You just took the ACT standardized multiple choice exam, or you are about to take it, so you are probably wondering – what is a good act score?
The answer to this question really is – it depends.
For most high school students, a score of 21 or above is a good score for ACT, but for those applying for the top-rated colleges and schools, an ACT score good is one which is in the top 98th percentile, which is a composite score of 33 and more.
What is a good ACT score depends on a number of different factors, including what’s the average score on the ACT test for all test-takers, what the colleges and universities which you are interested in consider a good score on the ACT, what are the ACT score ranges among your competition for a position at a school or a scholarship or financial aid.
Read on to find out more on how to determine what a good score on the ACT in your specific case is, and how to determine your target good score on ACT in order to achieve your goals for your future education.
How is the ACT scored?
The ACT is a standardized multiple choice test for high school students that consists of four sections, including English, Math, Reading, and Science. There is an optional writing practice section, as well.
The score on each of the sections is calculated by converting the number of questions you answered correctly (the raw score) into a scaled ACT scores range from 1 to 36. No points are removed for wrong answers. Following that, the scaled scores from each of the 4 sections are converted into a composite score, which too has a range of 1 to 36.
Act scores good are essential for successful college application and admission, as well as for scholarships.
What about subscores?
It may sound complicated, but the report you receive after you take the ACT will contain not only your composite scoring for ACT but also your subscores, to let you know how you did on every part of the English, math, and reading sections of the exam. The science section doesn’t offer subscores.
The sections and subscores are broken down as follows:
For English – a 1-18 subscore for usage and mechanics, a subscore for rhetoric skills, and a 2-12 subscore for the essay.
For math, a 1-18 subscore for pre and elementary algebra, a subscore for algebra and coordinate geometry, and a subscore for plane geometry and trigonometry.
For reading, you will receive a 1-18 subscore for social sciences and sciences, and one for art and literature.
So, a good score ACT is a composite of your overall performance in all areas covered by the test.
More about the ACT score percentiles
In your report from the test, you will also receive your percentile.
The ACT score percentiles are the estimate of how your scores compare to those of all other test-takers and what is the lowest and what is the highest ACT score. You will receive percentile information both for the composite score from the exam and for all the section scores separately.
If you have scored in the 60th percentile, this means that you have scored better than 60% of the other test-takers. If you have managed to score in the 90th percentile, then you have achieved scores for ACT which are better than 90% of all of the other students who took the exam with you.
Based on your percentile scores you will know what score is good for ACT for all test-takers as well as for yourself.
What is the highest score on the ACT?
With the ACT score range being from 1 to 36, the highest ACT composite score you can receive is the maximum of 36. But you will still be in the top 99th percentile even if you receive a score of 35 or 34.
You can, in some cases, achieve the perfect ACT composite score of 36 even if you missed or got up to 5 questions wrong. So, the answer to the question what’s a high ACT score can be different depending on the high ACT scores of the different sections, but it ranges in the 34 and 36 ACT score range.
The fact is that less than 2,750 students have managed to reach the perfect score among the 2 million who took the test a year back, but the numbers have been growing each year, making the application process for college or university even more competitive.
A perfect ACT composite score will draw the attention of the admissions committee and college board, and may even land you a spot at the dream college and help you win a scholarship, but you should remember that the ACT score is only 1 component of the application which the college admissions office will be looking at.
So, even with the perfect ACT composite score of 36, you may get rejected by a college if the rest of your application is not up to the requirements of the school or if you are applying to a highly selective and top-ranked school where most college students have also scored perfectly at their ACT exams.
What is the average score on ACT?
The ACT exam is scored by following a normal distribution, which means that the test-takers performance is clustered somewhere in the middle 50 percent of the 1-36 scale, and much fewer high school students score in the highest or lowest percentiles.
This means that the answer to the question what’s the average score on the ACT is about 20.8 which is the middle 50 ACT good score. If your score is 21, you have outdone about 50% of the high school students who took the test. Scoring a 24 means that you are in the 74th percentile and have scored higher than ¾ of the other students who took the same exam.
Because of the tendency of most high school students scoring an average ACT score in the middle of the scoring range of what is the average ACT score , if you are one of the test-takers, even a few points above what is an average ACT score of 20.8 points will bump up your overall performance in percentiles as compared to the others.
To get an idea of how you scored as compared to all others who took the same ACT exam, and what is a good score on the ACT, and the score you need to be applicable for the college of your choice, here is a table of the ACT scores, and the percentiles per section and the composite score.
What is a good ACT score for me?
But no matter how you have performed and what percentile you are in, whether the ACT score is good for you or not also depends on the colleges and universities which you are interested in applying to.
