Standardized Test Issues - ACT

While many have suggested that universities move away from relying on standardized testing as admissions criteria, exams like the SAT and ACT remain common. If your student receives a high score on one or more of their ACT exams, the strong marks could be a boon for their college applications.

However, many high school students face challenges specific to the ACT standardized test. We will detail some of those issues, explain what happens when your student encounters these challenges, and show you how an attorney-advisor from The Lento Law Firm can seek a solution to your student's ACT-related problem.

What Is the ACT?

ACT is both a test and an organization. ACT, Inc. is the organization that creates and administers the ACT test, and we will make sure to differentiate between the two in this article.

The ACT test comes in two forms:

  1. The no-writing ACT test, which includes four multiple-choice tests covering English, reading, science, and math
  2. The ACT test with writing, which has the multiple-choice format plus a writing portion

The writing portion of the ACT test does not factor into the test taker's composite score. However, students who want to display their writing skills can complete the written portion for a separate score, and college admissions boards may see a strong ACT writing score as a credit to the applicant.

The minimum score on the ACT test is 1, while the maximum is 36. Each test-taker may have personal expectations for what constitutes a "good" score, and this expectation may influence how many times your student takes the ACT test.

Who Takes the ACT and Where Do They Take It?

High school students generally take the ACT test before sending applications to colleges and universities. ACT (the organization) recommends that students take the ACT test at least two months before application deadlines for prospective universities.

The ACT organization also notes that scores may arrive 2-8 weeks from the student's testing date. If you believe your student could take the ACT test multiple times, they may want to take their first attempt more than two months before application deadlines. This way, even if it takes eight weeks to receive the score, your student will have time to take the ACT test again.

There may be multiple facilities in your area, including local high schools, where your student can take the ACT test.

Why Do High School Students Take the ACT?

Students complete the ACT test because:

  • Some colleges and universities require an ACT test result before admitting a student, though schools are increasingly making the ACT test optional
  • The ACT test is a way for students to differentiate themselves from other applicants
  • A positive ACT test score may help balance out a poor SAT score, subpar grades, and other blemishes on a high school student's college applications

Once your student decides to take the ACT, they should strive for the best score possible. Unfortunately, even if your student performs well, an allegation of misconduct may threaten to invalidate their score—and this may be just the start of adverse consequences.

Types of Misconduct That Can Land Students in Trouble When Taking the ACT

Testing irregularities may be the primary issue that leads to an investigation of an ACT test taker. However, ACT test proctors and the ACT organization itself may even question the way in which your student registered for the test.

Some alleged issues that could interfere with your student's success on the ACT test include:

Registration Irregularities

A student may face allegations of deception during the registration process. The widely-publicized Varsity Blues college admissions scandal brought attention to individuals posing as others to take standardized college admissions tests. Now, test proctors and ACT, Inc. may be hyper-vigilant about registration irregularities and may baselessly accuse your student of wrongdoing.

Some common mistakes that could cause problems for your student include:

  • Submitting a name, school, or other personal information incorrectly
  • Showing a dated photograph that leads a proctor to conclude the student is not who they claim to be
  • Accidentally submitting one's nickname (which may be their middle name) rather than their government name
  • Entering personal information differently on two different ACT tests

Many registration errors can be chalked up to confusion, sleepiness, forgetfulness, or lack of attention to detail. Before ACT, Inc. cancels a score or takes other punitive measures for a registration mistake, an attorney-advisor may be able to rectify the registration issue for your student.

Possession of Prohibited Materials During the Testing Period

ACT, Inc. explains that test takers can bring their admission ticket, a permitted calculator, snack, watch or timing device, pencil, mask, and photo identification into the testing room—some of these items are required to take the ACT.

College Board explains that students cannot take the following items into the testing room:

  • Smartwatches and other forms of wearable technology
  • Cellphones of any kind, including smartphones
  • Laptops and tablets
  • Headphones or earplugs
  • Audio recorders
  • Cameras
  • Any writing instrument other than a number-two pencil
  • Books
  • Cheat sheets
  • Non-approved calculators

Tobacco, drugs, weapons, and firearms are also prohibited in ACT testing areas.

Alleged Copying or Sharing of Answers

If a proctor accuses a test-taker of copying answers, either from a prohibited device, cheat sheet, or from another test taker, the student may be excused from the testing area, and their score may be invalidated. If anyone reports alleged copying after the conclusion of the test, ACT, Inc. may choose to impose disciplinary measures against the student accused of cheating.

If the proctor suspects that a test taker knowingly supplied answers to another student, that test taker may also face disciplinary measures.

Irregularities in a Student's ACT Answers

Some ACT tests undergo a score review process. If ACT, Inc. finds "substantial evidence that a score is invalid" due to answer irregularities, it may choose to cancel the student's ACT score. Though ACT, Inc. explains that score cancellations do not equate to an accusation of misconduct, canceling a student's ACT score can have significant adverse consequences—especially if the score was strong.

