What’s A Good ACT Score?

The ACT is like the SAT—it’s a standardized test that college admissions boards use to determine which students get admitted and receive scholarships. Doing well in this test can very well become the determining factor on whether you get in the college you want.

But how do you know if you’ve “done well” in the ACT? What’s a good score to aim for? This isn’t exactly a simple question, but we can make things a lot clearer for you with this guide.

How are ACT Scores Calculated?

You have 4 sections in the ACT. These are:

  • English (with an optional essay)
  • Math
  • Reading
  • Science

You answer questions for each section, and the number of questions you get right gives you the raw score for that section.

The raw score for each section is then translated to the scaled score for each section.

Here’s how they’re converted:

Raw Score English Raw Score Math Raw Score Reading Raw Score Science Scaled Score
74-75 59-60 40 40 36
71-73 57-58 38-39 35
70 55-56 37 39 34
69 54 36 38 33
68 53 34-35 32
67 51-52 33 37 31
66 49-50 32 36 30
64-65 47-48 31 29
63 45-46 30 35 28
61-62 42-44 34 27
59-60 39-41 29 32-33 26
56-58 37-38 28 31 25
53-55 34-36 26-27 29-30 24
50-52 32-33 25 26-28 23
47-49 31 23-24 24-25 22
44-46 29-30 22 22-23 21
41-43 27-28 20-21 20-21 20
39-40 25-26 19 18-19 19
37-38 22-24 18 17 18
35-36 19-21 16-17 15-16 17
32-34 16-18 15 14 16
29-31 13-15 14 13 15
26-28 10-12 12-13 11-12 14
24-25 8-9 11 10 13
22-23 7 10 9 12
19-21 5-6 8-9 8 11
16-18 4 7 7 10
13-15 6 6 9
11-12 3 5 5 8
9-10 4 7
7-8 2 4 3 6
6 3 5
4-5 1 2 2 4
3 1 3
2 1 2
0-1 0 0 0 1

 

As you can see, missing a Science question and getting 39 instead of 40 for your raw score drops your scale score from 36 to 43. Also, even if you get none of the Science questions right, you still get a scale score of 1 for science.

The scale scores for all the 4 sections then combine for the average composite score, which also ranges from 1 to 36.

In the English, Math, and Reading sections, you also have subscores for categories within these sections.

  • English. Usage/Mechanics (1-18), Rhetorical Skills (1-18), Essay (2-12)
  • Math. Pre-Algebra/Elementary Algebra (1-18), Algebra/Coordinate Geometry (1-18), Plane Geometry/Trigonometry (1-18)
  • Social Sciences/Sciences (1-18), Arts/Literature (1-18)

What is the Highest ACT Score?

Technically, the highest composite score you can get in the ACT is 36. That’s the “perfect score” except that you don’t actually have to get every question right.

Here are some possible instances in which you missed questions in some sections and still get a perfect composite ACT score of 36:

Composite Score Wrong Answers in English Wrong Answers in Math Wrong Answers in Reading Wrong Answers in Science
36 0 0 1 1
36 0 3 0 1
36 0 3 1 0
36 2 0 0 1
36 2 0 1 0
36 2 3 0 0

 

Keep in mind that in 2018, almost 2 million students took the ACT and only 3,741 got a 36 ACT composite score.

There are also schools (such as MIT) have entering classes in which the top 25th percentile got perfect ACT scores.

What is a Good ACT Score?

The ACT isn’t a test with a definitive score that determines whether you pass or fail. Basically, you want to do better than the other students. That’s particularly true for the other applicants to the university you really want to go to.

Since some schools are pickier than others when it comes to your ACT score, you may want to get an idea of the ACT scores achieved by the students admitted to the school of your choice. With the top elite schools, the nearer you get to 36, the better.

Still, for most students a score of at least 32 isn’t bad at all. Plenty of excellent schools admit students with a lower ACT score than 32, those these students may be in the lowest ACT 25th percentile. These include Dartmouth, UCLA, Emory, UC Berkeley, USC, and Georgetown.

It still depends on the school your aiming for, and your particular grade level when you took the ACT. Here are the ACT scores you should aim for with those factors in mind:

Grade level Top-ranked Schools (Ivy League, MIT, Caltech, Stanford, etc.) Top 25 to 50 Top 50 to 75 Top 75 to 100 Lower-ranked schools
Sophomore 24+ 21+ 17+ 16+ 13+
Junior 28+ 25+ 21+ 20+ 17+
Senior 32+ 29+ 25+ 24+ 21

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ACT Scores for the Top 100 U.S. Universities

Here’s the top 100 US universities and colleges, with the ACT score data. The 75th percentile score is the score needed (for 2019) to beat out the lower 75th percent of the class. The 25th percentile score is the score that beats out the lowest ¼ of the admitted applicants.

