 2. But, and a BIG BUT, my middle son preferred to submit his ACT score, NOT SAT, to the most selective schools.

    I think the whole testing industry is in trouble, so, it is a matter of time that it will have to prove itself to matter anymore. My youngest will apply early ( he wants to be an astronaut) to the Naval Academy, and, they have the hardest requirements of all. I truly believe, that the elite universities, if they think they are actually elite (hah!) will have to adopt West Point’s and Annapolis’ admissions standards to accept foreign students. Foreign students are not as creative, wild-west-crazy, intuitive, resourceful, diverse, creative, driven & dynamic, physically fit as our local, all-American, broad middle class kids of all ethnic groups. Like yeah…cheating on the SAT’s is so low, cheap and sleazy according to these kids of Class 2015. And, the SAT is being replaced by the ACT quickly. Lot more writing going one in the ACT. A lot of kids are not applying to the elite schools even if they have high scores and GPA’s – another trend. Money is being thrown to high scorers by less selective schools-no brainer.

    I did notice (my middle son did tell me) that the supplements (usually just elite schools) have gotten a lot harder and longer in the college application- and more “soul searching-like.” And, with stats that officials can look up, it’s riskier to not be honest, unlike the time when their older brother applied 2 years ago.

    • Triumph104

      Both you and educationrealist have given great reasons to choose the ACT over the SAT.

      You are wrong about the high admissions standards at the military academies. Members of Congress not only have the ability to subjectively nominate whoever they want, they can rank their nominees and have the top one admitted.

      Army, Navy, and Air Force have prep schools which is a covert way to admit academically unqualified students. These students are mostly minorities or athletes. Some of these students graduated high school with D averages and score on the 300s on each section of the SAT. Since they will officially be transfer students to the academy their scores are not reflected in the published scores for admitted freshmen.

      Bruce Fleming, an English professor at Navy, has been railing against the academies for years. They are leadership schools where students aren’t allowed to make any decisions because every minute of their time is accounted for. He says that students are overscheduled and fall asleep in class and studying is not a priority.

      • Lagertha

        I should never write late at night, but I am an artist, a night-owl, and during the holidays, after too many days of togetherness w/husband, sons, relatives, neighbors, friends, dogs, keeping the food flowing, and the usual small crises interrupting my day, I escape to the internet at night.

        You, of course, are correct about the service academy prep schools…and, yes, I agree that it is shameful that young people who are not academically bright, are funneled into the service anyway, after attending these feeder academy schools. Maybe that is why so many of the war efforts have been mediocre? However, the army and navy are seen as ways for young men to get somewhere in life by their parents and, actually, themselves. Many grew up in fatherless homes so they are looking to be yelled at and cheered on by the most macho of men. Remember Richard Gere in “Officer and a Gentleman?”

        Young men are looking to fund their university days following their tours of duty, and going to the academy prep schools, and then the actual service, is a new route to finance one’s education…despite the fact I can’t get the image of body bags out of my mind when I think about this.

        My alma mater proudly announced its uptick of veterans enrolled in current freshmen class…and how, with their experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, the diversity added by these vets contributes to the most dynamic class yet. I feel sort of bad that I have not “alumni contributed” as much as most these past couple of years, but I am paying 2 tuition payments per year, for the next 4 years at state universities that are better “fits” for my sons. And, yeah, the tuition, fees & r&b at my much loved school, btw, is over $60,000/year now. None of my sons will attend there….they want to go out west or to Europe no matter what….and it’s all STEM, STEM, STEM with a smattering of art & film and LAs for all three.

        However, as far as the Naval A and WP & AF, I wrote only from the perspective of the DERG my sons fall into: White, somewhat affluent, New Englanders of European descent…WASPS…which no elite universities care about anymore. Only the elite service academies are hot and heavy after these types of guys if they are smart. Finding great officers is a sort of “race to the top” urgency for the U.S. armed forces. Same could be said for wanting to cultivate better, worldy, educated politicians!

        Because my sons have always scored in the 2100-2380, ACTS 32-35 range, and are excellent athletes and pursue things like robotics/computer coding, speak more than 2 languages, they are regarded a little like unicorns by the service academies. WP & Navy, especially, had been bombarding them with incentives to apply; personal letters from generals/admirals, phone calls from local, retired, officers. And, the fact that they have served as captains for multiple sport teams, is the icing on the cake for “leadership,” that magic ingredient to make good officers, future colonels, generals, admirals, etc. And, to be a high scorer (recognized by international on-line peers) in League of Legends, Minecraft, WOW is catnip for recruiters.

        Both sons were flattered, but had no interest in applying to NA or WP EXACTLY because of what you said: “students aren’t allowed to make any decisions; time is accounted for; over-scheduled and fall asleep.” This of course, sort of describes their HS days…and there was no way in hell they wanted to go through that again. Plus they are way too opinionated and “moving” at breakneck speed to be able to submit to authority and the chain of command, integral to the armed forces.

        Both parents are in the creative sector, so, yeah, they didn’t grow up in a family full of military influence either. Of course, family served in WW2 and my European family were officers in the armed forces fighting the Soviets/Nazis – ancestors that went to elite military academies since they were “commoners” who had no shot to get into the elite universities of their day because of their humble origins/lack of noble line/lack of money and social status.

        So, my point was, that the service academies favor the “smart and athletic” kids with high GPA’s and test scores, and there is a healthy competition amongst this group to be accepted to an institution with NO tuition charges for them/parents. The standards ARE higher for this DERG group that my sons are labeled to be a part of, but they are WANTED.

        And, my opinion of this goes back a decade as I have witnessed “almost geniuses” consistently being overlooked at the elite universities, places like MIT, Stanford, etc, even if they also have the “leadership” skills from sport and clubs. Not being able to check any box but “white” puts them into a group that is being ignored (except by US service academies) even if they have a lot of extra curricular activities. But, most of those young, brainiac men I know, were given hefty scholarships from the universities they eventually enrolled in, so it all works out. Their drive and brain power will not be suppressed by any more “educational reformers” or admissions staff. And, their desire to finally not conform to any standard in any classroom (the dumbing-down of curricula) is unleashed never to return again.

        My youngest wants to be an astronaut, and I am delighted! He is my first “perfect” student in HS – perfect only that I have never been a “tiger mom” or “soccer mom, ” to get him to do his homework, hand it in, and actually, study for tests. He has Varsity lettered in 3 sports since freshmen year, where all you need is brains and brute strength. And, the best education is the NA, since being submerged in water a lot, is a key part of the “endurance” test needed to be chosen to be an astronaut. And, he doesn’t mind the “regimented” lifestyle for the 5 year commitment after the NA is over. He is worried, however, if he keeps growing (6′-2″) since that is a problem if one dreams of being an astronaut. But, like my husband said, “let the games begin with the elite schools to fight over someone like him.”

      • Lagertha

        just read the articles you cited: shheeesh, I am speechless! It was sooo depressing. Their admits are worse than the Ivies! Ivies may have a marginally larger group of high test scorers (like 50% – wish I was kidding about that) but I didn’t realize that the Naval Academy was this pathetic!

