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  Preparing for the GMAT: Legal Issues, Part 1

Posted by ian on Fri 12 Sep 08 at 3:55am

Preparing for the GMAT: Legal Issues

The GMAT is a computer-based test, and each individual GMAT test is constructed from questions drawn from a large question pool. Each month, the pool of questions used for that month's tests is updated, drawing on a much larger database of questions. The size of the question pool and the question database are GMAC trade secrets, although those advertising illegal GMAT materials have suggested on internet forums that each month, a pool of 1200 questions is used, drawn from a master database of between 40,000 and 60,000 questions. Only someone from GMAC could confirm whether these numbers are accurate.

Still, because the test draws on a finite pool of questions, if a test-taker knows many of the pool questions in advance, he or she will have a high likelihood of seeing familiar questions on the exam, and therefore an advantage on the test. Because of this, everyone taking a GMAT test must agrees to strict non-disclosure provisions before being permitted to begin their examination. It is a violation of this agreement to disclose, in any form, any question seen on the test. GMAT questions are also copyrighted by GMAC, and their reproduction and distribution is a violation of copyright law. The GMAT Information Bulletin says the following:

"Under no circumstances may any part of the test content viewed during a test administration be removed, reproduced, and/or disclosed in any form by any means [...] at any time [...] Any unauthorized access, reproduction, distribution or disclosure of GMAT (r) test questions [...] is a violation of US and international intellectual property laws and treaties and of your confidentiality obligations. We will pursue all available remedies [...] which may include prosecution to the maximum extent possible under such laws and may result in severe civil and criminal penalties."

Despite this, it is widely known in test prep circles that 'live' GMAT questions have been available from certain disreputable websites. In recent years, the most infamous of these sites was ScoreTop, which sold memberships to its 'VIP' forum. On this forum, subscribers were encouraged by moderators to post details of the questions they had seen on their real GMAT test; these questions were then compiled to make documents known as 'JJs', which were updated monthly. Those paying a subscription could view these compilations of active GMAT questions, and many ScoreTop subscribers reported seeing several familiar questions on their real GMAT exams.

The FBI began a criminal investigation into ScoreTop's activities three years ago, and GMAC initiated a civil suit last year. In the end, GMAC was awarded $2.3m in damages, the rights to the ScoreTop domain, and other injunctive relief.

Viewing 'live' GMAT questions before taking a GMAT is also proscribed by GMAC. In their note on the ScoreTop page:

"If you are caught disclosing, accessing, or using “real” GMAT® questions:
• Your GMAT® scores will be cancelled.
• You will not be allowed to take the GMAT® exam again.
• Business schools will be notified.
• You may be subject to a civil lawsuit or criminal prosecution."

The lawsuit and its fallout have created a firestorm of discussion in GMAT circles. Court documents indicate that GMAC cancelled one test-taker's scores for using ScoreTop materials, and representatives from GMAC discussed, in recent interviews with BusinessWeek, the possibility of cancelling the scores of at least some of ScoreTop's subscribers. GMAC obtained ScoreTop's PayPal account records during their legal proceedings, from which GMAC was able to identify six thousand ScoreTop subscribers. Those identified received letters outlining possible action that GMAC might take, including "score cancellation, prohibition from testing again, notification to schools, and, in some instances, more formal legal remedies".

Understandably, GMAC limited its investigation to those subscribers who could be proven to have knowingly disclosed or accessed live questions. As things stand currently, 84 people have had their scores cancelled, 72 for accessing live questions in advance of their test, and 12 for disclosing live GMAT questions on internet discussion forums. Those who disclosed live questions have been banned from taking the GMAT for three years.

The lesson is simple: do not use any materials when preparing for the GMAT that claim to be 'real' or 'live' GMAT materials. Most GMAT forums on the internet are carefully monitored by moderators and abide strictly by GMAC's nondisclosure requirements, but if in doubt, research any forums you subscribe to, especially those that require a subscription fee. Be sure the companies you buy from are legitimate test preparation companies. Otherwise, all of your preparation may be for nothing- your scores may be cancelled, and you may be barred from taking the GMAT, and thus end up unable to apply to any business school that requires the test.



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