Ranking College/University 25th Percentile Scores 75th Percentile Scores
1 Princeton University 32 35
2 Harvard University 33 35
3 (tie) Columbia University 33 35
3 (tie) Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) 34 36
3 (tie) Yale University 33 35
6 (tie) Stanford University 32 35
6 (tie) University of Chicago 33 35
6 (tie) University of Pennsylvania 32 35
9 Northwestern University 33 35
10 (tie) Duke University 33 35
10 (tie) Johns Hopkins University 33 35
12 (tie) California Institute of Technology (Caltech) 35 36
12 (tie) Dartmouth College 31 35
14 Brown University 32 35
15 (tie) University of Notre Dame 33 35
15 (tie) Vanderbilt University 33 35
17 (tie) Cornell University 32 34
17 (tie) Rice University 33 35
19 Washington University in St. Louis 32 35
20 University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) 28 34
21 Emory University 31 34
22 (tie) University of California—Berkeley 28 34
22 (tie) University of Southern California (USC) 30 34
24 Georgetown 31 34
25 (tie) Carnegie Mellon University 33 35
25 (tie) University of Michigan at Ann Arbor 30 34
27 Wake Forest University 29 33
28 University of Virginia 30 34
29 (tie) Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) 31 34
29 (tie) New York University (NYU) 29 34
29 (tie) Tufts University 31 34
29 (tie) University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (UNC Chapel Hill) 27 33
29 (tie) University of Rochester 30 34
34 (tie) University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) 26 32
34 (tie) University of Florida 27 32
36 University of California, Irvine (UCI) N/A N/A
37 (tie) Boston College 31 34
37 (tie) University of California–San Diego 26 33
39 University of California, Davis (UC Davis) 25 31
40 (tie) Boston University 30 33
40 (tie) Brandeis University 29 33
40 (tie) Case Western Reserve University 30 34
40 (tie) College of William and Mary 30 33
40 (tie) Northeastern University 32 34
40 (tie) Tulane University 30 33
46 (tie) University of Wisconsin Madison 27 32
46 (tie) Villanova University 30 33
48 (tie) University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign 26 32
48 (tie) University of Texas, Austin (UT Austin) 27 33
50 (tie) Lehigh University 29 33
50 (tie) Pepperdine University 26 32
50 (tie) Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute 29 33
50 (tie) University of Georgia 27 32
54 (tie) Ohio State University–Columbus 27 32
54 (tie) Santa Clara University 28 32
54 (tie) Syracuse University 25 32
57 (tie) Florida State University 26 30
57 (tie) Pennsylvania State–University Park 25 30
57 (tie) Purdue University-West Lafayette 25 32
57 (tie) University of Miami 29 32
57 (tie) University of Pittsburgh 28 32
62 (tie) Rutgers University–New Brunswick 25 31
62 (tie) University of Washington 27 32
64 (tie) Loyola Marymount University 27 31
64 (tie) Southern Methodist University 29 33
64 (tie) University of Connecticut 26 31
64 (tie) University of Maryland–College Park 28 33
64 (tie) University of Massachusetts-Amherst (UMass Amherst) 26 31
64 (tie) Worcester Polytechnic Institute 29 33
70 (tie) Clemson 29 32
70 (tie) George Washington University 25 30
70 (tie) Texas A&M University–College Station 25 31
70 (tie) University of Minnesota–Twin Cities 26 31
74 (tie) Fordham University 28 32
74 (tie) Stevens Institute of Technology 30 32
74 (tie) Virginia Institute of Technology (Virginia Tech) 25 31
74 (tie) American University 27 31
77 (tie) Brigham Young University–Provo 26 31
79 (tie) Baylor University 26 31
79 (tie) Binghamton University 28 32
79 (tie) Gonzaga University 25 30
79 (tie) Indiana University–Bloomington 24 31
79 (tie) University at Buffalo 24 29
84 (tie) Colorado School of Mines 28 33
84 (tie) Elon University 25 30
84 (tie) Marquette University 24 30
84 (tie) Michigan State University 23 29
84 (tie) North Carolina State University–Raleigh 27 31
84 (tie) University of California–Santa Cruz 24 31
84 (tie) University of Iowa 23 28
91 (tie) Clark University 28 31
91 (tie) Miami University–Oxford 26 31
91 (tie) Stony Brook University (SUNY) 26 31
91 (tie) University of California–Riverside 23 29
91 (tie) University of Delaware 25 30
91 (tie) University of San Diego 25 30
97 (tie) Drexel University 25 30
97 (tie) New Jersey Institute of Technology 25 30
97 (tie) Saint Louis University 25 31
97 (tie) Texas Christian University 26 30
97 (tie) University of Denver 26 31
97 (tie) University of San Francisco 23 29
97 (tie) Yeshiva University 22 30

What is an Average ACT Score?