        Yet, my youngest did speak about the ROTC program as a more realistic program for him. He is way too superior in academics, worldliness, athletic ability, leadership, and creative talent to be lumped together with what seems like complete losers in Annapolis. I am stunned.

        Well, there are good alternatives to becoming an astronaut, just have to pay public/private tuitions. I really do think Caltech is the last of the meritocratic schools, too bad it is soooo small, but it’s a beautiful campus in a great location.

        Thanks for waking me up to this harsh reality. The dumbing-down of everything and giving up on quality is so depressing at elite institutions.

      • Apollo

        What an essay.

        Problem solved then: have him apply to Caltech.

  • Lagertha

    Oh, and keep plugging along, Ed, I would be sad to lose such an interesting and informative life-line as I still have 2 more years of HS to get through with my youngest! Happy New Year to you! You are doing wonderful, important work to get people to think and perhaps react to what is going on in their communities as far as their children’s education and university education admissions policies.

      • phillipmarlowe2terry

        I second Lagertha.
        BTW, at one time did you solicit operating expenses? I recall sending you a few dollars thru PayPal under my real name, but I might be thinking of another teacher blogger.
        If so, I’d like to make another donation.

      • educationrealist

        Several people sent money! I don’t know your real name, but if it was you, thank you so much.

        I just put in another fundraising post, thanks to your question. Thanks again!

    • Lagertha

      And, to reply to Apollo, Caltech is impossible to get into anymore especially if you are from the northeast it seems, from a boiler-plate public HS if you are male. Caltech accepts about 400 (for a 125 yield) boys (worldwide) and the applicant must really be genius-level it seems. It is odd, though, that you don’t hear that much about new, spectacular industries or breakthroughs that Caltech alumni have developed in the past decade…and Big Bang Theory is still just a show!

      • Apollo

        Wrong again. Caltech doesn’t use gender- or race-based affirmative action. That is why it is nearly 70% male and approximately 1% African-American. (See: and

        On your other comments, this may be as much due to size as anything: Caltech is much smaller than the rest of HYPSMC. On accomplishments adjusted for size, see: and from Stephen Hsu, a blogger most readers of this blog would no doubt appreciate.

      • educationrealist

        Caltech is also suffering because of the cheating problems that come along with too many Asians.

      • Lagertha

        Well, some of you who read my comments didn’t see that I admit I am rambling – and my thoughts and feelings about various things have been formed over several years, so, I am not interested to debate my opinions- never said that they are based on facts…just my own experiences. And, the point of the discussion was the significance of the SAT…a most debated subject in the education reform movement.

        However, I have always thoroughly investigated the schools my sons applied to and looked into minutiae no one else would! And, for those of you who don’t have multiple children who are in college now, or applying, you may not have the same ideas I have about how the landscape has changed (for HS students who must take “the most rigorous courses as possible,” and the stress of national tests, varsity sports, comm. service, arts, jobs, the resume-building crap, etc.) since even the 1990’s…not to mention the high tuition…40-48K facing all families with several children that don’t qualify for FAFSA, yet earn less than 250K.

        And, Caltech (which I really like despite everything) & Ivies & SM, turned down 8 genius-level (took the additional math tests for the truly gifted – so, they were actually in the 1% nationally) guys whose entire test scores were riddled with 800’s, 36’s, 5’s yadda, yadda, yadda. They just happened to live in the DERG with the most amount of applicants…so they bring nothing “different” to the table: the competition is worldwide, after all.

        And, Caltech, actually…this is a funny story….was pained to turn one guy down…because he is a spectacular soccer player…and super-smart…he just had a GPA of 3.5 (hated homework) despite having those amazing test scores. I guess the admissions board could not let that 3.5 slide by, but, Caltech would have finally won a soccer game! The coach was really pulling for him. They’ve never won soccer or basketball games.

        And, yeah, I agree, Apollo, Catech has taken some “dead-weight” Asian students. They would have been better off with one of these guys from New England: He just quit his freshmen year because a company bought his algorithms/code, is paying him 80K/yr… and 10% ownership of successful start-up company stock! Yowza! – he, if anyone, REALLY hated homework as my son has told me. He got 5’s on the tests, 800’s on SAT’s, Subj tests, but not a single HYPSMC picked him….his GPA was like a 3.00…due to just ignoring the homework. He was a quiet guy who played a lot of video games, but still did sports &V Robotics in HS and held a job…so the “randomness” idea.

      • Apollo

        Also likely to be true (although I may not be as well-connected as you are; do you have some inside info on that?), but the students at a Caltech or an MIT are primarily going to be gunning for science and engineering PhD programs, for which grades are of secondary importance and research experience/letters of recommendation are most important. Those are quite a bit harder to fake.

      • Lagertha

        A research project and having like, built a glider or a sailboat (planing your own boards from trees you cut int the woods) on your own, is what will get you in, for instnace. There are prodigies there, but there are a lot that struggle there because they really didn’t have “The Right Stuff” to begin with – creativity seems to be lacking. They use SAT’s as a clearing house, and, yes, they want those recommendations from teachers…not famous people…and teachers who they can call/correspond with
        . Caltech’s only negative (according to the guys who applied there) is that it is soooo small…and not enough girls.

      • Apollo

        “And, yeah, I agree, Apollo, Catech has taken some “dead-weight” Asian students.”

        Not what I said (nor something, to be clear, that you have any evidence for other than feeling a bit resentful that your kids didn’t get in).

        You hadn’t mentioned before that your kids had (relatively) low GPAs. Yes, HYPSMC still care about GPA, and “like a 3.00” is really, really low for those schools! Students who have problems completing their homework–and there are more than a few of them out there, especially boys–are much more likely to be unsuccessful academically in college than students who are diligent (we have stats on this, even). Yes, diligence in the face of work-you’d-rather-not-be-doing can be boring, but it’s also a skill that is necessary for success in a college curriculum, which even at MIT will *not* consist entirely of classes that you are interested in.

        P.S. “1% nationally” is not “genius-level”, nor is “[taking] the additional math tests for the truly gifted” (by which I assume you mean the AMC and AIME) impressive at HYPSMC. At my school probably 2/3 of the applicants who are math/science talented have done that, and the other 1/3 are from high schools where no one bothered to tell them to do so. To truly stand out in contest math to the point where it matters for college admissions at an elite school, your kids would have had to make the IMO or at least USAMO team. To recap: 10,000+ kids qualify for the AIME in some years. It is Not A Special Thing to an HYPSMC admissions panel.

      • Lagertha

        Not talking about MY sons at all. Like I said, I would have loved that he got into Caltech, but there is just so much space….we knew it was a crap-shoot; he applied there because the soccer coach wanted him, and had implored him to apply. Well, he’s playing soccer somewhere else now. He also worked in tech at the World Cup, has created apps for financial services industries, made 12K last summer! He’s back on campus, is fine, and I’m not worried about him.

        And, the answer to the highest math test: that boy is in that rare group you mentioned: I think his mother said he is in the .01% nationally – she actually, is a genius. He got into Cambridge and Imperial, despite a 3.5 GPA, BTW.

