If you are a high school junior and college bound, chances are that you’ve begun to think – and possibly stress – about taking either the SAT or ACT, as almost all undergraduate colleges and universities require applicants to take one of the two tests. Many students take both. The stakes are high and in the competitive environment of college admissions, many high school students and their families are willing to go to great lengths to achieve top scores on their college entrance exams.

With building pressure, incidents of cheating on college entrance exams have become frequent enough that across the board, testing organizations have implemented increasingly strict methods of test administration to keep cheating on test day – through text messaging and other electronic transmission of information, impersonators – at bay. Test day, however, is not the only place where students can gain an unfair advantage. Within the booming industry of standardized test preparation, the issue of pirated test questions has seeped into the commercial market, placing students, their test scores, and ultimately offers of college admission in jeopardy.

In preparing for a standardized test, there is no substitute for official practice tests and test prep companies often tout their database of sample test questions as an advantage of their respective programs. As an anxious potential college applicant, having access to the best set of practice questions might be a great way to take your test prep to the next level. However, caveat emptor: Be careful where you get those questions. Questions officially released from College Board and other testing organizations and legally used (either through consumer purchase or proper licensing by a test prep company) are fair game. Pirated questions are not.

Hopefully, an individual’s code of personal conduct would be enough to deter the unauthorized use of copyrighted test questions. If not, consider the following potential consequences: Recent events involving students who were caught using pirated test questions have put their standardized test scores under scrutiny and potentially cancellation. A recent case involves a commercial test prep company who allegedly released pirated “live” questions to its client base. Once under investigation, the company released its clients’ names to investigators with the hope of avoiding a lawsuit. The release of information may have taken some heat off the prep company, but the impact on the students and their college admissions (in hand!) is still being determined.

Before handing over hundreds or thousands of dollars to a test prep company, ask some initial questions to protect yourself. Does the company have a code of ethics? Where do their materials come from? Are the questions they use properly licensed and are they willing to attest to this information in writing? Do their instructors use only company proprietary materials or are they at liberty to rely on materials they bring in independently? We welcome you to call us if you have questions or concerns on this increasingly chaotic subject. All of our consultants are extremely knowledgeable about test prep options and frequently, our discussions with clients involve determining their test prep needs.

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