When it comes to ACT and other admissions exams, a common goal is to pass. However, getting high scores will increase your chances of getting into the school of your choice.
Whichever goal you have in mind, the best way to keep your eyes on the prize is to ask yourself: what is a good ACT score? If you know the answer, then you can easily strategize on the number of test questions you need to get right to hit your target.
So what is the average ACT score or what is the highest ACT score possible?
In this post, we will break down all the essential information that will help you figure out what ACT score you should aim for. There are also different terms you need to be familiar with, so read on.
How is an ACT score calculated?
For ACT, the test score ranges from 1 to 36 which is comprised of two types of scores in the ACT test–section scores and composite scores (2).
The former refers to the scores for each subject or section in the ACT test. The latter, on the other hand, is the overall score.
Before digging into these types of scores, let us look at the test sections first.
What are the sections that make up an ACT test?
The test is broken down into four sections:
In the English section, an optional essay or writing test is included.
The score you get on each test section is calculated by converting your raw score (this refers to the number of questions you answered correctly in a given test section) to a scaled score that ranges from 1 to 36. Also, take note that there are no penalties for mistakenly answered questions.
While all these things appear tedious and confusing, worry not if you need to calculate your score because there are already ACT score calculators online. You can check Magoosh’s ACT score calculator (1).
What are these section scores?
As mentioned, there are four test sections in the ACT test. Each one has categories with respective scoring from 1 to 36.
Categories with Scoring
Rhetorical Skills (1-18)
Elementary Algebra/Pre-Algebra (1-18)
Algebra/Coordinate Geometry (1-18)
Plane Geometry/Trigonometry (1-18)
Social Sciences/Sciences (1-18)
Arts and Literature (1-18)
No sub-score for this section
What are these composite scores?
Basically, it’s the total average of all your subscores from the test sections. From your raw score for each test section, it will be converted into a scaled score from 1 to 36. Now, your scaled scores from the four sections will be calculated to come up with an average ACT score which is called your composite score.
Before we jump in to which ACT scores are considered good or average, let’s find out first what an ACT percentile is.
What Are These ACT percentiles?
Your percentile determines your score standing in the overall ACT in comparison to the scores of other test-takers. Once the results are out, you will be given a score report that will show your ACT score percentile for both your composite score and section scores.
How does that really work? Here’s an example:
If your score report says that you scored in the 80th percentile, then that means that you scored better than 80% of other test-takers. When you encounter the usual claims of test prep providers in 99th percentile instructors, this means that they are among the very few who scored better than the 99% of other test-takers.
What’s a good ACT score?
There is no specific answer to this although there is an average rate (which will be further discussed below). The reason being, there are factors that play around this question.
What are your goals? Which college do you wish to enroll in? Do you want a scholarship? If you want to study at a prestigious university, you should earn a score that is above average. If you want a scholarship, you need to aim higher than average. You can even aim for the highest ACT score possible as proof that you can be the best that you can be.
Now, here’s our take, it’s better that you aim for above average because it means you will have more chances of being accepted to almost all colleges. It’s better to have more options, so you can choose a school that’s best for you.
What is the highest possible ACT composite score?
The highest possible ACT score you can achieve is 36. The ACT national average score is 21. If you can go above the average, then that will be amazing. Garnering a higher ACT score range would mean becoming a strong candidate for several universities.
What are the average scores for the test sections?
This is based on the ACT data in the last five years. The average ACT section score for the four sections are as follows:
- English – 20.3
- Math – 20.8
- Reading – 21.3
- Science – 20.8
Achieving these average section scores and the average composite scores would pave way for your college dreams, but only to certain colleges or universities. The more selective schools, such as those in the Ivy League, would require more than the average.
With your goals in mind, your choice of college, scholarship consideration, and future plans, we will give you a glimpse on what score you have to acquire if 1) You want to be admitted in the most prestigious educational institutions and 2) If you want to secure a college scholarship.
What is the standard score for the Ivy League universities?
Here is a run-down of the ACT scores for prestigious colleges before an admission is considered.
University of Pennsylvania
If you want to find out what standard score is required by other universities/colleges, not in the table, you can do a Google search and type “your college choice” freshman profile. The reference is usually the number one in the search choices.
What is a good ACT score to qualify for a scholarship?
Whether getting a college scholarship is your priority or not, a high score means you are an automatic candidate for lots of scholarships. Here, we share a relevant insight on how to gauge if your score is qualified for a scholarship.
Of course, assess what type of scholarship you want to obtain and what college you wish to attend. There are different standard ACT test scores for each type of scholarship in each college.
However, we encourage you to earn at least 30 to have a huge chance for several scholarships. This means you are in the top 10th percentile of all the ACT test-takers. If you can achieve more the better.
While getting 30 or beyond is the perfect target score, attaining scores in the mid-20s can also potentially lead you to other scholarships. Why is this so? Again, scholarship and college requirements are different, so everything would still boil down to your choices and goals.
What are the possible scholarships available to you?
Scholarships have various requirements for eligibility aside from the ACT test scores. Some may not even require an ACT score but most do and according to their standard scoring.
- An average score or a little higher limits your options for college scholarships in promising universities.
- A score of 25 or higher may qualify you for a money grant.
- A score of at least 29 or 30 affords you with more competitive scholarship grants.