        As for my son, he went to a large public research university which had been after him since 8th grade…I will be paying 2 tuition bills simultaneously for 6 years, so I am glad he made this decision. Also, I am so NOT bitter about where my kids go or wind-up…they are all STEM kids who will flourish anywhere…and will eventually go to grad school overseas since they are EU citizens. They chose/are choosing their schools according to: Engineering Dept.- check; beach/mountains – check; girls -check. I also console a lot of parents who are flabbergasted that their kid did not get into their dream school…but bitterness, I don’t ever feel it in my life.

      • Apollo

        “He got into Cambridge and Imperial, despite a 3.5 GPA, BTW.”

        That makes quite a bit of sense, actually–Cambridge and Imperial (Oxford too, for that matter) care quite a bit more about standardized test scores and not very much for (American) high school grades, since their native high school results are essentially standardized tests and (with an interview, for Oxbridge) are all that matters at all for admissions. UK university admissions are also by department, which (as I mentioned before) is different from HYPSMC, too. Some departments at Oxbridge do administer a separate written test of their own device during the interview process, too.

        But, in short, you can literally test in to British universities in a way that you can’t at US universities. Apples and oranges. On the other side of the coin to your friend’s son’s experience, there are certain programs at Oxbridge (the obvious one is Medicine, which it is possible to apply for directly out of secondary school in the UK) which are significantly more competitive than HYPSMC, and require perfect scores and a perfect interview. For the rare but becoming-much-more-common UK students who manage to get into HYPSMC but not Oxbridge, this can be a source of publicity (see:

        Finally, a bit of personal advice, unless your sons wish to ultimately work in the EU (or are doing a “for fun or rounding-out” master’s degree just for the experience) I would advise pursuing any research-oriented graduate degrees they may desire, especially a PhD, in the United States. The science and engineering resources are generally quite a bit better at top US universities, and while the programs are lengthier in America, particularly for students who were US undergraduates the choice to take the shorter path, even if it’s Oxbridge, is not generally speaking an advantage in academic hiring at US institutions.

      • Apollo

        More on Oxbridge and why a student with good test scores but a poor high school record may have a better shot at UK universities:

  • ganderson9754

    I second Lagertha, too! Happy New Year! And – is this a problem with the Subject and AP tests as well?

    • Lagertha

      took a break shoving ice off the driveway with the boys…they can’t wait to get back to school so they get out of that chore!

      SAT subject tests, according to my sons, are actually, kind of fun to take. Best not to take the Math 2 until Algebra 2, maybe even pre-calc is out of the way. But, the AP Calc BC (for the masochists) and AP Calc AB (for the kids who have a social life) are hard tests, but mandatory for most quality engineering programs, as is the Chemistry AP test. However, all the science tests and US Govt are being re-configured AGAIN (they cover too much material) so it is impossible to cheat on them, in their opinion. Usually, the stronger teachers teach the AP courses at HSs…or at least the ones who emit more passion, actually like teenagers. ‘Cause if you have a drag teacher, it really makes you less interested to absorb so much material/information during the school year.

      The up-shot of high scores in AP or SAT Subject tests is you get out of all your introductory/freshmen core/courses at your university…depends on the score at some campuses. My son can earn extra $$$ teaching 1st & 2nd year students (Algebra 2 or Calculus, intro to Comp Sci) in college since he got out of all his science and math requirements. He got out of English, too, but opted to take an acting class (loved in) and took a basic “writing” class (I insisted) since he is a comp sci major, and, never had a real passion for writing. He said he feels he is better now expressing his views on paper.

      The AP and SAT subject tests can not really be studied (can’t really cheat, either) for, and, that is the essence of why they are a good metric to use by U’s and competitive STEM programs to evaluate students. Of course, you have to be confident, too, that you can master the test – a lot of it is mental preparation, like managing stage fright.

      As I said much earlier, the broad middle class is moving on to state u’s exclusively (less expensive) so, the state u’s are getting more and more applications from the top10% performers. And, some elite schools are already whining about the fact that they are receiving less applications from top scorers, particularly boys, and are upset that state u’s are throwing money at these kids, who, in their opinion, should just load up on debt to get that prestigious college diploma over “ordinary” joe-regular, state-U. Tell that to the Google founders who went to U of Illinois! I could’ve never felt comfortable out-in-the-middle-of-nowhere of American flatland, though.

      So, yeah, the SAT subject tests and AP scores are just about the only way to distinguish yourself academically, anymore, as far as standard/universal tests. But, they should be taken at the end of the school year so your child can actually feel confident that they have retained all the info from one year’s work in their head. Also, it’s good to take all the tests at a location other than your HS…we have a posh private school nearby, where my sons loved taking the tests since the monitors were a lot nicer, rooms were more comfortable (no buzzing fluorescent lights), smelled less like disinfectant, and allowed them to eat and drink during breaks.

      • momof4

        Were the APs your sons took stand-alone courses or second-level courses with honors prereqs? At my older sons’ HS, all APs had honors prereqs (honors chem before AP chem, honors world before AP Euro etc), and the upper-level AP physics had a co-req of AP calc BC – which meant the APs were real elite-college level and most kids had 4s and 5s (without killing themselves; my sons were full-time athletes). All test and quiz questions were from old AP tests. The last time I looked, the school still has the honors prereqs – is that still common?

      • Apollo

        Neither calculus AP test is mandatory, even in a de facto sense, for even top engineering programs. Taking calculus (if your high school offers it) certainly is, though.

  • Lagertha

    They did take honors prereqs for the AP classes; but, my older son (the masochist) took AP Calc BC and AP Physics simultaneously, along with US Gov.

    In Junior year, he took AP Comp Sci, AP Chem and US History. Comp Sci – (you had to have taken Algebra 2, and, it helped if you had already taken Pre-calc) to get into the course. Now, on the other hand, both sons had students in their AP classes who never took any prereqs courses that were called “honors” because the teacher had the final authority to admit or deny any student into the course. So, in other words, schools will follow their own method to determine “readiness.” And, the students in our school could petition the teacher to be let in to the AP class..usually by the kids who took comm. college classes because they were bored in 7th/8th grade.

    Most of the students did well (3-5s) and, I must say, our local public HS is a tough one, and ranks somewhere in the 300’s in the country. And, the kids going to Top 20 U’s, had to get 4s and 5s; most state U’s and less selective U’s will take 3’s as well. So, yeah, you SHOULD get college credit, why else take an AP class and have no life? The Ivies don’t like to give kids credit for AP’s because they want their admits to pay full freight all 4 years – part of their business model. Some will only accept two AP’s – which is such bull*.

    We also have a few prodigies who are just 14 taking AP classes, but our HS has no requirements (taking the “honors” level course fresh/soph year) other than the former teacher and the AP teacher evaluate whether the student can handle the work – we’re kind of a cool school in that way. Ergo, my middle son settled for Calc AB since he didn’t want the pressure, even if he always took the highest level math courses since 5th grade. Actually, I highly recommend that; and, my eldest son said he should have just taken AB and had more fun his senior year. Fun is important.