While a score of 29 is in the top 10 percentile and can be considered good for getting accepted during college admissions in some excellent schools like Penn State, Baylor, or Texas A&M, the same score may not be good enough or the score you need to get accepted in the top ranking and highly selective Ivy League schools like Stanford or MIT.
At the same time, an ACT score of 29 will probably be considered as a very satisfactory score by some less selective schools where the average ACT scores are between 19 and 23.
So, to find out the answer to the question of what is a good ACT score for you specifically, you need to take into consideration the average or required good ACT scores at the universities or colleges you are applying to before you take the ACT.
Plus, keep in mind that the higher your scores on ACT or SAT scores, the higher your chances of winning a scholarship at a school of your choice. What are good ACT scores may also help compensate for a lower GPA in some colleges.
Calculating your score goal
In order to calculate your target ACT score, you should do some research regarding the average and the 25th percentile and 75th percentile ACT scores at your dream schools.
It helps to write down the results for each university or college you are planning to apply for so that you can quickly find the average and set your ACT score goal before taking the ACT.
In order to find the information about admission requirements for the ACT score, you can perform a quick and easy internet search for the school and keywords like “ACT score,” “ACT requirements,” and so on.
Usually, the search will lead you to the pertinent information right away.
Once you get to the admissions requirements, look for the data regarding the 25th percentile and the 75th percentile composite ACT scores of the students who have already been admitted. The two scores representing the 25th percentile and the 75th percentile will show you the score range of most of the students who were successfully accepted in the college, and give you an idea for what score you should be aiming at when the testy day comes and you take the ACT.
When you find the score, you can write the numbers down by the name of the university or college, and then proceed to research the other schools you are interested in.
Once you are done, find which the highest score for the 75th percentile is among all the schools of your choice. This number should be your target score. If you manage to achieve this result, the chances are that you will be competitive for all of the schools you have picked, given that your GPA and other components of the application are competitive too.
You should share your target scores with your parents and with your tutors if you are planning on attending an ACT prep course or class.
Most importantly, this best ACT score goal should be your primary motivation when studying and preparing for the exam.
What is a good ACT score according to the top-ranked universities and colleges in the USA?
Even though the scores from the test are usually not the most important component of your application, it is still one of the first things which the admissions office personnel look at in order to weed out the weaker candidates before moving on to the other documents and data which needs to be inspected and assessed.
This is why it is recommended that you achieve and submit scores, which are the same or close to the average scores (the middle 50%) of all accepted students in that specific school.
Here is a table with the latest ACT Inc. scores information for the top-rated colleges and universities according to the US News ranking for 2019:
What is a good ACT score if you are applying for a scholarship?
A good ACT score can not only help you get accepted in the school of your dreams, but it can also help you win a scholarship, or in other words, help you make quite a lot of money.
The question is, how high an ACT score do you need to be awarded a scholarship?
Once again, the answer depends on the school and the scholarship you are applying for.
Usually, a score of 30 points or above will give you a huge advantage when it comes to scholarships. But in some cases and in some schools, a score in the mid-20s could be absolutely sufficient for getting awarded a scholarship.
So, once again, get back to that table of colleges which you made with the average 25th and 75th percentile ACT scores, and look at the highest percentiles to get an idea of the results you will need if you want to not only get accepted in the college of your dreams, but to get a scholarship as well.
Keep in mind that many schools also require a minimum GPA, class rank, a special form to be filled out, or others in order for the applicant to be eligible for a scholarship.
So, make sure you do your research before you assume that you have already won the financial support.
What should I do if I don’t get my target score at the ACT exam?
So, the test day is over, and you receive a disappointing report with scores lower than your goal? The first thing to do is to take it easy. There are ways to get out of this situation, and there are several options you can choose from in order to go on with your future education plans.
Here are some of the things you can do if your actual ACT score is too low:
You can retake the ACT exam
If you have the time to prep and retake the test, then it is the perfect strategy to do so. This is especially true if your first score is more than 2 points lower than your target score.
The second time around, you may have the chance to focus on studying and mastering the areas in which you scored poorly the first time, rather than having to go over the whole material once again.
You can sign up for a prep course that focuses on a specific section or on one which focuses on score improvement lessons, tips, and strategies.
Plus, most of the quality ACT prep courses offer a score improvement guarantee, so you can get a refund of the fee paid for the course if you don’t beat your first score.
In order to make sure that you are ready for your second test, and that you can achieve a higher score, you should allow yourself sufficient study and prep time.
The recommended study and prep time depends on the score improvement points you want to achieve.
See also: Does Magoosh GRE Prep Test Work?
