Understanding Your ACT Score: Average, Good, & Highest ACT Scores

Student looking at laptop
August 11, 2022
Average ACT ScoresACT Scores By Percentile Average ACT Score for Ivy League SchoolsHighest Possible ACT Score What Is a Good ACT Score?ACT Scores FAQs

”Mary

Reviewed by:

Mary Banks

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 5/4/22

If you choose to take the ACT over the SAT, you know you’ll want to achieve the highest ACT score possible to show your college readiness. This guide will teach you all you need to know about ACT scores! 

Colleges view your ACT scores to gauge your intellectual ability and college readiness. But what is a good ACT score for college admissions? What does an average ACT score look like? 

If you want to evaluate how you compare to other test-takers, we’ll teach you everything you need to know about your scores, including average ACT scores, percentiles, highest ACT scores possible, and much more.

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Average ACT Scores 

Before we dive into average ACT scores, it’s essential to know how the ACT is scored. First, the number of questions you got correct in each section are counted and converted to scale scores: 

These ACT scores range from 1 to 36 in each category (except for writing, out of 12). The average of your four scores determines your ACT composite score. According to ACT Score National Ranks, the average score in each category is: 

The average ACT score is 20.6. These rankings are based on almost 4.5 million “ACT-tested high school graduates of 2019, 2020, and 2021.” 

The ACT’s website also released score information for students who decided to take the optional writing test, which contributes to an English Language Arts score (ELA). The average writing and ELA scores are 6.4 and 19.2, respectively. Remember, you’ll only see these scores if you take the ACT optional writing test.

ACT Scores By Percentile 

ACT score percentiles can show you the percentage of students you scored higher than and what percentage scored higher than you. To read the ACT percentile chart below, find a score on either side you want to evaluate, then check the number in the category. 

For example, a 23 on the English test places you in the 71st percentile: you scored at or higher than 71% of test-takers, and 29% scored higher than you.

ACT Scores by Percentile table 1
ACT Scores by Percentile table 2
Source: ACT.org

Based on the table above, you can see that ACT score percentiles tend not to change very much at either end of the spectrum. For example, if you received an ACT Math score of 30, retake the ACT, and score a 32, you’ve only jumped from the 94th to the 97th percentile (which is still impressive). 

However, in the middle of the table is where 1 point, either way, can make a huge difference in your percentile ranking. For instance, if your first composite score is 20 and you retake to get a composite score of 23, this 3-point difference takes you from the 54th to the 70th percentile. 

Overall, these percentile rankings show you how you compare to other students but also show how your percentile ranking can dramatically shift if you score on the lower or middle end of the range the first time.

Average ACT Score for Ivy League Schools

Ivy League schools are ranked as some of the top national universities, and their prestige attracts tens of thousands of ambitious students annually. Most high-achieving students may put one or a couple of these schools on their college lists as “reach” schools: 

If you have your sights set on any of these schools, excellent ACT scores can help your candidacy. Although all eight schools are test-optional until at least 2023, submitting stellar ACT scores can only help reaffirm why you’re a great candidate. 

Recent class profile data dictates average ACT scores for the Ivy League as follows:

Average ACT scores for Ivy League schools
Sources: Brown University, Columbia University, Cornell University, Dartmouth College, The College Board, Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, Yale University

If you decide to report your scores to an Ivy League school despite test-optional policies, you should strive for an ACT composite score between 32 and 36. It's in your best interest to score as close to 36 for your best shot of acceptance.

However, if you don't score as high as admitted Ivy League students, you have three options: 

However, be advised that submitting ACT scores below a school's average or middle 50% ACT range can possibly hinder your application. Weighing your options before proceeding is vital!

Highest Possible ACT Score 

The highest ACT score is 36: however, achieving a perfect ACT score is no easy feat. To give you some perspective, approximately 5,580 students achieved a perfect ACT score out of over 1.6 million test-takers: only about 0.33% of test-takers get a perfect ACT score. 

However, this doesn't mean achieving the highest ACT score is impossible. Sticking to a consistent study schedule, analyzing questions you get wrong during practice, and consulting helpful ACT guides and materials can better prepare you for the test.

What Is a Good ACT Score? 

This is one of the most common questions students ask about ACT scores: the (perhaps unsatisfactory) answer is that what makes a good ACT score is subjective. To determine what a good ACT score would be for you, consider: 

Beyond these factors, it's helpful to look back at ACT percentiles. If you're shooting for a score in the top 25th percentile, 24 to 36 would be considered a good ACT score. If you're aiming for the top 10th percentile, you'll want to score at least 29. 

If your definition of good is anything above an average ACT score, anything above 20 would satisfy that. When you ask yourself, “what is a good ACT score?” remember that it depends on your personal goals and the schools you’re applying to.

ACT Scores FAQs 

If you still have questions about ACT scores, check out these FAQs! 

1. Is a 17 on the ACT Good? 

Although a "good ACT score" is subjective, a 17 on the ACT places you in the 36th percentile: 64% of test-takers scored higher than you. Generally, 17 probably wouldn't be an excellent ACT score. 

2. How Important Are ACT Scores for College? 

While even the College Board states that test scores are not the most important factor for college, colleges use them to compare you objectively to other applicants across different school systems. Generally, ACT scores are important because they show your academic ability and college readiness. 

3. Can I Get Into Harvard With a 30 ACT Score? 

While it’s not impossible, Harvard generally admits students with ACT scores between 33 and 36. However, Harvard is test-optional until at least 2026. You may have a better chance if you retake the ACT or have a really impressive application. 

4. What Is a Low ACT Score? 

Like what you would consider a high ACT score, a low ACT depends on your definition of "low." If you consider anything below the 50th percentile as low, the answer is 19 and below. Generally, anything below the 25th percentile (composite score of 15) may be low. 

5. How Do I Know if I Have a Good ACT Score for Colleges I Want to Apply to? 

If you want to know if your ACT score is competitive for a particular college, you can evaluate class profile data to compare your ACT score to admitted students. Aiming for the top end of the middle 50% range or higher can make you a more competitive applicant! 

6. I Got My ACT Score: How Do I Know If I Should Retake the ACT? 

If your ACT score is lower than the middle 50% range of most schools you want to apply to, you may want to consider retaking the test. Boosting your ACT score can help you become a more competitive applicant.

7. What’s the Lowest Possible ACT Score? 

The lowest ACT score possible is 1.

Final Thoughts

Now that you know more about average ACT scores, the highest ACT score, and percentiles, you can evaluate your score in a broader context. If you score a 21 or above on the ACT, you've achieved an average score: scores 30 and higher place you in the 93rd percentile or higher. 

If you have your hopes set on an Ivy League school, you should strive for an ACT score in the 30s, preferably 32 or higher. If you want to get the highest ACT score possible of 36, you can do it through training and preparation. Remember, ACT scores are just one part of a stellar college application!

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