A Tale of a Dinosaur and an Acorn: Did CollegeBoard Try to Bait AP Students into Cheating?

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Madeline Chia

(Image/Madeline Chia '21)

Yishi Wang, Online Staff Writer

COVID-19 is undoubtedly a significant medical and social crisis, but, perhaps equally important to some high school students, it is also an academic crisis. While social distancing guidelines are absolutely justified and should be strictly followed by everyone, there is no denying that education during this special period has been quite different and, frankly, less desirable. The nature of online school makes it extremely difficult to hold individuals accountable for their work—let’s face it, students can cheat on anything right now if they choose to violate their honor. 

This is a difficult issue for schools, but comparably, organizations that hold standardized testing (Collegeboard being the most relevant example  for American high schoolers) have a much more critical relationship with academic dishonesty, specifically in their responsibility to stop such behavior. 

Millions of students have been learning different AP curriculums and preparing for their perspective tests over the past academic year. Of course, CollegeBoard would want to administer fair and equal assessments to test students and evaluate them on a scale of 5. Normally, this isn’t an issue, aside from sparse complaints on specific tests’ unexpected difficulty levels. However, social distancing means that CollegeBoard could no longer use its usual model for the 2020 AP exams. They were faced with two choices: either cancel  AP exams and potentially receive huge criticism or administer  AP exams online and potentially receive huge criticism. It was  a lose-lose situation, and they chose the latter,electing to develop a new set of 45-minute tests. 

Knowing that widespread  cheating on the tests would not only damage their reputation but also cause irreversible harm to students, colleges, and their business alike, CollegeBoard tried hard to ensure  that no one could  gain any unfair advantages. So they redefined the definition of “cheating,” and may I add, they were pretty generous—tests were made open book, open note, and open internet. By granting everyone advantages, no one would really have the edge on anyone else. Problem solved, right? 

Well, not exactly. While the measures it took did indeed rule out a lot of traditional cheating methods , CollegeBoard could not eliminate  the possibility that some individuals may attempt to collaborate or have someone more qualified take the test for them. 

CollegeBoard did what it could. It made it very clear to the AP community that any attempt of cheating through collaboration would be heavily punished—AP scores canceled, high school and colleges notified, and a prohibition from taking any CollegeBoard-administered exam ever again. These are some very undesirable consequences, but how could CollegeBoard make sure that no one dared to challenge the establishment? 

So it turned to Reddit and connected with the young AP community. On May 10,  just days before AP exams were held, subreddit r/APTests2020 was created. The sole moderator of the subreddit is u/Dinosauce313, a new user who joined Reddit right around the time when CollegeBoard announced online APs. Then, Dinosauce313 posted the same thread about many different AP subjects in which they blatantly encouraged students to communicate during their exams and cheat. Hmm, fishy, yeah? The big brain Reddit users thought so too. They quickly concluded that u/Dinosauce313 was a CollegeBoard worker and that the posts on r/APTests2020 were CollegeBoard’s attempts to bait those already considering cheating. Consequently, Redditors fought back, littering the site with anti-CollegeBoard paragraphs and gruesome images. Another victory against a manipulative company, right? 

No, not quite. The problem is that no one can prove that u/Dinosauce313 is indeed affiliated with CollegeBoard. For all we know, it’s entirely possible that Dinosauce313 is just a Redditor who decided to smear CollegeBoard or prank AP students for some cheap laughs.. 

I asked some AP teachers and students at PDS if they believed that CollegeBoard tried to bait students with u/Dinosauce313. As always, there is a wide range of opinions. 

Mr. Asch, who teaches AP Calculus BC, thought that “[the Dinosauce313 situation] might be worth investigating but I don’t believe in accusing without proof.”

Ms. Santangelo, who teaches AP Comparative Government, said that “I would find it hard to believe that the College Board would be trolling Reddit to bait cheaters, in part because I suspect CB employees are focusing on all the nuances of this year’s test-taking format.” 

Dr. Bethoney, who teaches AP Biology, expressed that “I do not believe that CollegeBoard  employed this tactic. There is no evidence that this was the case. This seems almost beneath them as one of the techniques that they employed to ensure academic integrity.  I would like to think that this is/are some other person(s) trying to catch students who planned to cheat.”

Mr. Mayer, who teaches AP Physics, stated that “[CollegeBoard] said they were going to use many different means to accomplish [fairness and equity]. Would it surprise me if they did [the u/Dinosauce313 posts]? Not particularly. They were saying a few weeks before the exam that they had already caught a purported cheating ring. I shared that with my students, not that I expected them to have anything to do with it, but to warn them that the College Board was looking. So, if the dinosauce313 incident was, in fact, the College Board, I took the bait and put it in my students’ heads. I’ll let you all decide whether the end justified the means. When push came to shove, I trusted my students to do the right thing.”

Junior Nikita Bhardwaj reasoned that “because CollegeBoard didn’t shut down Dinosauce313’s account even after being told it existed, I think it’s probably CollegeBoard baiting kids.” 

Junior Jessie Lin pointed out that “CollegeBoard did announce that searching the web could be unhelpful and lead to purposefully placed wrong answers. In that case, who’s to say that they wouldn’t also try to bait students? The timing of when the account was created is eerily suspicious. The account itself is followed by CollegeBoard. Sure, you could say that maybe CollegeBoard was actually monitoring a real account to catch others, but why would they bust the other cheating ring so quickly then? Unless they were lying about that too? Plus, the syntax of the account’s posts was nothing like how a teenager would speak; even if it wasn’t CollegeBoard, it surely isn’t an actual AP test taker either.

Senior Joe Hudicka shared that “yes I think [CollegeBoard] tried to bait the students because they said they would. I’m not surprised that they would: this year’s AP test was the biggest for their company. If it flopped, then it could’ve been the nail in the coffin for colleges to rid the need for tests like the SAT in applications, hence why [CollegeBoard] did so much to limit cheating.”

Senior Ari Nagelberg remarked that “A common theme that I have noticed regarding AP exams is that the College Board is committed to making fair questions that are specifically meant to be straightforward and not trick students. So, although the situation is very fishy, I do not believe the College Board would fundamentally change their philosophy and start trying to trick students now, especially regarding the times we are living through.”

In the end, we may never know for sure if CollegeBoard did try to bait AP students or not. But does that matter? CollegeBoard was dealt a horrible hand, and they tried to salvage the situation. Even if Dinosauce313 was CollegeBoard’s attempt to detect those who intended to cheat, their intention—make the test as fair as possible—was good, though the method might have been a bit ridiculous.  

That applies to the entire AP situation this year. CollegeBoard tried their best to create a new system completely from scratch. While the product is very faulty (how is a 45 minute test supposed to accurately assess one school year of material? Plus the technical difficulties that prevented students from submitting their responses, which CollegeBoard is being sued over), kudos to them for actually trying. 

There is a lot of hate toward CollegeBoard on various social media platforms. This is reasonable to a certain extent—reviewing for and taking a test during quarantine isn’t efficient or appealing—but what’s most important is that everyone, including CollegeBoard, is trying to make as much sense out of it as possible. 

For now, unfortunately, u/Dinosauce313 and their normie memes shall remain a mystery.

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