Cheating on the ACT: What Happens?

What happens if you cheat on the ACT? Well, nothing good. But in most cases, cheating on the ACT is actually not the end of the world (though the actual police CAN arrest you–more on this later–so don’t do it!). What happens depends on who reports your cheating, and how, though the consequences will end up being pretty much the same—it just might take longer before the ACT opens an investigation.

What Constitutes Cheating on the ACT?

Cheating on the ACT ranges from the blatant (copying answers from another test-taker) to the less blatant (going back to a previous section after time is called). Other behaviors can also disqualify you. Talking during the test isn’t good, for one. Bringing in outside materials—especially if you use them—is also bad.

FYI: This includes anything written on your hand/shoe/sleeve. There might be a perfectly reasonable explanation why you have the Pythagorean Theorem scrawled on your index finger, but do you really want to be in a position where you have to explain it?

How Did I Get Caught?

If you did end up displaying one of those suspicious behaviors, the red flags can go up in a variety of ways. The test proctor might report your cheating to the company. There are hotlines for other students who have noticed cheating to call. If your guidance counselor or a teacher suspects you were cheating, he or she may also call in. On the other hand, if you’re caught red-handed, during the test, the proctor will confiscate your test. If you’re caught after you’ve finished the test, your scores will be cancelled.

Even if you think you got away with cheating, you may still be in hot water. A score that increases dramatically in a short period of time may set off red flags at the ACT headquarters. For example, if you get a 15 one month and a 35 the next, it might look suspicious. The time period is within 20 months, so you may have legitimately improved your score in this time (in which case, congrats!), but don’t worry–if it’s legit, you’ll have the chance to prove it.

The testmakers may compare your answers to the answers of those seated around you. If you have an unusual number of similar answers, you may also be accused of cheating. And don’t think about paying someone to take the test for you-—if this happens, even if you can get around ID regulations, the test-maker may even call in handwriting experts to analyze the writing in the exam booklet.

But I Didn’t Cheat!

But if you didn’t cheat on the ACT, and have been accused of it, you’ll have a chance to make your case. The company will pose questions to you. If you answer them satisfactorily, the case is closed and you keep your score. On the other hand, if not, you’ll have a chance to retake the ACT for free. Then, if your new score is within 3 points of your old score, you’ll get to keep the old score. Alternatively, if you can provide an explanation and documentation of how you raised your scores so much, that’ll also work.

Okay, I Cheated.

If you did cheat on the ACT? In the best-case scenario, you can cancel your scores and pay to take the test again. The Washington Post reports that the ACT won’t report cheating to a college or university that has already accepted you. In the worst-case scenario—for example, in one New York case—you can have charges filed against you and possibly even get arrested (it’s fraud, people). Bottom line? Don’t do it.

For an ACT Cheat Sheet you CAN actually use, check out our video post.


  • Rachel Kapelke-Dale

    Rachel is a Magoosh Content Creator. She writes and updates content on our High School and GRE Blogs to ensure students are equipped with the best information during their test prep journey. As a test-prep instructor for more than five years in there different countries, Rachel has helped students around the world prepare for various standardized tests, including the SAT, ACT, TOEFL, GRE, and GMAT, and she is one of the authors of our Magoosh ACT Prep Book. Rachel has a Bachelor of Arts in Comparative Literature from Brown University, an MA in Cinematography from the Université de Paris VII, and a Ph.D. in Film Studies from University College London. For over a decade, Rachel has honed her craft as a fiction and memoir writer and public speaker. Her novel, THE BALLERINAS, is forthcoming in December 2021 from St. Martin's Press, while her memoir, GRADUATES IN WONDERLAND, co-written with Jessica Pan, was published in 2014 by Penguin Random House. Her work has appeared in over a dozen online and print publications, including Vanity Fair Hollywood. When she isn't strategically stringing words together at Magoosh, you can find Rachel riding horses or with her nose in a book. Join her on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook!

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