Since it matters a lot whether your ACT score is better than the other students applying to the school of your choice, you should have a good idea what the scores of the other students are like.

In 2018, the average ACT composite score was 20.8. That means scoring 21 (marginally) makes you above average. For the average scores for each section, here’s a quick look:

Test Score Range Average Score
English 1-36 20.2
Math 1-36 20.5
Reading 1-36 21.3
Science 1-36 20.7
Essay (optional English section) 2-12 6.7

 

You can also recheck the table for the top 100 US universities and colleges. That table gives you the middle 50th percentile range, meaning the ACT range of scores from the 25th to the 75th percentile. If you score within that range, you’re in a good spot, or at least your score is at the average for the entering class.

What Is a Good ACT Score for Scholarships?

For scholarships, you’d expect the authorities to have higher standards. It’s one thing for mom and dad to pay for college. It’s another thing for a charity institution to pay tuition (and maybe books and board) for you.

In general, an average score (about 21 or so) just won’t cut it. You’ll want to be in the top 10th percentile of the ACT test-takers. That means scoring at least 30. But you really should aim higher—the higher the score, the more dollars you get for college expenses.

If you have a certain class rank and GPA, and then you have a 28 ACT composite score, you might get a scholarship worth $18,000 a year from institutions like Baylor University. But if everything else stays the same but your ACT score is 31, the scholarship jumps up to $21,000 a year.

Arizona State University offers up to $6,000 a year in scholarships for in-state students with a 4.0 GPA, even with a so-so score of 21 on their ACT. But if the student’s ACT score is 25, the scholarship can go up to $8,000 a year.

Scholarships are still possible for test scores in the 20s. It’s just, in some cases, you might need more than your ACT score to get these scholarships. You’ll probably need a really dramatic story, such as growing in poverty and other challenging circumstances. A valedictorian ranking plus a 4.0 GPA will certainly help.

Should I Cancel My ACT Score if I Get a Bad Score?

  1. That’s the short answer.

The main reason for this is that for most universities and colleges, the more important thing is your highest score.

Most people with a background in education know that it’s a lot easier to get a lower score than you deserve, than to get a higher score than what you deserve. A genius on a bad day (taking a test with a nasty headache) can really score lower than expected. The class dunce isn’t likely to get a perfect score, even if they’re feeling at their best.

So, college admissions boards won’t really care if you score low on the ACT for the first time, if you scored higher the next time. You don’t need to cancel the lower score, because they won’t matter for most colleges.

In fact, with some colleges, it’s to your advantage to take the test twice and retain the scores for both tests. Some colleges look at the subscores and only note the highest ones.

Let’s say that for test #1, you scored 32 for English and Reading, and 28 for Math and Science. For test #2, the scores are reversed with 28 for English and Reading, and 32 for Math. They just might note that you got 32 for each section!

How to Improve Your ACT Test Scores

If you think you can improve the score you got on the ACT, the good news is that you’re most likely right. You can improve those test scores.

Here are some tips that can help:

Take Note of the Lowest Subscores

You can get your ACT results after about 2 to 8 weeks after the test, through online or mail. Once you get the scores, (Composite, Section, Subsection), take note of the lowest section scores.

These are the sections you’ll need to focus on more when you prepare for the next ACT test. If you scored 34 on both Science and Math, and 24 on English and Reading, then you need to devote a lot more time on preparing for the English and Reading sections.

In fact, starting September 2020 you don’t even have to retake the entire test. You can retake only the particular sections you want. If your Math score wasn’t satisfactory for you but you got great grades for the other sections, just retake the Math section—and study just for that section.

Manage Your Test-Taking Time

By now you should now the value of taking practice tests. But when you take these tests, time yourself for each section. The ACT only allows you so much time for each section, so you need to maximize the time you have. You need to maintain a proper pace.

Improve Your Reading Speed

It also helps with time management if you’re able to read more quickly so you’re able to glean the necessary info faster. You may want to speed up your reading, and improve your skimming skills.

Try out various tactics to see which works best for you. For some sections, you may only need to read the first and last sentences of each paragraph to get by. In some cases, you may want to read the question first and then find the answer quickly by skimming the written passages for the answers.

Master the Math Basics

Make sure you also memorize the basic formulas that usually come up in the Math section. These include:

  • Area of a circle
  • Area of a parallelogram
  • Area of a rectangle
  • Area of a sector
  • Area of trapezoid
  • Area of triangles
  • Circumference
  • Pythagorean theorem
  • Quadratic formula
  • Slope-intercept formula
  • Special types of triangles (equilateral, isosceles, 30-60-90, etc.),
  • Trigonometry functions (sin, cos, tan, etc.)

Study, practice, and then rest on the day just before the ACT. That way, you’re primed and ready for test!

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