    All sons are/were tri-season athletes: Football, Soccer (Premier as well), Wrestling, Fencing (National level as well), Track & Field and Rugby. They studied in the car and on the bus a lot…A LOT. So, I’m not sure taking ALL the AP level classes offered, is really rational; just take the courses that truly interest you, not to keep up with all the other masochists and their crazy, Ivy-obsessed parents.

    My sons also participated in First Robotics/chess/Unified Sports so they were always busy, always tired. Of course, being an artist working from home, I really was the maid, the cook and the chauffeur, too, to ease things – but, I never have regretted that – I was an older mom, a sworn non-conformist, and I knew time with them at home was fleeting.

    My sons took psychology and a course called, “globalization” senior year, which they absolutely loved, and, where they found the fun & interesting girls to take to the prom. So, as far as getting into an AP class that your child wants to take if they DON’T have the prereq, they should be able to discuss, petition, show other related work for the teacher/school to accept them into the course…and, they should think wisely, if this is what they want and not because they have masochistic, college-app-neurotic tendencies.

    • Apollo

      Top schools often have courses which exceed the AP tests in rigor, particularly in the math and science subjects. It’s more about protecting the brand and much less about tuition dollars (which at most Ivies, Stanford, MIT, and Caltech are a secondary or tertiary source of income, anyway).

      • Lagertha

        True-the courses are harder (should be expected,) and those institutions you named, do have solid endowments – have often wondered why they expect tuition payments from student’s family at all? My rambling points refer to the idea that “to be considered a solid applicant” for those institutions, in particular, SAT subject tests in math and science are required if one is applying as a STEM major. And, it is expected that HS students take the highest level courses (AP’s) if they also are trying to get into these schools’ STEM dept or not. The competition is fierce for students who are not URM’s – because most of the institutions ref:ed above, have not increased the number of seats/freshmen class size in decades – and hordes of foreigners are taking up seats.

        So, a prospective student has to take a grueling mix of courses as a teenager…join the hamster wheel IF they are intent on applying to the most selective schools. Of course, moderately selective institutions and state u’s (depends on the state/not CA, for instance) are jumping at the chance to lure these STEM kids that will be squeezed-out of the admit pool anyway. And, many of these “2nd, 3rd tier” (I loathe this attitude about the supposed “lower tier” schools) institutions offer scholarships to top students…so, taking these AP courses and taking the subject tests is economically beneficial in the end if a student decides to go to the school “that throws the most amount of money at them.”

        And, the institutions that have honed & protected “their brand” for decades, are getting worried that some of the talented STEM majors are going elsewhere: priced-out, not wanting debt…or simply rejected because 5,000 people world-wide applied (happened to my son, for instance,) for 50 spots to the Comp Sci dept. of a prestigious institution.

        The competitiveness and “crap-shoot” over admittance to these institutions (particularly in STEM fields) is what is making HS so stressful… with this belief that you have to take every hard AP course/SAT subj test to be considered worthy for admittance…once again, if you are not a URM, a multi-millionaire, a world-class athlete, a supremely gifted musician, or a child prodigy in any field; if you’re like most American kids, even very intelligent ones, you must accept the randomness in being admitted to the institutions that everyone seems to consider “top tier” if you have “no hook.”

        I could cavalierly state that a student applying as a French major (and, having had taken the same batch of AP courses and SAT subj tests as a STEM student,) could get into MIT before a student who applied to the Electrical Engineering dept. So, all the elite schools with their numerous, variegated departments, need to fill each dept. with as even a spread of applicants as possible. Some institutions even warned students that they will be “locked-in” to their major, so no backdoor into the actual dept they want to be in after they have gained admission. Some elite universities (won’t name them) are considering moth-balling entire departments that get very few freshmen in the last decade. Others are frantically creating engineering depts (won’t name them either!) since STEM is so hot right now. However, the amount of STEM-oriented kids (the ones who are actually, passionate about it) remains relatively static (according to some professors I know).

        In my vivid imagination I feel that all the elite U’s should only accept impoverished students every year, who are academically brilliant…have the endowment pay for everything. And, if they insist on maintaining sport programs, that would continue a supply of students from all backgrounds of random academic ability. It is a fact that alumni who played sports, and schools that have huge sport enthusiasm, give/get the most as far as alumni giving – and this is hugely important to fuel the business model of private, elite universities. That’s why guys who are captains of football teams get accepted very often to schools, since there is a correlation with future CEO’s.

        I predict that the top academic 5-10% will continue to spread out to a larger group of universities/colleges since the “musical chairs” of elite admittance is getting harder…kinda’ the socialism of higher ed that someone in admissions mentioned to me a while back. My point is, it’s a good thing if a very good student is “rewarded” for high test scores with less tuition cost at a university that really wants them. And, as much as some universities claim to say they don’t care about test scores, if a student is not a URM, it could hurt them if they have NO test scores since the broad middle-class applicants (the largest population) are competing against each other for acceptance slots.

        High tuition is starting to worry all institutions as the population of American applicants is gradually diminishing, and, the large middle class is looking at what they can afford. Plus, in the long run, the elite schools (protecting their brand that you mention) really don’t want to accept only students who need full financial aid. They won’t ever say that, but that’s the truth….so they try to convince the majority of applicants’ parents that “the brand” is really worth it. Performance is performance, and no employer cares 5 years after graduation where one went to college if the performance is mediocre. So, the tuition discounts for high test scorers is a boon for students who can graduate with little, or no debt.

      • Apollo

        I’ve served on an HYPSMC undergraduate admissions committee, and I actually don’t think it’s quite as random as you make out, *especially* in the STEM fields (so in other words, the opposite of your guess). At least it wasn’t at our place. Compare the MIT curve here to the Harvard and Princeton curves, for example, and you will find that it much LESS “random” (or more numbers-driven, if you prefer): Furthermore, I assure you that the Harvard and Princeton subsets of students applying in math, science, and engineering fields (or rather, with applications based mainly upon prowess or potential in said fields–at most of these schools, unlike in schools the next tier down, they won’t hold you to your stated major) look much like the MIT curve.

        And it’s most definitely not as AP-driven as you assume. The math and science SAT II tests (as well as the general SAT) are more important in undergraduate admissions than math and science AP test results for several reasons, a few of which are:

        1) They are more finely grained, i.e. they resolve differences at the top better (and it’s differences at the top that matter, at HYPSMC). A string of 800s is rarer than a string of 5s.

        2) They are less dependent on prior knowledge. While the SAT is no longer officially an “aptitude” test, they are still more a test of ability than retention (even the SAT Subject Tests are much moreso than the equivalent AP tests). This is a strong benefit to students from low socioeconomic status backgrounds or who for whatever reason attend a weak high school (and it shouldn’t be a detriment to kids from good schools, either: it’s not as if succeeding in calculus should wipe out your ability to perform “easier” math–and if it does, that’s telling).

        3) They can be required for all applicants, and therefore are more useful for making comparisons. We could never mandate that every applicant take AP Calc AB and Physics B (for example), but we can mandate that they all take the SAT Math 2 and Physics/Chemistry/Bio Subject Test.

