Grilling GMAC on the GMAT Cheating Scandal
Recent MBA students and applicants have had lots of questions since the Graduate Management Admission Council won a lawsuit against Scoretop.com (BusinessWeek.com, 7/1/08), a Web site that was allegedly providing live General Management Admission Test questions to VIP subscribers. The students want to know why GMAC never warned them that this service was against the rules. They also want to know whose scores will be canceled and what their ultimate punishment will be (BusinessWeek.com, 7/13/08)>.
Peg Jöbst, senior vice-president of GMAC, recently responded to such questions from the public and from BusinessWeek reporter Francesca Di Meglio during a live chat event. Here are edited excerpts from their conversation:
FrancescaBW: Peg, I thought you could first give us a brief overview of what has happened and the role GMAC is playing in this cheating scandal.
GMACPegJ: Certainly, Francesca. The Graduate Management Admission Council was awarded a $2.35 million judgment by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in a copyright infringement case against the operator of Scoretop.com, a U.S.-based Web site that sold access to questions used on the GMAT exam. GMAC seized the site's domain name on June 20, shut down the site, and obtained a hard drive containing subscriber information.
GMAC goes after those who try to cheat on the GMAT exam, because the council has an ethical responsibility to business schools and students to protect the integrity of the application process. GMAC sued Lei Shi and others who operated Scoretop.com, which offered forums where visitors could share information about the GMAT. The site promoted VIP memberships—$30 for 30 days of access—in which users were encouraged to read and post "JJs," for "jungle juice," the Web site's jargon for live GMAT questions.
FrancescaBW: What can subscribers and users of Scoretop expect to happen next?
GMACPegJ: GMAC is limiting its investigation to those individuals who a) posted GMAT questions they saw on their GMAT exam, and b) posted a message on Scoretop confirming that they saw items from the Scoretop Web site on their GMAT exam. In these instances, GMAC will cancel GMAT scores and notify schools to which those scores were sent.
saurabh_iiita: I have registered as a VIP member, but I never used or saw live questions, etc. What are the implications for me?
GMACPegJ: Based on what you have described, you would not fall into the category of those individuals we are investigating.
sarithababu: Do you have any comments about the pre-September 2006 version of the site and its users, vs. post-September 2006?
GMACPegJ: Our investigation criteria are not tied to versions of the site.
sarithababu: I got that dreaded e-mail. I was a VIP member. I discussed a few questions with no knowledge (still) of whether I am in violation. I am starting school this fall. I have left my job and planned my move. Should I put everything on hold and wait for your verdict on my case? Or go through the ordeal hoping GMAC will clear my name? In a way. it is none of GMAC's business. but this is what is on the minds of numerous students caught up in this mess, so if you can humanely provide response to this, it will be [appreciated].
GMACPegJ: GMAC is limiting its investigation to those individuals who a) posted GMAT questions they saw on their GMAT exam, and b) posted a message on Scoretop confirming that they saw items from the Scoretop Web site on their GMAT exam.
We realize candidates take the process of admissions and preparation for the GMAT very seriously. It is hard work.
If you are convinced that you do not fall into the above described categories, you should proceed with your plans.
krajendr: I used a Scoretop VIP subscription, but I never gave or obtained any real, live GMAT questions. Since I got a nonsatisfactory score on my first attempt, I am planning to take GMAT again. Can you please let me know if this is feasible?
GMACPegJ: At this point, you should proceed with your plans to retake the GMAT.
ananth: If a VIP user has only browsed (and perhaps also accessed questions, not knowing that they were live) but has not posted or discussed a single question, are you likely to cancel his score?
GMACPegJ: Not likely, as this does not fall into the categories of investigation discussed earlier.
ananth: Could you give us an approximate time frame when the investigation will likely be completed?
GMACPegJ: We are working as quickly as possible in our investigation. The investigation must be thorough, as we do not take lightly the matter of canceling scores.
dj6501: Would a student be given a chance to explain his or her situation to GMAC before his or her scores are canceled and reported to the school?
GMACPegJ: Test takers have a right to appeal any decision GMAC makes. Test takers will be notified in writing if GMAC is taking action and will have a period of time to appeal the decision.
prash29: I was a VIP member of Scoretop for the month of July 2007. When I read its disclaimer, it was clearly stated that the material is Scoretop's own. I felt there was nothing wrong or illegal. So I took on the membership. Even GMAC did not warn anyone of this site anywhere. I am not aware of JJs or live questions anytime. I never posted anything. I just viewed the material. Please let me know what are the chances that my scores will get canceled?
GMACPegJ: Based on the information you have provided, you are not likely to be part of our investigation.
zurich: Is there any contact person at GMAC to ask about the investigation regarding specific users of Scoretop?
