You never dreamed that it would happen to you – but then you get a letter accusing you of cheating on the SAT or ACT, and that your scores are most likely invalid.
It's a difficult situation, but all is not necessarily lost. College Confidential sat down with Richard Asselta, an education lawyer at Asselta Law, P.A., to get his expert advice on what to do if you find yourself dealing with this challenging situation.
College Confidential: What can a student do if, on the day of the test, he or she is accused of cheating on the SAT or ACT? What are the options?
Richard Asselta: If a proctor accuses a student of cheating during the SAT or ACT, the proctor will confiscate the test and dismiss the student from the testing room. The test taker should get the name of the proctor, politely ask why they are being dismissed from testing, and then leave the testing facility. The student should also take notes and write down everything that happened, including where they were sitting, what time the proctor approached them and the names of anyone else in the room the student might have known. This information could prove useful later.
If you were falsely accused of cheating, you can contact the College Board or ACT and report the incident immediately. Additionally, if you think someone was cheating off of your test, you should report that to the proctor, or call the incident in after you leave the exam room.
If you are accused of cheating on test day, College Board and ACT may refuse to score the test or cancel the score. The test taker may also be banned from taking the SAT or ACT in the future, depending on the nature of the offense.
CC: What are the options if a student receives a letter after the test date saying that he or she has been accused of impropriety on the SAT or ACT?
RA: If a test taker receives notification that their score is under review, they will have three options: Choose to voluntarily cancel their score, retake the test and score within a similar range as the score in question or submit evidence to substantiate their current score.
CC: Are there differences in the way that the College Board and the ACT deal with possible cases of impropriety?
RA: The ways that College Board and ACT handle cheating are similar. If a student receives notice that his or her score is under review, the College Board or ACT will send out a letter that outlines the options and the next steps to be taken in the process.
CC: How can a student prove his or her innocence?
RA: When parents and students begin planning and preparing for the SAT or ACT, it is important to document and maintain as many records of your preparation as possible. That includes keeping these documents well after the student receives his or her scores. If a student is accused of cheating, it could be because the score improvement was too significant. If a student can show the work and preparation he or she did, it helps in justifying the new scores.
CC: Will your target colleges be informed that you are accused of cheating? Will your scores be automatically canceled?
RA: Colleges are not automatically notified that you were accused of test misconduct. They would just receive a notification that the score was canceled, if that ultimately occurs. If a college inquires why your score was canceled, the test taker must fill out a consent form for the SAT or ACT to the release information regarding the score investigation.
CC: What is the procedure for making an appeal?
RA: You need to notify College Board or ACT that you are choosing the appeal option. You should additionally request any evidence that is being used to question the validity of your score. This may include:
- Seating charts
- Testing booklets (both yours and whoever else they believe cheated)
- Answer sheets (both yours and whoever else they believe cheated)
- Proctor statements
- Student statements
- Statistical analysis report that indicates wrong to right answer changes
- Reports that indicate answer sheet similarities between test takers
CC: Do you need to hire a lawyer? If so, how do you find one who can help with this type of case?
RA: While a lawyer is not a requirement in order to file an appeal, I strongly recommend working with one, as you only get one opportunity to appeal. It is best to find an attorney who has specific experience handling SAT and ACT appeals. Not many attorneys focus on these types of education issues. If an attorney who specializes in these types of issues cannot be found, then an appellate attorney is the next best type of attorney to contact.
CC: How long does the appeal process take? Could it interfere with your ability to meet college and scholarship deadlines for test score submission?
RA: There is no timeframe for when the College Board or ACT must decide the appeal. However, my experience is that the decision is normally made within a few weeks. This can interfere with scholarship and college application deadlines. The faster you submit the appeal and substantiating documents, the quicker a decision may be rendered.
CC: What if your appeal is rejected? What are your options then?
RA: If your appeal is rejected, you may go to arbitration, which is a process where an arbitrator -- a neutral third-party, as opposed to a judge or a jury in a courtroom -- is used to settle a dispute. This can be a long process, and the testing agreement that the student signs will limit the issues that can be raised at arbitration. I often advise my clients to retest if they are not successful on appeal. I understand the amount of preparation that goes into achieving a high score on the ACT or SAT. However, if scholarship and admission deadlines are looming, it is best for a student to retest.
CC: Should you always agree to retake the test if you are accused of cheating?
RA: Every situation is different, but generally if a student is not successful in submitting evidence to substantiate their score, agreeing to retest gives the student the best chance at maintaining their general scores. This is because the arbitration process is very limiting as far as issues that a student can present and argue. SAT and ACT allow students to retest, even if accused of cheating. If a student's score is canceled, I generally believe that they should retest.