ACT Score Range: Is Your Score Good Enough?

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June 6, 2022
1 to 36: The Basic ACT Score RangeACT Score Ranges by SectionIs Your ACT Score Good Enough?


Reviewed by:

Mary Banks

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 6/6/22

Wondering if your ACT score is good enough for your target schools? Here we discuss how the ACT is calculated and what your ACT score means for you.

When applying for college, many students worry about the role their ACT and SAT scores play in their chances of acceptance. Although a higher score may help you get into your dream school, it’s important to understand that most colleges aren’t expecting a perfect score. 

Here we’ll go over the ACT score ranges for each section, how they are calculated, and what your score means for you. Let’s get started!

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1 to 36: The Basic ACT Score Range

Before determining if your ACT score is good enough for your target schools, you should understand how your ACT score is calculated. Here are the grading steps of the ACT:

Step 1: Your correct answers are tallied up from each question you answered. Incorrect answers are not counted toward your score, so there is no penalty for getting a question wrong. 

Step 2: The total number of correct answers from step 1 are called your “raw scores.” They are converted into “scale scores” which range from 1-36. 

Step 3: Your “composite score” is calculated by finding the average of your combined scale scores from each section (English, math, reading, and science) and rounding it to the nearest whole number. Your overall composite score will also range from 1-36.

To recap: Your “raw score” is the number of questions you answered correctly in each section. “Scale scores” are raw scores from each section that have been converted to the 1-36 score scale. Your “composite score” is the average of your scale scores rounded to the nearest whole number. Composite scores also range from 1-36.

ACT Score Ranges by Section

To get a better idea of how much each section of the test is worth and what to expect on your ACT, we’ve included this table from the ACT breaking down each section.

Table outlining the Number of Questions and Reporting categories of each section of the ACT

The above table reflects how each section of the ACT is graded and includes the number of questions on each subject. For more information on how the ACT is graded, visit the official ACT website.

Is Your ACT Score Good Enough?

The average composite ACT score in the US is currently 21, but can still be challenging to know if your ACT score will be competitive enough for your target schools. However, there are some ways to make an educated guess. Here are some ways you can determine if your ACT score is good enough.

Check Your Target School’s Average ACT scores

Not all schools have a minimum acceptable ACT score, but they may still have a general score they aim to see in applications. 

Most colleges have current class averages and school data available for the public to see on their website. By checking this data, you can decide if your score is competitive for your target schools or if you should consider redoing the test.

Compare The Rest of Your Application

Sometimes a poor ACT score can be made up for by a strong application. If your ACT score is low and you don’t have time to retake the test, focus your efforts on improving the other aspects of your application.

Take the Test Again, If Necessary

If your score is below the national average (21), it may be necessary to retake the ACT. having an average score already may not be competitive enough for prestigious or highly-regarded schools. You can take the ACT up to 12 times, and most students retake the test once or twice to achieve the best result possible

Final Thoughts

In order to know if your ACT score is good enough, compare it to the class averages of your target schools. Consider the amount of time it took you to prepare for your initial test. 

If you think you can improve your score, retake the ACT and focus on subjects you did poorly in without neglecting your strong subjects. If you’re considering retaking the ACT, you can also seek the guidance of an experienced ACT tutor to help you improve your score.

Good luck!

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