GMACPegJ: A notification of GMAC's decision to cancel a score will include contact information.
mba008: I joined ScoreTop VIP Membership before my second attempt at GMAT. Can you confirm that my first score (before I joined Scoretop VIP membership) will not have any impact, regardless of the investigation results in my case? I have worked so hard and don't want to lose everything for the Scoretop owner's mistakes.
GMACPegJ: Please read the criteria of our investigation described above. If you do not fall into either of the categories mentioned, you should proceed with your plans. The Internet is fraught with land mines, and Scoretop is an example of such. We will continue to pursue the land mines and caution test takers to avoid Web sites that claim to have materials that are active GMAT questions.
dj6501: As per previous reports in BW, around 6,000-plus VIP members were identified. Of these people, approximately how many student scores could be canceled?
GMACPegJ: Until our investigation is complete, it is too soon to speculate on the number of scores affected. We take the cancellation of test scores very seriously.
Rohit_b_20032003: As I read the court's judgment, I understand that GMAC could not prove truly that Scoretop truly threatened the sanctity of the exam. For example, the court says that the plaintiff filed its complaints nearly nine months after the FBI's criminal investigation became public. That delay undercuts the plaintiff's argument that the defendant poses an imminent threat to the integrity of the GMAT exam. Shall we assume that GMAC itself was slow in taking action against Scoretop?
GMACPegJ: GMAC worked with the FBI for several years documenting the evidence necessary to take action. During that time, Lei Shi was warned repeatedly to stop posting live questions to the site.
Ultimately, while the FBI continues its investigation, GMAC decided to try to shut down the site via a civil suit, which was filed in June 2007. GMAC announced the ruling on June 20, 2008, as soon as it gained control of the Scoretop.com domain and hard drive.
fundoo_pc: Are you going to inform the people who do not fall under the criteria you mentioned that they are no longer being investigated?
GMACPegJ: Once we have completed our investigation and taken action against those individuals who violated GMAT policy, as described earlier, we will post a notification on mba.com that our investigation is complete.
bw_user: Did GMAC cancel any score so far as part of the investigation? If so, will the affected user be notified as well?
GMACPegJ: Since we began analyzing the Scoretop hard drive, we have not as yet canceled any GMAT scores.
Hunt5man: As someone who did my MBA a while back, I want to commend GMAC for taking action on Scoretop. However, I'm told that there still exist several Web sites operating in non-English languages (Chinese, Korean, etc.) where real GMAT questions are being discussed even today. What does GMAC plan to do about them?
GMACPegJ: GMAC continues to monitor sites for possible violations of its intellectual property and will continue to investigate all Web sites that claim to post GMAT questions.
chat_usa_co: Are the criteria for exclusion from your investigation final, or are there chances that GMAC may come back and open the investigation for all 6,000 members at a later date?
GMACPegJ: That is extremely unlikely.
Jamezz: As Lei Shi has reportedly fled to China, is GMAC planning to do something to stop him? He might resume his activities from China and threaten the future of many other innocent people through other sites like Scoretop.
GMACPegJ: The FBI investigation is ongoing.
Jamezz: If a student plans to buy GMAT material or subscribe to a tutoring service, is there a way to get full confidence that the material is 100% ethical? Is GMAC going to help students in doubt? If so, how?
GMACPegJ: GMAC does not endorse any specific Web sites or study materials for use in preparation for the GMAT, other than those operated directly by GMAC. GMATPrep software, available through the mba.com site, simulates the exam with retired questions, free of charge.
However, you can follow some general guidelines to help you avoid violating copyright law or GMAC's policies and procedures. Do not purchase, request, or share materials that claim to be "real" or "live" GMAT questions in any form. In addition, be wary if you see discussion threads in which test content is shared and real or "live" questions are confirmed as accessible via the site or any participant(s) of the site (online or offline). Do not share any test content with anyone else after you have taken the test.
Ralph4000: If a candidate were found to fit into one of those categories, and the score was canceled, would the student or prospective student be allowed to retake the GMAT?
GMACPegJ: Not likely.
333222111: How will GMAC be able to prove that only one person under a certain VIP screen name logged into Scoretop? There could be several people logging in and sharing the subscription under the same screen name, although only one person paid for the subscription. How about paying with a credit card for someone else? Wouldn't these issues make canceling someone's score unethical?
GMACPegJ: I have described our criteria for investigation. We have the hard drive from Scoretop and a strong and highly qualified forensic team of experts conducting our investigation.
FrancescaBW: Please let us know if you have any parting words for the audience.
GMACPegJ: We have an ethical responsibility to schools and test takers to investigate those individuals who threaten the integrity of the GMAT and the application process. Business schools place a very high value on ethical behavior. GMAC's responsibility to schools and test takers is to protect the integrity of the application process and the GMAT exam.
The great challenge that every GMAT candidate has is to distinguish between those test preparation organizations that abide by the rules and those that do not—between the test preparation that teaches you how to solve problems and that which promises you an unfair advantage.
The field that MBA aspirants run through is fraught with land mines. Caveat tester.