ACT Scores: Everything You Need to Know

Picture of a graded ACT score paper sitting on top of a laptop
November 30, 2023
7 min read


Reviewed by:

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 7/26/23

Curious about how the ACT Scores work? This article will breakdown everything you need to know about your ACT scores.

Your ACT score measures how ready you are for a college education. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, many universities have made submitting standardized tests optional. However, if you still plan to send in your ACT scores, they will be an essential part of your application profile. 

Before you take the ACT, it’s a great idea to truly understand your ACT scores. In this article, we will show you everything you need to know about ACT scores. Let's get started!

How Is the ACT Scored

The ACT scoring system can be overwhelming which is why we are here to explain how ACT scores are calculated. Firstly, the ACT exam is composed of four tests: 

  1. English
  2. Math
  3. Reading
  4. Science

ACT grading is relatively simple. Each of these tests also has its own test scores that range from 1 to 36. Your final ACT score, or composite score, is obtained by calculating the average of all four test scores, rounded down to the nearest whole number. 

So how are ACT scores calculated for each section?

After the number of questions answered correctly on each test (also known as your raw score) is taken, it’s converted into a scaled score ranging from 1-36 according to the ACT’s official scale.  Once the score of all four subject tests is determined, you can get the average of the four scaled scores, and then you’d have the final ACT composite score.

Understanding Your Score: Factors to Consider

Once you understand the ACT grading, it’s easy to understand your ACT scores. While the ACT consists of four mandatory subjects, and one optional writing test, only the mandatory subject tests will be accounted for in your ACT score. 

Keep in mind that each subject is composed of smaller topics and concepts. The ACT Math test, for example, will ask questions about topics including operations, fractions, algebra and functions.  How well you do in each of these smaller categories will affect how high your ACT composite score will be. 

Your ACT score will be delivered to you on a score report. The report will contain all the information you need to know about your ACT score, including your composite score and each score for the various subject tests. 

The ACT score report gives you an in-depth understanding of how you performed, not just in a broad sense, but for each subject.

ACT Reporting Category

Your ACT score report will contain reporting categories, which are detailed breakdowns of how well you did in each topic in the test. This doesn’t just include breakdowns for the four subject tests, but also smaller sub-categories. 

 The following table consists of all reporting categories included in an ACT score report.

Test Subject Number of Questions Reporting Categories and Percentage*
Math 60 Preparing for higher math (57-60%)
Number & Quantity (7–10%)
Algebra (12–15%)
Functions (12–15%)
Geometry (12–15%)
Statistics & Probability (8–12%)
Integrating essential skills (40-43%)
Modeling (Integrated into other categories)
English 75 Production of Writing (29-32%)
Knowledge of Language (13-19%)
Conventions of Standard English (51-56%)
Reading 40 Key ideas and details (55-60%)
Craft and structure (25-30%)
Integration of knowledge and ideas (13-18%)
Science 40 Interpretation of data (45-55%)
Scientific investigation (20-30%)
Evaluation of Models, inferences, and experimental results (25-35%)

*Note: “Percentage” here means the percentage of the entire subject test taken up by the reporting category. For example, “interpretation of data” takes up 45% to 55% of the entire ACT science test.

For each reporting category, there will be:

  • The total number of questions in that category;
  • The number of questions answered correctly;
  • The percentage of questions answered correctly; and,
  • Your college readiness for each category.

The reporting category gives a clear and detailed introspect for both you and your colleagues. It helps colleges assess your skills, abilities and determine whether or not you’re qualified for the program you’re applying for. At the same time, it gives you guidance on what areas to improve on in the future; especially if you’re planning to retake the test. 

College Readiness

College readiness is another essential measurement in your ACT score report. 

As mentioned before, the ACT test is meant to see whether or not you’re ready for the beginning of post-secondary education. Scores are an excellent evaluation of someone’s abilities, but they do have a weakness. 

Each of the different categories varies in difficulty, so your score is not necessarily a solid indicator of your proficiency. As a result, it’s a bit hard to determine what constitutes a “good” score for each category. 