You can leave it as is
This strategy will work if you have missed your target score by a mere 1 or 2 points only. If you are in the higher percentile in the 25th to 75th range of your dream school anyway, then it may be more sensible to focus on the rest of your application instead of worrying about preparing for an ACT retake.
This, though, is not a recommended strategy if your result is 3 or more points off from your initial target score. It is also not recommended if you are applying for a top-selective school where every single point can make a whole difference. In these cases, you should probably retake the standardized test or adjust your college options.
Adjust the list of schools you will be applying for
If your ACT score is lower by 3 or more points that your goal, and you don’t have time to prep for or retake the standardized test, then you may want to consider adjusting the list of colleges and universities you will be applying for.
While you should still apply for your dream schools, it is also a good idea to choose other schools that match your criteria but are not as selective as your top picks.
You can choose universities or colleges which accept students with lower average ACT scores instead.
Adding safety schools with lower middle ACT scores will help ensure that you will have a larger chance of getting into a university or college this year.
What about canceling my ACT score?
You have a chance to cancel your low ACT score and erase all records of the test you have taken. But this is not always a good idea, because you may not get a higher result at the retake, as well as because most schools will consider the higher score as relevant for the admission process anyway.
Some universities and colleges will consider the highest subscores from the different sections of the ACT exam, from all of the tests you have taken. This means that while you may have performed better the next time around, you may have a higher subscore for a particular section on your first ACT test.
Plus, your report provides valuable feedback for your performance on all sections and areas of the test. You can use the results as a pointer for your prep for your next exam and focus on the material which you did poorly on instead of wasting precious time covering an area that you have already scored well at.
Also, if you cancel your ACT score, you will not be eligible for the score improvement guarantee, which most ACT test prep classes and courses offer. These courses promise students a higher score and will refund their tuition in case the scores do not improve following the course.
Tips on improving your ACT score
In order to ensure that you prep properly for the retake of the ACT exam, you can do the following:
- Try to recollect as many questions from your first exam as possible and write them down, jot down the easy ones, as well as the ones that left you wondering or confused. This list will help you focus on the material which you found harder the first time.
- Study your ACT results thoroughly. As mentioned previously in this article, the ACT composite score is different from the subscores for the different sections of the test. The results of the test will become available in about 6-8 weeks from the test date in your online ACT account. Make sure you check the sections and all of the reporting categories of each section so that you can see which areas need more work and improvement and which don’t. This will save you a lot of time and energy as well as anxiety during your test preparation for the retake.
- Set a new target or stick to your original one. Just like the first time around, it is essential to set a target score for your ACT retake. This will help you stay motivated and decide on the prep time and method, which will help achieve your good ACT result goal.
- Take note of the mistakes which you make the most. When practicing for your ACT retake, make sure that you pay special attention to the common errors you keep making. Spend more time working on preventing these mistakes. In some cases, your lower results may be caused by test anxiety, which is something that decreases the second time you take the standardized test.
- Make sure that you manage your study and prep time accordingly. Here is a rough estimate of the time you should plan for prepping for retaking the ACT depending on the number of points you want to increase your scores by:
- For an increase of 1 point = about 10 hours
- For an increase of 1-2 points = about 20 hours
- For an increase of 2-4 points = about 40 hours
- For an increase of 4-6 points = about 80 hours
- For an increase of 6-9 points = about 150 or more hours
- Work on your exam time management as well. Make sure that you complete as many full-length practice tests as you can but time them accordingly to meet the requirements of the actual ACT exam.
Keep in mind that you have limited time for each section. The time allotted for the math section is 60 minutes, for the English section is 45 minutes, for the reading is 35 minutes, and for science, it is 35 minutes. The number of questions is 60 for math, 75 for English, 40 for reading, and 40 for science. This leaves you with 60 seconds for each math question, 36 seconds for each English question, and 52.5 seconds for each reading and science question. You can skip the more challenging questions and go back to them at the end of the section.
- Get professional test-prep help. You can join an in-person class or sign up for an online instructor-guided or self-paced ACT test prep course. By enrolling in a suitable prep course, you will be able to focus on your weaknesses better and learn score improvement and test-taking strategies, which will help improve your performance. Plus, most courses offer a complete refund of the fee paid if you don’t manage to improve your ACT scores at the next exam you take.
- Do a lot of practice. Since ACT is a multiple choice question, timed standardized test, getting as much practice with real ACT questions, and completing full-length ACT practice tests is something which will help enhance your performance when the second test date comes.
Hopefully, we have helped you decide the ACT score what is good is for your specific needs and plans for the future as a college student.
Now that you know how to set your best score goal, you can start working on the prep for your ACT exam, as well as on the rest of your application for your dream school.