Officials in Seoul have launched a probe into South Korean “cram schools” over allegations they had illegally obtained questions for US college entrance exams and provided them to students.

A number of private academies came under scrutiny for allegedly circulating questions to students ahead of the SAT test, which led to a nationwide cancellation of the exams earlier this month.

“The moral hazard prevalent among some SAT prep schools has reached a serious level,” the Seoul education office said in a statement, criticizing school operators for “tarnishing the national reputation and harming innocent applicants”.

Those test-prep schools discovered to have leaked questions will face closures as well as special tax audits, AFP reports. Schools owners will also be banned from operating new schools for a certain period.

The scandal rocked the education-obsessed nation, where the SATs are considered one of the most crucial stepping stones to getting a high quality education.

“The incident reveals the dark side of our education culture that has no qualms about cheating even at an international level,” the Kookmin Daily said, adding it was a “national shame”.