Have you been falsely accused of cheating on the SAT or ACT? What can you do if you're accused of cheating at the test center? What can you do if you're accused of cheating after you get your score? How can you fight it if they have evidence against you? Will you not get into any colleges? What are the best and worst case scenarios? I'll answer all of these questions below.
For starters, to assuage your fears, the College Board or ACT will not ban you from testing nor will they tell colleges that you cheated (even if you did in fact cheat). However, there are some repercussions, and I'll go into detail on those below.
If You Were Accused at the Test Center, What Can You Do?
When you were accused is an important step in the process. If you were accused at your testing location, were you allowed to finish your test? Or were you forced to leave in the middle? If you were not allowed to complete your test, your options might be somewhat limited. Either way, you have two options:
- Step #1: You can and should file a complaint with ACT, Inc. or the College Board.
- Step #2: You should try to find evidence to support your claim that you did not cheat. The College Board or ACT, Inc. is unlikely to believe your word over the word of your adult proctor or whoever accused you of cheating. If you have evidence, they'll be more likely to listen to you.
For evidence supporting your cause, ask any students who were in your exam room to give you a signed statement saying they did not notice any suspicious activity during the exam. Try to get the proctor to turn in you partially completed test (both your booklet with your scratch work and your scantron) to the ACT or College Board so they can check it compared to the test of whoever the Proctor claims you cheated off of. If they find very few matching answers, they are likely to believe you. If they do find a lot of matching answers, they may still believe you if your scratch work matches your answers.
If the cheating accusation stands, the worst that will happen is that you'll need to pay to retest. Additionally, if you had finished your test at the time you were accused at the test center, your scores will be canceled. You won't be banned from retesting, and colleges will not be told about your cheating.
However, if the evidence convinces the College Board or ACT, Inc. that you did not cheat, you'll be offered a free retest on another test date, and if you completed your test, your score would be validated. It's worth submitting the evidence to try to convince the College Board or ACT, Inc. that you didn't cheat so that you don't have to pay another $30 - $60 to retest.
If You Were Accused After Your Test Date, Why Were You Accused?
You were most likely accused because of a significant score increase. ACT, Inc. and the College Board automatically flag tests of students whose scores increased significantly within a 20 month period (for instance, a 6 point increase on the ACT or 500 point increase on the SAT).
Once they flag your test, they also typically compare it to the students who were seated nearest to you in your exam room who had the same test format (since there are usually several test formats in the room). In the letter, they will tell you if your score had an “unusually” high number of identical responses to that other student. NOTE: you usually only get one of these letters accusing you of cheating if you had an unusual number of matching answers.
It is also possible that you were accused without a significant score increase, but just because you had an "unusually" high number of identical responses to a student seated near you with the same test format.
What Are Your Options If You Get This Letter?
Typically, the letter offers the student a few options:
- Option #1: You can try to validate your score improvement by providing written information such as high school transcripts showing a high GPA or other high test scores.
- Option #2: You are offered a retest free of charge. If you get within 3 points of the “cheating” score on the ACT or within roughly 100 points on the SAT, they will change your “cheating” score into an official score. However, if you do not get within 3 points on the ACT or 100 points on the SAT of the "cheating" score, you give up your right to further argument.
- Option #3: You can cancel the test score and get a refund.
You also will be told that if you choose Option #1, if the College Board or ACT, Inc. rules against you, saying you still cheated after receiving all of the paperwork, you have a right to appeal through arbitration.
As I said at the beginning, you won't be banned from retesting, and colleges won't know that you were accused of cheating.
Out of the options above, I recommend Option #1 if you didn't cheat. Because even if after receiving all of the paperwork they maintain your guilt, you can still retest for free or appeal through arbitration.
What Can You Do to Improve Your Chances of Getting Your Scores Validated?
Submit all of the documentation you can that support your claim that you're a high achieving student. Also, submit any documents that may explain why your other score(s) were so low.
NOTE: Only submit documents if they help your cause. If your transcript is all B’s, and you got a 36 on the ACT, it will not help your cause. However, be aware that the Collage Board and ACT, Inc. will likely ask to see your transcript and PSAT score no matter what.
