ACT Scores: Everything You Need to Know

Picture of a graded ACT score paper sitting on top of a laptop
June 14, 2022
How the ACT Is ScoredUnderstanding Your ACT Score: Factors to ConsiderAverage ScoresTips to Improve ACT ScoresFAQs
Mary
”Mary

Reviewed by:

Mary Banks

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 6/14/22

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 important part of your application profile. 

Before you take the ACT,  it’s a great idea to have an informed understanding of your ACT scores. So in this article, we will take a deep dive and show you everything you need to know about the ACT scores. Fasten your seatbelts!

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How the ACT Is Scored

The ACT exam is composed of four tests: 

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

Each of these tests also have their 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 each of the four subject test scores calculated? 

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

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 as well. 

ACT Reporting Category

Your ACT score report will contain reporting categories, which are detailed breakdowns on 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.

Table outlining the ACT scoring system for each subject test, including the number of questions in each section and what skills are assessed

*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 reporting category gives a clear and detailed introspect for both you and your colleges. 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 very important 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 vary 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 makes 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, 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. Therefore, readiness provides a more consistent measurement on how well you did.

College readiness is given for both your subject test scores and the scores for the reporting categories, but not for the overall composite score.

Benchmarks 

Benchmarks are another assessment of college readiness, although 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: 

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. 

Average Scores and Ranking Results

In addition to an in-depth breakdown of your own score, your ACT score report also shows you where you stand in comparison to other test takers who took the same test as you. This is shown in the “ranking results” section, where you will see what percentage of test-takers got a lower or an equal score to your scores. 

These results are ranked both in the entire US, as well as in the state where you took your ACT test. Let’s say your composite score got a US Rank of 61%. This means you got a composite score that is greater than or equal to the scores of 61% of the test takers in the entire US. 

The ranking result percentage is available for your composite score and each of your subject tests, including the optional writing test. Unfortunately, your score reports won’t show the average scores of nation-wide or state-wide test takers. However, you can still use the result rankings to get a rough idea on how well your peers did. 

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 end up with a lower score than you could’ve gotten if only you had more time to prepare. 

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

Know What the Test Covers

Just having time is not enough. You must also know what specifically to prepare for. The reporting categories we’ve covered earlier can give us clues as to what the ACT covers, but here is a list on what you should study for. 

Math

In the Preparing for Higher Math category covers many topics in high school mathematics and is further divided into five subcategories. Let’s get into the details of each:

Number & Quantity (7–10%)
Algebra (12–15%)
Functions (12–15%)
Geometry (12–15%)
Statistics & Probability (8–12%)
Integral Essential Skills (40-43%)

English

Questions in the English subject test involve your understanding of the English language and your ability to write well and effectively with as little errors as possible. 

Production of Writing (29–32%)
Knowledge of Language (13–19%)
Conventions of Standard English (51–56%)

Reading

As the name suggests, the Reading subject test evaluates your reading comprehension abilities and reading skills. 

Key Ideas and Details (55–60%)
Craft and Structure (25–30%)
Integration of Knowledge and Ideas (13–18%)

Science

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

Interpretation of Data (40–50%)
Scientific Investigation (20–30%)
Evaluation of Models, Inferences, and Experimental Results (25–35%)

Ask Your Teachers for Help

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

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

FAQ: Understanding ACT Scores

That is the full breakdown of the ACT scores, and some tips on how to improve! Still have unanswered questions? Perhaps you can find your answers here!

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

One. That’s the lowest possible score of 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. 

2. What ACT Scores Are Needed for College?

The ACT test that 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 optional for application.

3. 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.

4. What Is the Perfect ACT Score?

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.

5. 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 in-depth breakdown on ACT scores, you can feel more confident knowing what to expect when taking ACT tests. Keep in mind that even though you can’t get a breakdown of your performance before your first ACT test, the information is still very helpful when deciding whether you need to take a future test. 

At its core, ACT score reports are designed in a way to understand yourself: what are you strengths, weaknesses, and whether or not you’re ready for college. And if not, how can you be ready? Take ACT score reports as valuable opportunities to look into yourself. 

Good luck on your ACT test!

Header Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

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