That is not to say that scores don’t matter, but the inconsistent difficulties across all the different categories make it a little troubling to measure performance. 

For example, you could get 85% of the questions right in an easy category, but a good percentage would actually be 90%. Meanwhile, a 70% correct percentage would be considered good in a difficult category. 

Here is where college readiness comes to play. 

College readiness factors in the difficulties of each category and each question, and determines which scores are considered good for that specific category. That way, you can figure out whether or not you’re truly college ready in that area. College readiness is given for both your subject test scores and the scores for the reporting categories, but not for the overall composite score.

Therefore, readiness provides a more consistent measurement of how well you did.


Benchmarks are another assessment of college readiness. However, instead of ranges like with the ACT readiness range shown in the reporting categories, benchmarks are presented as specific ACT test score values. 

If your score is equal to or higher than the benchmark score, that means you have at least: 

  • a 50% chance of obtaining a B or higher; or, 
  • a 75% chance of obtaining a C or higher in corresponding credit-bearing first-year college courses.

Note that the percentages above are all approximates. And of course, the higher your actual ACT tests are, the more likely it is for you to get a C or B, or better.

What is the Average ACT Score?

According to the official ACT website, the average national ACT score was 19.8 last year (2022), which was also the lowest reported score in 30 years with the 2021 average reported score being 20.3. This trend has been largely attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic as well as systemic failures. The ACT offers information on both national ranks, as well as per state. 

So, what does this mean for you now? Well, a lower national ACT average may bode well for some students since their composite score will be calculated against their peers. And, if fewer people score in the higher percentile, then what would have otherwise been ranked as a 75th percentile may now be ranked higher. 

For a complete breakdown of the 2022 averages per section, please see table below.

ACT Section Average Section Score
Math 19.3
English 19.0
Reading 20.4
Science 19.9

The ranking result percentage is available for your composite score and each of your subject tests, including the optional writing test. Understanding your ACT score and rank is important when applying to colleges. 

Unfortunately, your score reports won’t show the average scores of nationwide or state-wide test takers. However, you can still use the result rankings to understand how well your peers did.

If you've completed the ACT exam and find yourself in need of an ACT to SAT score conversion, check out our automatic ACT to SAT score converter.

Tips on Improving your ACT score

Now that we’ve gone over everything you need to know about your ACT score, you might be asking: how can I improve my score

Start Your Preparation Early

Time is money. The more time you have, the more practice you can get, and practice makes perfect. If your preparation is hastily done, you could get a lower score than you could’ve gotten if only you had prepared more. 

Preparing early is one of the best ways to maximize your performance.

Know What the Test Covers

Prepping early is not enough to guarantee a high ACT score. You also need to know what to prepare for. The reporting categories we’ve covered earlier can give us clues as to what the ACT covers, but below is a list of what you should study for. 


The Preparing for Higher Math category covers many topics in high school mathematics. It is divided into five subcategories: Number & Quantity, Algebra, Functions, Geometry, Statistics & Probability, and Integral Essential Skills. 

For each category, students are expected to demonstrate their level of knowledge, analysis, and comprehension of various mathematical problems including complex equations, number systems, shapes, and more. 


Questions in the English subject test involve your understanding of the English language and your ability to write well and effectively with as few errors as possible. There are three subsections here - Production of Writing, Knowledge of Language, and Conventions of Standard English - all of which will test students’ effectiveness in and comprehension of the English language. 

ACT kindly offers sample English prep questions to help you study and there are other wonderful online resources available to help you best prepare for the English part of the ACT Test


As the name suggests, the Reading subject test evaluates your reading comprehension abilities and reading skills. Similar to the English subsection, the Reading subsection has three sub-categories that aim to test students on their reading comprehension and textual analysis abilities. 

It is always a good idea to do your own research to begin preparing for the ACT’s Reading section. There are also ACT sample Reading questions to help with your prep. 


The content of the science test covers biology, chemistry, physics, and the Earth/space sciences (for example, geology, astronomy, and meteorology).

