ACT Scores: Everything You Need to Know

Picture of a graded ACT score paper sitting on top of a laptop
Updated:
February 21, 2024
7 min read
Expert Reviewed
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”Mary

Reviewed by:

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 2/21/24

Curious about how the ACT scores work? This article will break down 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. This article will show you everything you need to know about ACT scores. Let's get started!

How is the ACT Score Calculated?

Your ACT score is determined by averaging your scores from the four mandatory sections: English, Math, Reading, and Science. Simply add up your scores from these sections and divide by 4, then round the result to the nearest whole number. This composite score is what colleges typically use to assess your performance on the ACT.

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 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 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 on each test topic. This includes breakdowns for the four subject tests and 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 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 you and your colleagues a clear and detailed introspect. It helps colleges assess your skills and abilities and determine whether or not you’re qualified for the program you’re applying for. At the same time, it guides you on what areas to improve 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 have weaknesses. 

Each category 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 into 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 determine whether 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 

Benchmarks are another assessment of college readiness. However, instead of ranges like 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 you will get a C or B or better.

What’s the ACT Score Range?

The ACT score range is from 1 to 36 for each section as well as for the composite score. Here's a breakdown of the score ranges:

  • English: 1 to 36
  • Mathematics: 1 to 36
  • Reading: 1 to 36
  • Science: 1 to 36
  • Composite (average of the four section scores): 1 to 36

Is the ACT Test Hard?

Whether the ACT is hard depends on the individual. Some might struggle with lengthy reading passages or tricky math questions. However, because the test follows a predictable format, practice can make a significant difference. 

Even if you find it tough at first, practicing regularly can help you improve. With time and effort, you can overcome any challenges and improve your performance on the ACT.

How Important is the ACT?

Taking the ACT test can significantly boost your chances of securing scholarships, whether they're new opportunities or enhancements to existing ones. In fact, research shows that students tend to earn more scholarship dollars with ACT scores compared to SAT scores. 

This means that performing well on the ACT can open up more financial aid options for your college education. So, if you're aiming to minimize the financial burden of college tuition, taking the ACT and striving for a strong score could be a smart move.

The Difference Between Raw Score and Scale ACT Score?

Your raw score on the ACT is simply the total number of questions you answer correctly across all sections of the test (English, Math, Reading, and Science). For every correct answer, you earn one point, with no penalties for wrong answers.

Once you have your raw score for each section, it's converted into a scale score ranging from 1 to 36. This scale score is what colleges and universities use to evaluate your performance. The conversion process ensures that scores from different versions of the test can be compared accurately. 

So, while your raw score tells you how many questions you got right, your scale score gives you a standardized measure of your performance on the ACT.

female student on laptop outdoors

What is the Average ACT Score?

According to the 2023 ACT report, the average ACT score this past year was 19.5. 

Score Composite Percentile (All Tests Combined) English Percentile Math Percentile Reading Percentile Science Percentile
36 100 100 100 100 100
35 99 99 99 98 99
34 99 97 99 96 99
33 98 95 98 94 97
32 97 94 97 92 96
31 95 92 96 90 95

Score Composite Percentile (All Tests Combined) English Percentile Math Percentile Reading Percentile Science Percentile
30 94 91 95 88 94
29 92 90 94 86 93
28 90 88 92 84 91
27 87 87 90 81 89
26 85 85 87 79 87

Score Composite Percentile (All Tests Combined) English Percentile Math Percentile Reading Percentile Science Percentile
25 81 82 83 76 84
24 78 79 79 74 80
23 74 75 75 69 74
22 69 71 71 64 67
21 64 66 68 59 62

Based on the composite scores, English and Reading have higher average scores than Math and Science. For example, to score in the 95th percentile (or top 5%), you would need to score a 33 in English but only a 30 in math.

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.

Highest ACT Scores

The highest possible score on the ACT is 36, which reflects a perfect performance across all sections of the test: English, Mathematics, Reading, and Science. The ACT max score is the pinnacle achievement for ACT test-takers. 

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. So, build a study plan and get started as soon as you can. 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. 

Math

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. 

English

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

Reading

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. 

Science

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, most 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 questions, asking your teachers for help is an excellent way to get some guidance and assistance. Also, find out if you're ready for the ACT with our simple quiz. It's designed to gauge your readiness and help you prepare confidently.

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 improving! 

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 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?

The ideal ACT score for scholarships depends on the scholarship's criteria. Generally, aiming for at least a 25 may qualify for smaller scholarships, while more competitive ones may require scores of 30 or higher. Researching specific requirements is key to maximizing your chances.

4. How Do You Check Your ACT Score?

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

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. 

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 ranges from 1 to 36. So 1 is the lowest score. However, unless you submitted four empty subject tests, it might be harder to get a 1 than it is to get a 36. Also, keep in mind that you can retake the ACT if your score is low. 

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, many colleges list 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 works, 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 for scores to be released. If you’ve taken the ACT with the writing test, your ACT scores may take an additional two weeks to be released.

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