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Testing fraud exposed

GRE, GMAT, TOEFL cheating scam uncovered

By Fiona Havers

Time zones, fake names, and encrypted pencils were all at the heart of a cheating scam allegedly used by hundreds of students applying to graduate school.

George Kobayashi was arrested Sat., Oct. 26, for running a company that advertised a "unique" method of preparing students to take the Graduate Record Exam (GRE), Graduate Management TEST (GMAT), and the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). According to the U.S. Attorney's office, students who paid $6,000 to take advantage of this method flew to Los Angeles to take the exam. Expert test-takers hired by Kobayashi and using fake names would take the test in New York and then phone the answers to L.A., where, because of the three hour difference in time, the test would be just beginning. Kobayashi's employees would then quickly encode the answers on pencils and distribute them to the student test-takers who had been instructed beforehand on how to translate the code into the correct answers.

Kobayashi told students that they were guaranteed their desired score and would not have to pay if it fell short of their goal. An undercover federal agent, who attained his target score using Kobayashi's "method," said that, to insure payment, Kobayashi made him hand-write a letter stating, "I cheated on the October 30 GMAT. Please cancel my score." Kobayashi kept this letter, and said he would send it to Educational Testing Services if the student did not pay.

If convicted, Kobayashi could face up to 10 years in prison and a fine of more than $250,000. Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Godsey, who is in charge of the prosecution, declined to comment on the number of students involved in the case or their fate if they are caught. However, it appears from the complaint filed that there were several hundred, and they should be worried: Tom Ewing, a spokesman for the Educational Testing Service (ETS), said that the names of students that had used the service had all been registered by Kobayashi and were in records seized by law enforcement officers.

Time zone cheating is certainly not new. A similar scam involving students cheating on the SAT was uncovered in 1991 and, according to Seppi Basili, director of pre-college programs at the Kaplan Educational Center, this method "is a very old form of cheating.... It is really shocking that it continues, because it is a very easy thing to fix." Basili said that ETS could stagger test hours so that they would be administered nation-wide at the same time, or jumble the answer choice patterns so that relaying answers would be more difficult.

Ewing said that ETS is constantly changing test security, but he said for security reasons he was not at liberty to say what new measures they are planning to use in response to this particular attempt to outwit ETS. Ewing also said that ETS administers between eight and nine million tests per year. He estimates that of those, people cheat on less than one tenth of one percent of the tests.

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