Here are the documents you should submit if they help validate your high academic achievement or if they help explain your previous lower score:
- PSAT Score
- AP or IB scores
- SAT Score (if you are contesting an ACT score)
- ACT Score (if you are contesting an SAT score)
- Signed statement from your proctor saying he or she did not observe any suspicious activity or anything that would indicate cheating.
- Signed signed statement from your SAT or ACT tutor or prep program saying they saw you improve significantly on your practice tests
- Ask the College Board and ACT to look at your test booklet scratch work and compare it to your scantron answers. (This will help prove you did the work yourself.)
- If you felt sick the day of your first test, consider submitting a doctor’s note saying you were sick the first time you took the test (which could have cause the lower score), or if you didn’t go to the doctor, a signed statement from your parents or anyone who can corroborate that you were sick.
If You Submit All of This Paperwork, What Are the Chances You'll Get to Keep Your Score?
The College Board and ACT don't discuss this publicly, but in my research, I found this information on the ACT: “It is estimated 2,500 students [each year] are flagged for cheating, and of that, perhaps a 1,000 end up having their scores canceled.” I'm sure the College Board’s numbers are similar since the approximately the same number of students take the SAT each year.
If You're Forced to Retest, What Can You Do to Prevent Being Accused Again?
While it will be hard to avoid it entirely, I would suggest that you try to show your work in your test booklet and avoid too many eraser marks. This way, you can show that you did the proper scratch work to answer the questions. Too many eraser marks may make the College Board or ACT, Inc. think that you copied your scratchwork off of another student’s booklet and that you didn't know the answer on your own. I know, kind of ridiculous, but let’s not give them a reason to ask questions again.
Overall, I would not stress too much about being accused again. If you earn the higher score a second time, I think it is highly unlikely they'll try to accuse you of cheating again. If you earn the score a second time, you've proven you deserved it.
Did You Actually Cheat? Here's What Will Happen and What You Can Do
Even if you did actually cheat, the College Board and ACT won't tell colleges you're a cheater or ban you from retesting.
If you're caught at the testing center, your test will be confiscated, and your score will be canceled if you finished your test. You'll be forced to take a paid retest. Do it and don't cheat this time!
If you're caught after your testing date (i.e. you're sent a letter in the mail), you'll have the same 3 options as I listed above for those accused of cheating after your test date. I'd recommend choosing option #2.
Retake the test and don't cheat this time. Since you did cheat the first time, you're not going to be able to get close to the cheating score. However, the free retest offered to students is not just to prove the original test was legitimate; it's also just a free retest you can take to have another shot at the test. If you don't get close to the original score, you still get to keep the new free retest score. Hopefully, with good preparation, you'll score high without cheating.
Summary: The Best and Worst Case Scenario
If you're accused of cheating on the SAT or ACT, don’t worry: your life is not over. You will not be banned from retesting, and colleges will not be told you cheated. You can still get into college! I repeat, the College Board and ACT don't tell colleges you are an accused cheater or tamper with your college application process in any other way.
The worst case scenario is that your score is canceled, and you have to pay to retest (which would likely only happen if you were accused of cheating at the test site). The more likely scenario is your score is canceled, and you have a free retest. Both of these scenarios are not ideal, but both are a lot better than being banned from testing and having colleges be told by the College Board or ACT that you're a cheater.
The best case scenario is that you submit your paperwork and your score is validated. According to my research, about 60% of students accused of cheating win their case!
Learn about other mistakes the College Board has made to make you feel better about the whole situation.
Need help with your college application? Learn how to write about extracurriculars on your college application and get ideas to help you start your essay.
Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points? We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:
Have friends who also need help with test prep? Share this article!
As an SAT/ACT tutor, Dora has guided many students to test prep success. She loves watching students succeed and is committed to helping you get there. Dora received a full-tuition merit based scholarship to University of Southern California. She graduated magna cum laude and scored in the 99th percentile on the ACT. She is also passionate about acting, writing, and photography.