What is a good ACT score? That’s a great question! You might’ve asked your admission counselor, your school counselor, your best friend. Moms and dads, it’s a question that you might ask at every single college fair you attend with your son or daughter.

As you might imagine, whether you’ve achieved a “good” score is a bit subjective. Different people have different expectations for their score — and various colleges have specific admission guidelines, too. For example, a less selective college might prefer a 20 ACT, while a more selective institution might only admit students who have a 26.

Your best bet is to ask each school you’re applying to what ACT score to aim for. How important ACT scores are in the college application process varies from school to school — some schools might not require the ACT (or SAT, ACT’s counterpart) at all.

What is the ACT?

The ACT is a college entrance exam that’s used by colleges and universities to make decisions about whether to admit students to their respective institutions. It’s a four-section test with an optional writing portion that measures your readiness for college.  

The components include four tests: English, math, reading, science reasoning and an optional writing section. The ACT also includes high school grade and course information, a student profile section and a career interest inventory.

The higher your ACT score, the more competitive schools you can place on your radar. A higher ACT will also affect your ability to get merit-based scholarships.

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What is an Average ACT Score?

You might wonder how your score fit in with the thousands of other students who have taken the ACT. Here’s a crash course on how ACT scores work, according to ACT.org.

  1. First, the ACT scans and counts the number of questions that you answer correctly. There is no penalty for choosing incorrect answers. (In other words, if you have to guess on the ACT, that’s okay.)
  2. The ACT then transitions your raw scores (the number of correct answers on each test) to scores that are called scale scores.
  3. These scores are all added together, then divided by four to get your composite score.
  4. You’ll get an official score report which will show your composite score, which can range from 1 – 36. You’ll also see the results of each of the four test scores, and each test score can also range from 1 – 36.

Let’s say you take the test and get the following scores:

English: 26
Mathematics: 30
Reading: 22
Science Reasoning: 27
Average composite score: 26

So, 26+30+22+27 = 105, and 105/4 = 26.25, which gives you an ACT score of 26.

Your composite equates to a percentile that shows how you did in comparison to all other test takers. Your ACT score report will compare your scores to the approximate percentages of recent high school graduates in the U.S. and your state, too. A higher percentile means you scored higher than that percent of students. (In other words, a rank of 45 for your composite score means that 45 percent of students earned that composite or lower.)

Of the over 1.9 million students tested on the ACT in 2018, the average composite ACT score was 20.8. To break it down a little more, here are the averages for the four tests in 2018:

English: 20.2
Mathematics: 20.5
Reading: 21.3
Science Reasoning: 20.7
Average composite score: 20.8

What is the Highest ACT Score?

The highest ACT score is a 36. Less than one percent of all students achieve that extraordinary score. A 20 is an average ACT score and nestles right in at the 50th percentile. On the other hand, a 24 ACT score means you’ve scored better than about 75 percent of students. An ACT score of 29 means you’ve scored better than 90 percent of students, and finally, a score of 31 means you’ve scored better than 95 percent of students.

If you score anything above a 35, pat yourself on the back. You’ve scored higher than 99 percent of all test takers. It doesn’t get better than that!

Here’s a quick breakdown:

  • ACT score < 16: Bottom 25 percent
  • 21 ACT: Middle/average score
  • 24+ ACT: Top 25 percent
  • 29+ ACT: Top 10 percent 
  • 31+ ACT: Top five percent
  • ACT score of 35 or 36: Top one percent

How to Superscore the ACT

Some colleges and universities allow you to superscore the ACT, which means that you average your best subjects from all four testing areas. It’s different than a composite score because you take the best of what could be several tests and create a superscore

It’s easy to do: You simply round up your score reports, find your highest score from the English, math, reading and science tests and add these scores together. Next, divide by four and round your score up to the nearest whole number. 

For example, let’s say you took the test twice and got the following scores: 

Test date 1:
English 20
Mathematics 20
Reading 25
Science reasoning 25

Test date 2:  
English 25
Mathematics 19
Reading 20
Science reasoning 26

Average all the bold scores (25, 20, 25 and 26) and divide by four and that equals a superscore of 24.

You might be wondering whether the writing score counts toward a superscore — it doesn’t.

You will receive a total of five scores for the essay test: a single subject-level writing score reported on a range of 2-12 and four domain scores, which are also 2-12, according to ACT.org. These scores are based on an analytic scoring rubric. The subject-level score will be the rounded average of the four domain scores: Ideas and Analysis, Development and Support, Organization and Language Use and Conventions.

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Do all Colleges Superscore the ACT?

Many, but not all, colleges superscore, but the number has increased in recent years, according to ACT.org. Learn more about the admission requirements by contacting the various admission counselors at schools you’re looking at.

When the September 2020 ACT rolls around, you’ll be able to send your individual superscores to various colleges. 

How to Improve Your ACT score

Let’s say you’re not happy with your ACT score. You can take the test again or superscore the test. In September 2020, you’ll have even more options. You’ll be able to do ACT section retesting and also report your superscores to individual colleges. 

You can take the ACT as many times as you want. Some colleges also offer residual testing, which means they can give the ACT through the admission office at any time — but the score will only count for that particular school. Ask the admission offices of colleges if you can do a residual test, which will not occur on a national test date.

Choose the Right Fit

Think you’re ready for this all-important test? Or maybe you’ve already taken it, you even know what it stands for and you’re curious to know how you compare among national ACT test-takers.

Even if you do know what percentile you fall into and every detail of your ACT score, that doesn’t matter as much as knowing which college is the best fit for you.

ACT scores are just one indicator for a college of whether you’re an excellent candidate for admission. Other factors, such your grades, letters of recommendation, alumni interviews and more will also help a college — and you — determine the right fit. Luckily, there are so many college choices out there. The right combination of ACT score, filing the FAFSA and more will get you ever closer to making a college decision.

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