SEVERAL hundred students in the United States who paid to join an elaborate cheating scheme will have their graduate exam results revoked and are almost sure to lose their university places - some at elite ivy league institutions.
Federal agents have arrested George Kobayashi, who is alleged to have masterminded the most extensive exam fraud in years.
Stanford von Mayrhauser, general counsel for the Princeton-based Educational Testing Service, said: "We are going to move with dispatch to cancel the scores of students that we have identified as having participated in this scheme."
There was no question, he said, that colleges concerned, who screen admissions partly on the basis of the test scores, "will move summarily to eject the students from their campuses".
Mr Kobayashi, aged 45, was arrested in Los Angeles after a year-long investigation into his American Test Centre, which advertised a "unique method" of prepping for graduate tests at a cost of $6,000 (Pounds 3,636).
The exams included the Graduate Management Admission Test, GMAT, designed for business school applicants, and the Graduate Record Exam, or GRE, used for a wide variety of masters and doctorate programmes. Mr Kobayashi also offered help with the Test of English as a Foreign Language, TEFL.
He allegedly hired a team of fast-thinking test-takers to sit the exam in New York City. They memorised questions and calculated the answers - candidates are not allowed to leave with a copy of the test sheet - and relayed the information to Los Angeles.
On the West Coast, the same test is administered three hours later because of the time difference. The answers to 150 questions were inscribed in code on pencils given to Mr Kobayashi's clients. In some cases, he also offered notice of essay questions, it was alleged.
In 1991, the Educational Testing Service uncovered a similar scheme involving the SAT test for undergraduates. At that time, the police did not respond to requests for help and the ETS brought a civil action to close it.
This time, however, authorities mounted a year-long investigation, culminating in an undercover sting operation that involved an agent witnessing a scam aimed at the GMAT test in October.
Mr Kobayashi was flown to New York to face fraud charges that could put him in jail for ten years. He operated his scheme for three years, and unluckily for students involved, apparently kept records of their names.
The TEFL test is a common requirement for foreign students. High scores on verbal and maths ability in the GMAT or GRE can boost the chances of admission.
Mr von Mayrhauser stressed that the fraud involved no more than a few hundred students among four and a half million taking the test annually. They went to a wide variety of institutions, including top colleges, he said.
"Our standard is whether we have substantial evidence to support our concern about their scores' validity," he said. "We don't have to prove the fact of cheating."