Here are a few examples:
- If you scored within 21 to 26 and your GPA is 3.0, then you may be qualified for a scholarship grant worth $1,000 to $2,000 from the State of Mississippi.
- If you scored 22 or above, then you may be qualified for a scholarship grant at the University of Reno Nevada.
- If you scored at least a 31, then you may be eligible for a scholarship grant worth $21,000 per year from Baylor University.
- If you scored 21 with a GPA of 4.0 and you reside in Arizona, then you may be given a scholarship grant worth up to $6,000 per year from Arizona State University.
What scores does an ACT score report will show?
Your score report will not reflect your composite score only, but the breakdown of it. Here they are:
- Test section score or scaled score for each subject
- Scores on the STEM (Science, Technology, and Math) indicators
- Scores on the ELA (English Language Arts) indicators
- US and State Ranks
As an additional detail, know that the writing test in the ACT test is scored differently.
How is the ACT writing test scored?
There are two ACT checkers who will read and score your essay output based on the following four domains:
- Ideas and Analysis
- Development and Support
- Language Use and Conventions
Each of these domains will be scored from 1 to 6, with 6 being the highest score. This means that the scores given to each domain by the two checkers will be combined. The scoring ranges from 2 to 12, with 12 being the highest score.
How does the writing score reflect on your ACT score report?
There will be no writing score that will reflect on your score report. Instead, your scores in English, Reading, and Writing (optional) will be scaled to come up with a combined score for ELA (English Language Arts).
Although the writing test or essay is optional, it’s best to check if the college you’re applying for requires a writing score. Most selective schools require it, while the least selective ones don’t.
What to expect in an ACT score report?
There is no single ACT score report, but three score reports. One is for you called a Student Report. The other two are High School Report and College Report. Keep in mind that each report reflects different details. When and where each report is delivered also varies according to its recipient.
Here’s a better look at this.
Type of Report
Where it will be delivered
When it will be delivered
What it Reports
Your online ACT account
Around 2 to 8 weeks after the test date
ACT scores and career/college planning information
High School Report
Your high school institution
Around 2 to 8 weeks after the test date
ACT scores and career/college planning information
Each eligible university/college or scholarship agency you listed and paid for when you tested or registered (maximum of 6)
Varies according to college/university and when it is ordered
ACT scores, career/college planning information, grades you reported in up to 30 high school courses, predictions on your future college program or course performance
When will ACT scores be released for 2020 and 2021?
Here’s a table that reflects the scheduled dates of release according to their respective ACT test dates.
ACT Test Date
Multiple-Choice Score Release
Complete Score Release
September 12, 2020
September 22, 2020
October 6, 2020
October 24, 2020
November 10, 2020
November 24, 2020
December 12, 2020
December 24, 2020
January 7, 2021
February 6, 2021
February 23, 2021
March 8, 2021
April 17, 2021
April 27, 2021
May 11, 2021
June 12, 2021
June 22, 2021
July 6, 2021
July 17, 2021
July 27, 2021
August 10, 2021
How to improve ACT scores?
- Don’t waste time
Keep in mind that the more time you have before the ACT test date, the more chances that you will improve your score. Some test prep providers even predict a 1 to 2 score improvement for those who allot 20 hours of test prep and a 2 to 4 score improvement for those who allot 40 hours.
- Enroll in a test prep service
Speaking of test prep, we recommend that you invest in enrolling yourself in a reputable test prep provider, such as Magoosh ACT. Their materials are handy and accessible through mobile apps. ACT prep test is also offered at an affordable price.
There are also other options. Regardless of which one you choose, enrolling in an ACT test prep course is worth it!
- Utilize free ACT practice tests
Consider them as supplementary resources if you’re enrolled in an ACT prep review and your tool to a higher score if you choose to study on your own. You can easily find video lessons, practice questions, and blogs online.
- Re-take the test
Let’s be honest here. If you think that you are 2 or 3 points below your target score, then it’s time to consider retaking the test. Assess yourself very well (3) – what are your weak spots? Work on them and make sure that you will feel confident about these areas you are struggling with the most before you re-take the test.
However, if you are just 1 point below your target score, then no need to waste your time. Instead, hone other parts of your college application. For instance, you can join an organization and be an active member so you will have an extra-curricular output.
- Sign-up for the Test Information Release service
The Test Information Release service is available on the ACT website. This service gives you access to the test questions, your answers, and the answer key upon receiving your score report.
This option is applicable for those who are taking the test in December, April, or June. Also, this service is not for free, but it’s worth the cost because of the relevant information it provides.
Furthermore, bear in mind that you have to make sure there are still several test dates available for a retake before you submit your scores to colleges.
First, let me remind you that colleges and universities also have other considerations before admitting students. It’s not only about ACT score because they also look at your GPA and extra-curricular activities. In other words, they want well-rounded students.
So far, that’s everything you have to learn to better prepare for your upcoming ACT test. I hope that I’ve broken down each detail in the most cohesive and concise manner.
Overall, there’s still so much to consider and prepare for before your ACT test. Use your time very well. Treat it as your friend. Prep wisely while taking care of your well-being. Again, the universities are looking for well-rounded and disciplined students, so be sure to ace on those aspects as well.
If you’re not confident with your ability to study without help, enroll in ACT test practice programs. Some of these test preps tailor the study plan according to your needs. With a tutor to hold you accountable, you’ll be more committed to the prep course as well.
We’re looking forward to seeing you top the upcoming ACT test!