        Finally, at our HYPSMC institution, the admissions committee has no idea of the financial background, or potential financial aid needs, of any of the applicants (it is not even included in the dossier), and makes the decisive vote to accept or reject with no input from the finance people whatsoever. Of the three other institutions in that set where I have colleagues friendly (and interested in admissions) enough to have chatted on this topic, the same goes. So you’re wrong on that, too.

        It occurs to me that many of the qualities you ascribe to the “elite” schools (need sensitivity in admissions, hordes of foreigners accepted for the tuition money, applying directly to undergraduate “programs” rather than a generalized admissions process for the whole school) are actually quite characteristic of schools in the next tier or two below HYPSMC, rather than of the elite schools themselves.

      • Lagertha

        so much of what you just wrote about my “rambling” is just so annoying, or are you one of those types who loves to say, “you are wrong,” all the time? I have formed my own opinions and that’s it – I’m not a lawyer.

        My siblings and I went to the Ivies & Co., have graduate degrees, and had a parent (created many patents) who taught at MIT (STEM). We are a 6 generation-university-educated family from Europe. I have close friends working in admissions @ the HYP’s… as well, along with university professors for years at those, and some other, vaunted institutions you mentioned…and they have different ideas (maybe current ideas) from you.

        So, I really do come up with my own thoughts from my own experiences/conclusions. And, I have 3 children and close friends’ children in the dreaded application process these last 3-8 years, who also, just happened to be top 5% as far as ability/IQ, talents, sports, etc.

        Initially, this conversation started from Ed’s post about the SAT but also from a previous poster who questioned the rationale of taking AP classes (she has athlete sons & they are still in secondary school) and what the subj tests were all about, more or less.

        And, I mistakenly wrote “require AP classes”…so, you win there! Many institutions expect a student of a particular DERG to take the most rigorous classes afforded to them at their HS. SO, if someone applies to a top 10 school, who has all the socioeconomic advantages, it would be expected that they take the hardest courses (I’m talking about similar students with like a 700+ (single test) SAT score competing against similar students from same DERG) at least, this has been said to us by the schools you mentioned. And, many schools now, incl. some you mention, need applicants to declare a major (relatively new,) but there are only so many spots in a freshmen class for Electrical Engineering. Johns Hopkins, for example, does not allow someone who applied as a Mechanical Engineering major to switch into Biomedical Engineering freshmen year or even sophomore year.

        We do agree that certain SAT Subj tests are required for STEM applicants to STEM programs. But, a high score does get many students (maybe NOT at the Ivies & Co.) out of the entry-level freshmen courses…and…that is $$$ for that student who can jump into higher level courses immediately-happened to my son. And, for him, the AP Comp Sci 5 (no errors at all) allowed him to go quickly into the next level…and to teach (get $$$) entry level coding to undergrads in his engineering dept.

        And, most importantly, the institutions you mention, and, many others, DO NOT overlook the financial status of the applicant. There is already so much research on this – Socioeconomic status is easy to deduce from:
        address, zip code, school, parents’ occupations, parents’ universities if any, lifestyle like premier sports (professional coaches+$$$), exemplary musical or art ability (years of lessons$$$), experiences overseas, etc. My son applied to Stanford but was told he lived in the wrong zip code for them to bother interviewing him. And, you may not know this, but it is a trend now, to put down (you have to check one of two boxes on the Common Application) “Will Not Apply for Financial Aid” to see if it aids in admission – heaven help the parents who scramble with 2nd mortgages for that idea!. No private institution in the USA is going to admit a class that is entirely comprised of low-income students…or even 50%…you can look up the facts, many facts about who institutions admit (need good comp sci skills for this fact-finding).

        There is a monetary incentive to use high SAT/SAT Subj tests and High AP test scores to get out of freshmen core courses (many U’s) and the intro courses…some exceptions: Biology…as a pre-med at Duke just told me, even if he got a 5 on the test in HS. If a student can skip an entire year’s worth of courses, that is beneficial.

        So the cut-off is somewhere around $250K to not qualify for FAFSA, even if you have 2 kids in college at the same time. And, this year, and for years to come, parents who fall in the 130K-250K or so, have to see how they can fund the tuition…or look at other universities that are offering merit scholarships even if they are horrors! – “the next tier or even two below.”

        You know, that attitude, alone, is really annoying – you seem to not realize that class size has not gone up, and, that there are more smart students than are spaces at HYPSMC & the next 25 schools, every year. The idea that all the other institutions that are “levels below” don’t seem to matter or don’t warrant respect is so elitist. Anyway, it’s all performance whether you are at HYP. & Co..or graduate from a lowly state-U out in fly-over country…like the founders of Google. There are two Yale grads in their 50’s (with kids in college) who were laid-off in my neighborhood -You should read Excellent Sheep. Lastly, I don’t wanna waste time anymore about this.

      • anonymousskimmer


        That Princeton curve is weird. I can only assume that Princeton, as a lesser-known HYPSMC gets a different selection of top 5% applicants than H & M.

        “it’s not as if succeeding in calculus should wipe out your ability to perform “easier” math–and if it does, that’s telling).”

        😀 I don’t think it was college until I recognized how much the academic structure and curricular mandates was training me to cram and forget (though equal ability students of other personality types or home environments at the same school may have done otherwise). I did not attend a rigorous school at all (only dropped out of the top 10% – to 40 something out of ~360 – despite overall slacking on studying – due to dual enrolment my senior year with some consequent Bs and a C).

        ACT junior year
        Math: 30 (97%-tile) — February of the year I took Trigonometry
        Pre-Algebra: 17 (98%-tile)
        Alg/Coord Geom: 14 (92%-tile)
        Plane Geo/Trig: 18 (99%-tile)
        ACT senior year
        Math: 29 (95%-tile) — December; just finished Calc 1 at community college (a B grade IIRC)
        Pre-Algebra: 14 (83%-tile)
        Alg/Coord Geom: 17 (99%-tile)
        Plane Geo/Trig: 15 (96%-tile)

        What a difference 10 months makes to barely retained knowledge.

        Realizing I was losing so much knowledge was one of the primary reasons I became depressed in college and dropped out.

        Enough feeling sorry for myself, time to go to work. 🙂

      • Apollo


        I assure you that my information is quite current and from the inside. I–as in me, personally, not “associates” or “6 generations of my European family” or “my octogenarian father 20 years ago”–have sat for multiple years on the undergraduate admissions committee at an HYPSMC.

        Much of what you have been writing is misguided or just flat wrong, at least as it applies to HYPSMC (again, however, some of what you say–especially with respect to money and foreign students–actually is true for the next tier down). I don’t mean to be insulting, but it reads like something in between wishful thinking and a mom’s rationalization on behalf of her kids. At the very least it is highly anecdotal. I’m not writing to put you down, by any means, but because I don’t want Ed’s readers to have a false impression of elite college admissions.


        I think there are two big parts to the “unusual” yield curve shapes, and the difference for the MIT curve is the big clue to both.