A key theme of this section is knowing how to interpret, analyze, and calculate scientific data presented in various forms, such as in scientific tables, graphs, and diagrams. Students should, ideally, be able to demonstrate an understanding of proper scientific investigation, including various aspects of scientific experimentation. 

If you are intimidated or uncertain about how to best study for the Science section, check out some helpful online resources that can guide you during your ACT Science test preparations

Ask Your Teachers for Help

As you may already know, a lot of the ACT test content is taught in high school. And since this is a test for those about to enter post-secondary education, the difficulty of ACT questions is roughly equal to Grade 11 to 12 courses of the equivalent subjects. 

So, if you’re struggling with any type of question, asking your teachers for help is an excellent way to get some guidance and assistance.

FAQs: Understanding ACT Scores

Do you still have unanswered questions? Perhaps you can find your answers here! Below is a full breakdown of ACT scores and some tips on how to improve! 

1. What Is the ACT Composite Score?

Your ACT composite score combines your average score from all four test sections rounded to the nearest whole number.  

2. Is 32 a Good Score for the ACT?

Yes, a score of 32 is a great ACT score and will make you a competitive applicant. It, in fact, puts you in the 97th-98th percentile of ACT test-takers. This score will open doors to most colleges across the country. 

3. What Is a Good ACT Score for Scholarships?

Whether your ACT score qualifies you for a scholarship depends entirely on the scholarship itself. The more competitive and prestigious the scholarship, the higher the ACT score requirement will be. A good minimum score to aim for is 25, which should qualify you for many smaller scholarships, however, working and studying for a score of 30 or higher won’t hurt. 

4. How Do You Check Your ACT Score?

You can check your ACT scores through your MyACT account. If you do not have one, you can make one through the ACT website

5. How Are ACT Scores Calculated?

ACT scores are calculated by counting the number of correct answers per section (incorrect answers are not counted nor deducted), which becomes that section’s raw score. The raw score is then converted to a “scale score,” which is a number ranging from 1 to 36. Since the ACT has four sections (English, Mathematics, Reading, and Science), you will have four separate scale scores in total. 

The average between your scale scores is your composite score. This is rounded to the nearest whole number.  

6. What’s the Worst Score You Can Get on the ACT?

One. That’s the lowest possible score for an ACT test. The ACT composite score is ranged from 1 to 36. So 1 is the lowest score. Although, unless you submitted four empty subject tests, it might be harder to get a 1 than it is to get a 36. 

7. What ACT Scores Are Needed for College?

The ACT test which contains all four mandatory subjects is needed for college. The writing test is optional.

However, due to the pandemic, many colleges are listing ACT scores as optional for application.

8. What ACT Score Do I Need for the Ivy League?

Ivy League schools have no minimal requirements for ACT scores. No matter how much you got on the ACT, the Ivy League welcomes you to apply. Although, considering how competitive Ivy League schools are, it doesn’t seem like a minimal requirement is even needed.

9. What Is the Perfect ACT Score?

The perfect ACT score is 36. You might not need to get every single question correct due to how converting raw scores work, but very few mistakes are tolerated if you’re aiming for this score.

10. When Do ACT Scores Come Out?

The composite ACT score and the scores for the four ACT subject tests usually take two weeks after the official test date to become available. However, it can take as long as eight weeks. If you’ve taken the ACT with the writing test, your ACT scores may take an additional two weeks to be released.

Final Thoughts

After this comprehensive ACT score guide, you can feel more confident knowing what to expect when taking the ACT. Keep in mind that even though you can’t get a breakdown of your performance before your first ACT, the information is still very helpful when deciding whether you need to take a future test. 

At its core, ACT score reports are designed to help you better understand yourself so you can learn what your academic strengths and weaknesses are, and whether or not you’re ready for college. And if you happen to not be ready, then it can be a boon to learn how you can become ready. Try to look at ACT score reports as valuable opportunities to learn more about yourself. 

Good luck with your ACT test!

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