ON HIS VERY FIRST TRY HE SCORED A 790 ON THE GMAT
The first time he sat for the GMAT in 1997, at the age of 27, he wanted to get his MBA. Out of the gate, Xu scored a 790, just ten points shy of a perfect 800 score. He ended up going to New York’s Baruch College on a full ride scholarship. But something else happened after he sat for the test the first time, something exceeding rare in a culture that generally views a standardized test as a modern form of torture: Xu fell profoundly in love with the test. Seriously.
“I became addicted,” he now says. “I was like a drug addict. I had to take the test or it would drive me crazy. I could not resist the temptation. It was so exciting in the same way that young people play video games and become addicted. They don’t eat. They don’t sleep. I had a high-level addiction. The GMAT is beautifully designed. It’s like art. You see something so beautiful you like it. If you are a very intelligent person, you can see the beauty in every question. The GMAT is one of the best-designed examinations in the world.”
The first time he ever took a test for someone else was in 1998, he says. “A friend came to me and said, ‘I heard you scored 790. Please take the test for me because I want to go to business school.’” Xu did it—and loved it.
TAKING A TEST FOR HIM WAS LIKE HAVING ‘A CUP OF COFFEE’
He had excelled in math during his last year in elementary school in China, so much so that the teacher would use his examination papers to teach other students. It got to the point where his classmates begged him to finish his homework more quickly so they could borrow it and have more time to copy from his booklet. “My classmates began to copy the answers to the difficult questions for the whole afternoon,” he remembers.
At the height of the GMAT scam, Xu drove to Florida on a two-week vacation, stopping along the way to take exams at different test centers for other people. He would take the GMAT and the GRE as well as the TOEFL exam used to test for one’s ability to use and understand English at the university level. In 14 days, he excitedly recalls, he sat for 17 different exams. In the morning, he might take a TOEFL test for someone and in the afternoon a GMAT or a GRE. “I took the TOEFL test like it was a cup of coffee,” he says matter-of-factly. “And then the GMAT in the afternoon which was like a dinner.”
He apparently was not beneath prepping for the exam, either, because when he had been videotaped taking the test under his own name in Columbia, MD., not far from the headquarters of the organization that oversees the GMAT. David Wilson, then president of the Graduate Management Admission Council, said that Xu had used velcro to strap a small camera under his desk at the test center to capture the questions on the text.
In its indictment of Xu, the government charged that he and his friends would impersonate prospective students and take the exam for between $3,000 and $5,000 a pop. Xu would have the test results mailed to his home, replace the photos he had used to get into the test center with the ones of the students who hired him.Then, he would mail back the altered reported to the schools in a way that looked as if they came directly from Educational Testing Service, which then administered the GMAT.
HE NEVER SCORED BELOW A 730 ON THE TEST
His test-taking prowess was uncanny. In the hundreds of times he took the exam, Xu says, he never scored below 730. And it didn’t occur to him at the time that he was doing anything especially wrong. “When I took the test I thought it won’t be a big deal because I would help my friends who wanted to go back to school to study, to learn more knowledge. If you read the indictment, the description of me is very bad. It’s like I was a demon. That is not true. For many people who wanted to go back to school to study, I charged nothing. I did it for free. But after I got arrested, I realized it is a big deal.”
When the police came to his Bronx apartment to arrest him in 2003, he was visiting a friend in Massachusetts. His wife called with the news, saying the police were holding her “hostage” until he turned himself in. “I was not shocked because I saw it coming,” he says. “I should say that was my mistake. I should have stopped doing it a long time ago, but I realized I couldn’t stop. My friends around me refused to let me stop. When you are on the wrong track, it depends on your environment and the people around you.”
There were consequences for lots more people. Educational Testing Service, when then administered the test, cancelled the scores of about 160 suspected cheaters but failed to inform the schools why the tests were being rescinded, apparently out of fear of liability. David Wilson, then president of the Graduate Management Admission Council, felt strongly that the schools deserved the full story.
“I personally called the deans for every school to which the scores went and said these scores are being cancelled,” recalls Wilson.”I told them, ‘You will get a standard ETS letter but I want you to know why the score was cancelled.’ I explained how we caught them. One dean said, ‘That is fascinating. We are just now in our boot camp and we can’t figure why how this one guy who scored well on the test is struggling so much on the easy stuff. Another guy was doing a summer internship on ethics for the dean at a school.”
Xu immediately was put behind bars, and his time in jail was understandably difficult. Xu says he did time at Rikers Island but was often transferred in and out of several prisons. “There was lots of sadness,” he remembers. “Sometimes, I felt despair.” When possible, he spent time reading books, including the writings of German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. His wife stuck with him throughout the ordeal.