        The first, I believe, is likely a bit of “yield protection”–Princeton and Yale dinging a few students they think are very likely to be accepted to, and matriculate at, Harvard. This is the explanation I have seen given before for this data, but I think there may be others equally as important.

        The second and perhaps more important has to do with the nature of testing. Math and science prowess are more easily testable and the “qualifications” expected for students whose case for admissions rests upon math and science ability (nearly all of them at M and C; only some at HYPS) are more numerical and also more consistent. Furthermore, the Verbal SAT is highly correlated with the Math SAT, and science-types actually perform better on both sections. (See, for example, which is for the GRE but the same principle applies, and notice the majors in the High-M, High-V quadrant.)

        So a school that admits primarily based on math/science ability can expect one “peak” on the rightmost side of the ability-as-measured-by-testing plot (which we see for MIT). A school that admits students based on success in, or potential for, a broader range of academic disciplines, will have the same pronounced “math/science” peak on the right side of the histogram but may well also have a plateau or even additional, weaker, peaks. (All still, note the highly truncated scale, well to the right side of the overall plot.)

      • Lagertha

        And, really, I said I am not a bitter mom, as you insist on implying. And, you are doing a good job confusing everybody (who were those people anyway?) about Ivy League admissions criteria when Ed’s actual post is about SAT not being so hot/easy to cheat on.

        If other posters feel I am wrong or unaware, I think they will realize that. I don’t think dumb people waste time reading this blog. Should have never replied/posted in the first place and gotten myself going-off on tangents…which I admit, was stupid.

        And, some admissions people at HYP etc. I speak with regularly, have said different things than you, which is completely possible despite your assurances or facts or whatever. Yet, the blog post deals with SAT…which can lead to discussions about admissions criteria….which is a mystery to everyone. Gotta go, & Don’t send me any more messages, pls.

      • Apollo

        I am not “sending you messages,” I am engaging in a public dialogue with you. I am posting publicly on a blog in response to (and yes, in disagreement with) your own public posts. Your own participation in this process is, of course, delimited only by your own preferences.

        There is no need to personalize everything. But if I see misinformation, whatever the source, I am going to correct it.

    • surfer

      What is DERG? Demographic regional group? Delaware region G?

      What is M? Michigan? I guess the S is Stanford. [Oh, MIT, right?]

      For the poster writing about USNA, it is a good school. Brains will not be like MIT or Harvard, but the brand has some benefit, even when distinguished versus McKinsey-Harvard Coleman types. At least it is different! Also, any decent sized school will have some very bright kids. Probably a little broader demographic, given the fleet and state nominations and all, and still the people who value the free ride. But the top kids there are brilliant (there is always someone smarter than you in college, even at a state school).

      Key thing at USNA admissions: watch out for medical DQs. I won’t tell your boy to lie, but…eh….don’t bring up some athletic injuries or faintness or asthma. They will get really, really intense about very specialized medical tests if you bring something up. Same goes for pre-commissioning, especially if you want subs or planes.

      The first year can be pretty rough given the plebe system and not just in an inspirational football coach way. Can be a little depressing, not just like a gut check. Gotta soldier through it.

      He would probably have more fun at a real school. ROTC can pay a lot of the load too.

  • Nat

    Test test and more tests. I will never ever wrap my head around the whole SAT testing. You are pretty much telling the teachers who know these kids we don’t trust you and the only thing that will get you in after years of schooling is that one test??? My daughter is in American school in Spain. She is doing IB program. Sorry but doing IB is much better program then any one test. So we will skip US and go straight for Canada that has amazing universities. SAT should simply not exist any more.

    • educationrealist

      IB Has no more trust for teachers than anyone else. As indeed, it shouldn’t. IB has tests. Or haven’t you heard?

      And Canada’s universities are being overrun with Asians. Native Canadians aren’t too happy about it.

      • Lagertha

        Plus, the whole argument by Ed & others is: SATs are LOSING their credibility. And, hmmmm, Canadian Universities are no more “amazing” than American, British, German, Spanish, Swedish…

        The finest universities in Europe have a series of EXTREMELY difficult tests and writing portions in order to be admitted to them after any IB programs, including exclusive private schools which insist that their students are proficient in several European languages.

        So, yeah, it’s either from the score of the ACT (which is better); the SAT, and SAT subject tests; and, the one single AP test at the end of the school year – a course the student has CHOSEN to take, that American universities evaluate/determine their admits, initially.

        And, for “admits” @ Ivies: The “laundry list” of what gets one admitted to most selective U’s: personal essay to determine if you are interesting enough; extra-curricular activity; special talents that are nationally or regionally cited; athletic ability (must be at least, All-State in team sports and have a national ranking in individual sports); national results from national and international math tests; state/regional science awards; national and international chess championships; proficiency in multiple languages; extreme geographic location (like an Inuit from the arctic circle who wants to study wild-life management will be accepted to Berkeley, Stanford, Princeton before perfect scoring student from suburbia in New Jersey, for instance); having started their own business or charity; experiencing and overcoming extreme hardship….there’s more, but these come to mind.

        My point of course, being: test scores are used to filter out as many people who are not poor, a URM, or first-generation university student. It’s a huge process since every year applications are increasing because more Americans are applying, and many foreign students are flocking to the US and Canadian universities – is it because their own national universities are over-crowded or not held in high regard? The freshmen class at most U’s is not any bigger than 25 years ago…and, now, few campuses are expanding because of the lingering global financial/economic malaise.

        Last I looked, Yale had 33,900 applications this year for a class of 1300 roughly; and a popular public university had 74,000 applications for a class of 8,000 roughly…some sort of sorting WILL HAPPEN to figure out how to admit a class. Even with glowing transcripts from the most elite secondary schools or programs anywhere on the planet, a prospective student’s application (even home-schooled with no tests) is still going to go through an incredibly subjective, mystical process to determine if your child will receive “the golden ticket,” as we call it in my boyland.

        And, sadly, I know a lot about the mysterious admissions process because I am associated with a person who sits on the admissions board at one of the “ultimate” Ivies. And, I can assure anyone, that the process is completely subjective and unpredictable. Markers such as high test scores are part of the initial sorting process for all families/students who are not considered poor by US federal standards.

        So, yeah, tests, tests and more tests but if the scores are high, are now beneficial (even if I were to agree that there is way too much testing in secondary school) for students to get out of introductory courses (my son skipped his entire freshmen year) and “freshmen core” courses. Being able to graduate early, or spend a longer time abroad during junior year, or just working for a year in your field of study/in industry, is now hotly pursued by savvy students. One saves on tuition money which could be anywhere from $12,000 (lowest Out-Of -State tuition at public U) to &47,000 per year.

        And, even if parents can afford to pay “full-freight,” unless you are a multi-millionaire or a billionaire, private U’s lump your kid in with the majority of the competition who are just run-of-the-mill affluent. So, the ability to pay full tuition, but not have the deep pockets like a billionaire, doesn’t persuade admissions boards. Test results that are high puts the application into the next round of cuts.