Irregularities in an ACT score may include:

  • Answers that are similar or identical to another test taker's
  • A significant improvement between two ACT attempts by the same student
  • Answers to a written ACT portion that indicate possible plagiarism
  • An answer or score that the score review committee believes the test taker could not have achieved without assistance

In many cases, the issue of testing irregularities is subjective. You may be able to resolve any questions ACT, Inc. has about your student's score before the organization takes punitive action against them.

Consequences of Alleged Misconduct Related to the ACT

If ACT, Inc. determines that a student committed any infraction related to their ACT test, the organization may cancel the score. While ACT, Inc. will likely not notify colleges of why it canceled your student's score, the very cancellation of the score could raise red flags in college admissions boards' minds.

The cancellation of an ACT test score could:

  • Cause enough doubt in admissions boards' minds to compromise your student's entry into one or more schools
  • Require your student to decide whether to address the canceled score in their college applications, which may present a difficult, lose-lose quandary
  • Cast doubt on the student's integrity as a person
  • Lead to a domino effect of problems, especially if the canceled ACT score prevents your student from getting into their preferred university

Even aside from these consequences, your student should not have to retake the ACT or deal with the fallout of misconduct accusations if they did nothing wrong. We may be able to resolve any questions about your student's test and in doing so, help them avoid the consequences of a canceled ACT score.

How College Board Adjudicates Alleged Misconduct by ACT Test Takers

The ACT Test Security Hotline is an outlet for ACT test proctors, test takers, and others to report suspected misconduct related to the ACT examination. In its 2021–2022 Procedures for Conducting Individual Score Reviews, ACT, Inc. explains that it may also trigger a score review internally rather than through an outside tip.

Once ACT, Inc. initiates a score review, it generally:

  1. Compares the test in question with a student's prior test scores, as well as with any relevant information in ACT, Inc.'s possession
  2. Determines whether there is reason to believe the score may be invalid or concludes that there is insufficient evidence to question scores (at which time it concludes the review without canceling the score)

If the score review process continues further, ACT, Inc. may conduct expert reviews of handwriting, conduct statistical analyses, or take other measures as it determines the validity of the test in question. If ACT, Inc. finds a reason to question your student's score, it will send your student a letter informing them of the score review.

How Your Student May Respond to ACT Inc.'s Notice of a Score Review

When ACT, Inc. informs a student of a score review, the student has the option of:

  1. Retaking the test
  2. Agreeing to the score cancellation
  3. Responding with a statement and any documentation that could resolve the issue

Agreeing to retest is a de facto agreement to cancel the score that is under review. The new test score will stand (unless that new score enters yet another review), but the original score will be canceled.

If your student provides a statement and documentation, the score review process will proceed to the ACT Test Security Review Panel. This panel will consider all of the information collected to date and decide to either cancel the score or end the review process without canceling the score.

ACT, Inc. offers binding arbitration as a final way to appeal a canceled test score. The American Arbitration Association (AAA) leads this process, and an attorney can help you prepare a written statement for the arbiter to consider.

How an Attorney-Advisor Can Help with an ACT Testing Issue

You may hire an attorney-advisor as soon as it becomes clear that your student is facing an issue with their ACT test score. You may realize there is a problem when a proctor takes action to cut your student's test short or when ACT, Inc. informs you of the score review process.

When you hire an attorney-advisor, expect them to:

  • Advise you about how to proceed with respect to the ACT testing issue
  • Discuss the merits and drawbacks of each option that ACT, Inc. affords students whose scores are under review
  • Reach out to ACT, Inc. to determine the precise reason why your student's score is under review
  • Find out what kind of documentation could resolve the score review and keep your student's score valid
  • Help you obtain the documentation that ACT, Inc. requests
  • Craft a statement addressing ACT, Inc.'s questions about your student's score
  • Keep tabs on the ACT, Inc.'s response to your statement and documentation
  • Craft a statement for the arbiter if the score review reaches the arbitration process

There may be legal remedies if ACT, Inc. chooses to cancel your student's score and arbitration does not solve the problem. Our team will pursue all available avenues to a resolution.

Hire the Lento Law Firm to Help You Overcome an ACT Testing Issue

A canceled ACT test score may be more consequential than it first seems. While ACT, Inc. may cancel a score if there is even the slightest doubt about the score's validity, your student will be the one to face the consequences of that cancellation.

Attorney-advisor Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm will fight for your student. We will advocate for them during the score review process, provide any documentation that could end the score review process, and take any other necessary steps to keep your student's score valid.

We represent high school students with a variety of issues, from standardized test problems to disciplinary issues. Our team understands the challenges that these students face, and we work hard to provide legal solutions.

Call the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686 or contact us online about an ACT standardized testing issue.