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Avoid Test Score Cancellation: Know Your Rights and Responsibilities

It’s a nightmare scenario: You diligently prepared for the ACT/SAT/AP exam, you showed up on time, you took the test, you waited for your scores…and then you were notified that your scores were invalidated. All that time and effort went down the drain, and now you’ll have to retake the test with little preparation and on a tight timeline.

The odds are good that this won’t happen to you, but score cancellation is certainly not unheard of. Almost every year, there is at least one news story about groups of students whose scores were cancelled, often through no fault of their own. For example, in 2012, about 200 students had to retake the SAT because the proctors were careless; in 2013, hundreds of California students had their AP exam scores cancelled due to seating irregularities; and in 2014, seating irregularities caused some Charlotte students to fear that their SAT scores would be cancelled.

Violations of testing policies and procedures can lead to mass score cancellation. Even more common, though, is individual score cancellation as a result of suspected cheating. Sometimes students are accused of cheating before they ever leave the testing center, usually because a proctor noticed something suspicious. More often, students receive a letter in the mail after the testing date. This usually happens when a test is red flagged either because of a significant score increase (like 500 or more points on the SAT within a 1-2 year period) or because of a high number of identical responses to another student seated nearby.

Avoiding test score cancellation requires knowing your rights and responsibilities as a test taker. If you are familiar with testing policies, you are less likely to be accused of cheating, more likely to notice some policy violation that could spell trouble if not corrected, and better able to mitigate damage if you do receive notification of potential score invalidation.

Your Resources: Official Policies

The College Board and ACT, Inc. publish their official testing policies online. You can find them here:
AP Exam 2016-2017 Bulletin for Students and Parents
SAT Terms and Conditions
ACT Terms and Conditions

Each of these documents is rather lengthy, and the vast majority of students never read them. Below is a summary of the most common policies among these tests:
• You have to present photo identification when you get to the testing location.
• Follow all proctor instructions regarding timing. Don’t skip to other sections of the test, and put your pencil down when time is up.
• Don’t plagiarize any part of any essay.
• Don’t look at anyone else’s testing materials.
• Do not discuss any test content during or after the test. This includes posting information online after taking the test. Although it might be difficult for the testing agency to identify you, if they succeed, your score can be cancelled.
• Follow all calculator policies.
• Do not have your phone or any other electronic device out during the test, including during scheduled test breaks.
• Do not look at any exam materials before you are told to.
• Do not remove any exam materials, including your own notes/scratch paper, from the testing room.
• Do not leave the building during the test, including during scheduled breaks.

Avoid Score Cancellation: What to Do on Test Day

Both the College Board and ACT, Inc. have complete control over score cancellation, and their decisions are final. This means that if they determine that a policy or procedure was not followed, you have very few options available to you. Even if you did nothing wrong and gained no advantage during the exam, you can suffer the consequences of someone else’s mistake. If you suspect a testing irregularity on the day of the exam, you may refuse to take the exam and contact the College Board or ACT, Inc. to arrange to take the exam on an alternate day. This is an imperfect solution, but it may help you to avoid unfortunate delays that could negatively impact your college admission process.

Cheating Allegations: How to Avoid Them

Both the College Board and ACT, Inc. red flag tests for unusually high score improvements or for remarkably similar responses to those of another test taker.

If you have diligently prepared for the test and you anticipate a significant score improvement, it is a good idea to use your test booklet to take notes and do scratch work. If you are accused of cheating, you can then request that they look at your test booklet to see that you actually did the work rather than just copying off of someone else.

Obviously, you should not cheat off of someone else’s test. You should also keep an eye on your own test booklet and answer sheet to ensure that no one else might cheat off of your work. This can help to reduce the odds that your test is flagged for having a high number of matching answers to another test taker.

Cheating Allegations: What to Do if You’re Falsely Accused

First, don’t stress out too much. If you’re falsely accused of cheating, the worst thing that can happen is that you can be forced to take a paid retest. The College Board and ACT will not tell colleges about the allegation or ban you from retesting.

If you receive a letter alleging possible cheating, you will generally be offered several options: You can try to validate your score by providing documentation that supports your score; you can retest free of charge to validate your score; or you can cancel the test score and get a refund.

You should generally try to validate your scores by providing supporting documentation; even if you fail to convince the College Board or ACT, you’ll still be able to retest. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Supporting documentation might include:
• Transcripts demonstrating that you are a high-achieving student
• A high PSAT score
• High AP or IB scores
• A high SAT or ACT score (submit a high SAT score to validate an ACT score, and vice versa)
• A signed statement from your SAT or ACT tutor saying that they saw significant score increases on practice tests
• A signed request for the testing agency to review your test booklet scratch work and compare it to your answer sheet