    • Mark Roulo

      “You are pretty much telling the teachers who know these kids we don’t trust you and the only thing that will get you in after years of schooling is that one test…”

      Yes (well … not quite!). The colleges don’t trust the teachers because (a) different schools have different idea about what is an ‘A’, what is a ‘B’, etc and (b) folks like KaShawn Campbell sometimes have good grades and (c) you get lots of folks going off to college and enrolling in remedial math or English or both [ten years ago about 50% of the Cal State incoming freshmen needed at least one remedial class].

      The standardized tests don’t necessarily fix this, but at least provide *one* standardized data point. Grades from different schools/districts/states do not.

      • Lagertha

        hate to say this, but the Ivies & Stanford-likes are also hiring adjuncts to teach “remedial” courses: mainly writing and math: calc and even Algebra 2! Because the reality is, not all the students admitted have high test scores and high GPA’s. I knew lots of athletes, legacies and trustfunders back in the day, that were very mediocre academically, and I’m sure that’s still the case. Test scores are just an initial sorting process for a specific DERG (Demographic-Economic-Regional Group) but the ACT is harder to cheat on.

  • KD

    As always it’s amazing that something as obvious and open as Chinese cheating is so poorly understood in the US.

    Here’s an article from somebody selling student evaluation services in China. Some very interesting points which living here I know to be true of students. Most of school is memorization for test, so these kids aren’t exactly students, they’re more like TOEFL and SAT athletes.

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  • Russ Swansen

    I stumbled across you blog recently and have enjoyed the frank analysis. I am not in the education field, unless one counts paying for tuition for 2 college students and a high school student being “in the field.”

    Excuse my ignorance, but I thought the College Board owned both the SAT and the ACT. Is that incorrect? Is it only the SAT that is corrupt? Is the corruption only outside of the USA?

    • educationrealist

      No, the College Board owns the SAT and the Advanced Placement test, not the ACT, which is owned by the American College Test company, or something like that.

      Asian immigrants over here are doing a fair amount of cheating, but I doubt (hope) it’s anywhere near as corrupt. My sense is that there’s more cheating on the AP than the SAT, in the usual sense. However, the gaming that goes on (extensive test prep in which they memorize the tests without really understanding it) is going on here and overseas. I can’t link to it now, but if you check College Board’s Competitive Advantage (on this site) you can see more on that.

    • educationrealist

      Oh, and thanks for the kind words.

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  • Anon

    Let me give you some information you might be interested in having. I know the names of people who reportedly made the most money selling illegally leaked test materials to students for as much as $50,000 in South Korea. These are Benjamin Heissler of Imbue Academy and Joe Foster of Alto Education in the Gangnam district of Seoul.

    • Ben Heisler

      These preposterous rumors that I made $2.3 million in one year and leaked test materials for as much as $50,000 are rather amusing, it not outright laughable. It is true that I am a highly sought-after SAT instructor and arguably the best in my line of business. So it should surprise nobody that random individuals with disdain for my fame and rise to stardom would post such blatant lies.

      So here’s my message to Anon:

      You apparently know who I am and know where to find me. I’m the guy with the million dollar Benz doing your girlfriend or wife in the backseat.

      Yours truly,


      • educationrealist

        First, I have no idea whether the anon was correct or not.

        Second, the *actual* stories published in genuine Korean newspapers about the hijinks that actual SAT prep companies in Korea get up to makes it clear that no, his stories aren’t “amusing”. They might be incorrectly identifying you, of course, but the idea that such happenings are absurd is manifestly bogus. Your determination to portray them as such makes you not terribly credible.

        Third, any “highly sought after SAT instructor” in Korea ought to know how little that “achievement” counts amongst people who know better.

        Besides, if you’re that important, why on earth are you posting here?

      • Ben Heisler

        Sorry. I don’t know what hijinks you’re talking about, nor do I even know the world hijink itself. But here’s a word I do know Mr. Educationfascist: HIJACK. Yes, you and Valerie and Bob are opportunists of the worst kind, attempting to hijack the credibility and integrity of others by creating all sorts of false information and propagating lie after lie.

        “And oy, the faith Anna shows in her subjects. Cha is a “top-ranked math teacher” who “says” he earns a “cool $8 million last year.”

        Hah! This Korean “SAT” coach doesn’t even teach the SAT, but rather the Korean Soo-neung, which is an altogether different exam from the U.S. SAT. Yet, you conveniently forgot to mention this and just lumped the two together, thinking nobody would notice, huh? Much in the same way Schaeffer, Valerie and even Time made similarly outrageous and fabricated reports, thinking nobody would know that the June 2014 domestic exam is NOT the same exam as the international June 2014 exam.

        Of course, you probably have no idea what I’m talking about, because you’re not really knowledgeable in this field, are you? Nor do you really care, as long as you can create lies that YOU THINK nobody will notice and deceive the masses to further your own agenda, isn’t that right?

        Absolutely despicable.

      • educationrealist

        For a guy who makes a lot of money, you seem really bitter.

      • surfer

        I don’t know whether Heisler is a cheat or not, but if he acts ignorant of cheating in Korea, he is a liar.

    • Ben Heisler

      Bitter or not, I am quite amused that you will not acknowledge your egregious falsehood in propagating the story of “the millionaire Korean SAT coach-called-a-teacher” who don’t even teach the SAT to advance your own anti-testing agenda and racial prejudices. I mean, let’s be real, educationrealist, isn’t that what this is all about?

      • Ben Heisler

        Let us clarify what a fraud educationrealist really is.

        The Washington Post article to which he refers and attempts to use in an effort to discredit and attack SAT instructors in Korea is found here:

        “All of this combines to make South Korea’s equivalent of the SAT the most important event in a young person’s life.”

        If one reads through the article carefully, one can easily discern that this individual Cha, whom educationrealist disdainfully refers to as “the millionaire Korean SAT coach-called-a-teacher” is actually a math teacher who teaches the math portion of the Korean Soo-neung (a college entrance exam that Korean students take in Korea), not the U.S. SAT.

        “Cha says he’s been teaching for 20 years, but refuses to give his age and there’s no mention of the topic or school he attended for his PhD, or if he ever got one. But he’s got a really popular video, so he must be great!”

        Yet, educationrealist attempts to undermine this legitimate teacher’s credibility by questioning whether the teacher even has a PhD. Obviously, this entire blog is about allegations and rumors of cheating on the U.S. SAT exam, so any mention of Cha or how much he makes or what college he graduated from has absolutely no correlation to the topic at hand. Cha is, in no way, associated with the U.S. SAT test prep industry in Korea at all!

        But, of course, it’s obvious now that educationrealist knows this but used this story anyway to make it seem as if every “millionaire Korean SAT coach” is a cheater who makes fraudulent promotional videos.

        Quite deceptive, aren’t we?

      • educationrealist

        Oh, I see what you mean. I meant test prep in general. I’ll change that and make a note. However, yeah, I am calling his credibility into question. Regardless of what test he “coaches”, his refusal to document income, give his age, or provide the school where he got the PhD means either his or the reporter’s motives are questionable.

        But beyond that–dude, get a grip. You don’t even show up on google. Go find something better to do with your time.

      • Ben Heisler

        Or maybe we should give educationrealist the benefit of the doubt and say he made an honest mistake. But if he made such an egregious mistake and did so by viciously slandering an innocent teacher who made millions legitimately, how can we really believe anything else that this blogger says, no matter how knowledgeable and “well-informed” he seems.

        He says there are links to copies of the actual exams floating around in cyberspace, but of course, has not shown us any proof, other than some teenagers posting on College Confidential. He churns out all these fancy-sounding numbers about how many Asians are taking the SAT and the ACT, but of course, there are no links or references as to where he got this information.

  • Ed

    I believe what’s now in order is a fuller disclosure of what happened in South Korea vis-à-vis the recent cheating scandals.

    1. Leaked SAT questions were sold to Hagwons by so-called “test brokers” and subsequently used to teach students. They charged each student anywhere between $10,000 and $50,000 per test iteration.

    2. The DA investigated several hagwons and indicted eight for copyrights violation. Chief among them were Ben Heissler (and his wife) of Imbue Academy, who made approximately $2.3 million in two years selling leaked tests, and Joseph Foster and Justin Burske of Alto Education, who made a combined net profit of $1.21 million. Other culprits include Eugene Kim or the Answer Academy, Joseph Kang of The Blue Key, who netted similar profits.

    3. The College Board promised to cooperate with the Korean DA, but reneged on its promise when asked to active pursue charges and testfy in court.

    4. The trial for the 8 hagwons including Imbue and Alto was delayed indefinitely.

    Am I the only one who notices certain irony in the sequence of events?

    • educationrealist

      I can’t find any links on any of this. How do you know this? Where’s the press coverage?

      • Ed

        I am an SAT instructor myself and have worked in Korea for years. The info comes from my friend who’s a reporter and has been working on an exposé on this topic.

        Even so, I hardly doubt the info as this is what I hear about almost every day. My students and their parents talk about these hagwons all the time, not to mention other (self-respecting) teachers go ape shit when these names are brought up.

      • educationrealist

        I don’t doubt you. I want information on it. Is this something reported in Korean papers?

      • Ben Heisler

        Ed–Any teacher with any modicum of self-respect would not create a whirlwind of bogus and unsubstantiated rumors simply out of pure spite, misplaced rage and seething envy. The fact that you hardly doubt “the info” because that is what you hear about almost every day makes me wonder whether you would believe the world is coming to an end next year just because that’s what you hear from people around you all the time.

    • J. Foster

      Hi, I’m Joe Foster!

      While I think it would be lovely to be a millionaire, I’m afraid your information is incorrect on this one. In fact, I’m among the biggest boosters for SAT reform and for getting the word out about how test recycling enables the most egregious forms of cheating.

      I’d be more than happy to meet your reporter friend and give them as much direct access as they want to see how my education business runs and help get the word out to push for reform.

      As educators, my partners and I dislike cheaters. As folks running a business, we dislike unfair competition.

  • anonymousskimmer

    @Apollo, Re: explanation of the admit curves

    That makes a lot of sense (and recalls Tina Fey’s Admission where she scrapped acceptance of the kid going to Yale), especially in regard to available higher-level math and science tests mentioned (even the AIME has a serious degree of granularity above the SAT before hitting the USAMO level).

    • Apollo

      Yes, that’s true, and at least some HYPSMC applications (I am familiar with several but will decline to specify which) include a spot to write those scores. In truth, their utility for admissions is somewhat limited for the same reason that AP score utility is somewhat limited (it’s not universally available for comparisons–even some good students list that they took the test, but don’t list a score, even an AMC score if they’ve taken the AIME).

      “Contest” math is also something that can be prepped for to some extent, and the availability of effective preparation is more unevenly distributed among the US high school, so while the availability of a good score is a plus, its absence definitely isn’t a dealbreaker.

      But yeah, generally speaking USAMO participation (if everything else is solid) or the equivalent International Olypiads for physics and the other sciences are as close to a generally-specifiable “auto admit” at HYPSMC as you’re going to find. There are fewer such “auto admit” factors outside of math and science for generalists or even in other specific subjects, and those that are available are less likely than contest math to correlate specifically with chart-topping success (e.g. 800s) on other standardized tests (though they probably do correlate with GOOD scores).

  • MrMico

    Nice blog. Some random observations:

    1. I’d bet SAT fraud has been going on for 30+ years. Services to take exams being very common in many Long Island communities(and beyond) I’ve always suspected.

    2/ As someone who got 3 degrees (one of which is an Ivy), it was very obvious who scammed their way in & who didn’t. Case in point: I had (non-US)Asians in many projects/groups. 90% of them couldn’t write basic English. Believe what you want, but when groups of people miraculously get 99%tiles & yet literally cannot write a basic introductory paragraph in English, it’s comically obvious what’s happening…I’ve seen this with other ethnic groups too, it’s very obvious.

    3. I’d imagine with all the test preps, tutors, and outright test fraud, of the top 20% of scores, 75% of them are scammy on some level. The way I discovered this is simple: I always noticed I’m smarter than about 95% of people I met on a day to day basis. Yes, 1/20 are smarter and that’s OK. But not more than that….However, my standardized test scores would always be in the 75%tile range…I just knew there was a 20% ‘con’ factor in there…and low and behold, turns out this # is almost completely accurate.

    I know this isn’t PC, but it’s realty. Standardized test cheating is massive Internationally and domestically too.

    Buyer beware!

    • anonymousskimmer

      “This means that the lower the IQ of an individual, the less capable they are of appreciating and accurately appraising others’ IQ. Therefore individuals with a lower IQ are more likely to rate themselves as having a higher IQ than those around them. Conversely, people with a higher IQ, while better at appraising others’ IQ overall, are still likely to rate people of similar IQ as themselves as having higher IQs.”

      75%-ile is probably on the lower end of the Ivy League range. It’s thus quite possible that you are overestimating yourself relative to others – possibly due to cohort-specific effects.

      I’m not trying to be insulting. I just think that 4-in-5 cheating at the 75%ile and above level is unlikely.

      People at all intelligences will be profoundly ignorant about more things than they are educated about. They will also make stupid decisions and statements at times.

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  • surfer

    They have calculators on the SAT? The sorts of problems I remember, you didn’t need a calculator and calcs weren’t authorized either. This is beyond silly if they pushed the calcs in there to “use technology” (maybe adding some problems that need a calc as in AP calc) and now the kids are cheating with them. Just go back to the old test that worked fine and tell the kids no calcs, no phones and if need be, no watches.

  • surfer

    1. Who is Valerie Strauss? Which of the 3 factions is she in? I have just started reading the edublogosphere and she is new to me. And the WaPo has two(!) dedicated education writers (not just Jay)? That is pretty darned cool, no? Especially if the differ from each other.

    2. The Washington Monthly link was interesting, but I would like to know how many of the undergrads coming over here, go back. Are they really just coming over to punch their ticket with American prestige (like an Arab say) and then go back? Or is it more about getting in here and then grad school, H1B, immigration? Strange that the story did not even address this (even to disprove it).

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