Your ACT score is in and you don’t know how to make sense of it. This can be intimidating to stare at a number that influences your future. This guide will help you navigate your score in terms of percentiles, college, and scholarships. Thankfully, if you didn’t score as well as you wanted to, there are many opportunities to retake the test and improve upon your initial ACT score.
How are ACT Scores Calculated?
ACT scores are calculated by a combination of how well you do in four sections: English, math, reading, and science. Your total score for the ACT is out of 36 points. Each section is scored out of 36 points, then those four separate scores are averaged for a score still out of 36 points, but representative of how you performed on the test as a whole.
The English section of the ACT is 45 minutes long. In that amount of time, you must answer 75 multiple-choice questions about punctuation, grammar, vocabulary, sentence structure, and parallelism of several passages that you must read in the amount of time as well. You will get a composite score out of 36 depending on how many questions you answer correctly.
There is a value or range of values that correlate with your English score out of 36 points. The table below shows how many correct answers you must get out of the 75 questions on the English section for each value of 36:
|English Scaled Score|
|English Raw Score|
|English Scaled Score |
|English Raw Score |
|35||73 – 74||21||48 – 50|
|34||71 – 72||20||45 – 47|
|33||70||19||42 – 44|
|32||69||18||40 – 41|
|31||68||17||42 – 43|
|30||67||16||40 – 41|
|29||66||15||38 – 39|
|28||64 – 65||14||30 – 32|
|27||62 – 63||13||29|
|26||60-61||12||27 – 28|
|25||58-59||11||25 – 26|
|24||56-57||10||23 – 24|
The Math section of the ACT is 60 multiple-choice questions that you have 60 minutes to answer. Unlike the SAT, the entire Math section of the ACT is allowed to be taken using a calculator. However, it is suggested that you use it sparingly due to your limited time. In other words, some questions, in theory, can be answered faster without a calculator than with a calculator. Your raw score for the math section will be out of 60 points and your scaled score will be out of 36 points.
There is a value or range of values that correlate with your Math score out of 36 points. The table below shows how many correct answers you must get out of the 60 questions on the Math section for each value of 36:
|Math Scaled Score|
|Math Raw Score|
|Math Scaled Score |
|Math Raw Score |
|36||59 – 60||22||34 – 35|
|35||57 – 58||21||33|
|34||55 – 56||20||31 – 32|
|33||54||19||29 – 30|
|32||53||18||27 – 28|
|31||52||17||24 – 26|
|30||50 – 51||16||19 – 23|
|29||49||15||15 – 18|
|28||47 – 48||14||12 – 14|
|27||45 – 46||13||10 – 11|
|26||43 – 44||12||8-9|
|25||41 – 42||11||6-7|
|24||38 – 40||10||5|
|23||36 – 37|
In the reading section of the ACT you have 35 minutes to answer 40 questions. There will be four reading sections and 10 questions to follow each of them. The reading sections are usually about sciences, humanities, or fiction. The multiple-choice questions will be about comprehension, development, function, and vocabulary. To prepare for this section of the test, it’s best to take practice tests so you are familiar with the format and pacing.
Your raw score for the math section will be out of 40 points and your scaled score will be out of 36 points.
There is a value or range of values that correlate with your Reading score out of 36 points. The table below shows how many correct answers you must get out of the 40 questions on the Reading section for each value of 36:
|Reading Scaled Score|
|Reading Raw Score|
|Reading Scaled Score |
|Reading Raw Score |
|34||38||20||23 – 24|
|32||37||18||20 – 21|
|29||34||15||16 – 17|
|28||33||14||14 – 15|
|25||30||11||9 – 10|
|23||27 – 28|
The science section on the ACT is 40 questions in 35 minutes. It covers topics like biology, chemistry, earth/space sciences, and physics. Some questions require a lot of prior knowledge while others are just about interpreting graphs and charts. Your raw score for the science section will be out of 40 points and your scaled score will be out of 36 points.
There is a value or range of values that correlate with your Science score out of 36 points. The table below shows how many correct answers you must get out of the 40 questions on the Science section for each value of 36:
|Science Scaled Score|
|Science Raw Score|
|Science Scaled Score |
|Science Raw Score |
|35||39||21||21 – 22|
|34||38||20||19 – 20|
|33||37||19||17 – 18|
|31||36||17||14 – 15|
|27||31 – 32||13||10|
|25||28 – 29||11||8|
|24||26 – 27||10||7|
|23||24 – 25|
The writing section of the ACT is optional and doesn’t affect your overall composite score out of 36. The individual essay section is out of 12 points. Two readers will score your piece out of 1-6 points. The two scores will be added together for your final essay score.
You will be asked to write an argumentative piece and include evidence to support your point of view. Your perspective must also be compared to another perspective on the topic in question. Your score will be based on four criteria: ideas and analysis, development and support, organization, and language use. Some specific aspects that graders look for when reading your essay are a clear thesis, counter argument acknowledgment, and developed points with evidence and reasoning. Furthermore, presenting your ideas clearly and concisely is favorable.
Although the essay is optional, and after hours of testing, the last thing you probably want to do is write a timed essay. However, the ACT essay is a great opportunity to show your writing skills, and provide a more complete reading and English representation of your knowledge.
What’s in a Composite Score?
Your composite score for the ACT is your true ACT score and the one that you will report in college applications or scholarship opportunities. It is computed by averaging your scores from the English, Math, Reading, and Science sections.
Therefore, your composite score is less sensitive to outliers if you do exceptionally well on one section, and tank another, your overall composite score will not be as affected as it would on another standardized test. The SAT, for example, is a test that simply adds up scores from each section, making for little room to make up for lost points.
The writing section of the ACT doesn’t get factored into your composite score. Instead, it can be seen as a supplement to your composite score by further revealing your reading and English application skills.
What’s a Raw Score?
On the ACT, your raw score is the individual score that you get correct in each section: English, Math, Reading, and Science. These raw scores are converted to a scaled score out of 36 points. After that each scaled score averaged to find your composite score.
Your raw scores aren’t super influential on your composite score and they are all weighted equally. However, most colleges and scholarships look at both your composite score and your individual scaled scores on the ACT when making decisions. Excelling in Math and Science sections may increase your chances of getting into a technological or STEM-focused opportunity while strong raw scores on the English and Reading sections will be advantageous for liberal arts experiences.
Keep in mind, however, that typically well-rounded composite scores are appealing to most institutions and awards. This separation of scores can be an opportunity to show off a correlation between your specific strengths and interests.
The tables above for each section reveal how your raw score is calculated. For each section, depending on the number of multiple-choice questions, the weight of each correct answer is different. For instance, if you get 8 questions wrong on the Math section (raw score of 52/60) or on the English section (raw score of 68/75) your composite score for that section would be a 31. Meanwhile, if you get 8 questions wrong on the Science section (raw score of 32/40) or on the Reading section (raw score of 32/40, your composite score would be 27. Therefore, each question on the science and reading sections has more of an effect on your raw score than the questions on the math and English sections do due to the number of total questions asked.
What are ACT Percentiles?
ACT score range percentiles are the percentage of students who score under the score that you received. For instance, if you get a 27 composite score, you would have scored in the 87th percentile. This means that out of all the students who took the ACT, you scored higher than 87% of them.
When interpreting your ACT score, the percentile is a way to see how you compare to other students and how you will measure up when applying to college. It is important, however, to remember that many states require all students to take the ACT. Therefore, some of the data is based on students who are not college-bound. This is significant because if you score within the average ACT score range (about the 50th percentile) it would be between 20 and 21. However, based on the students who are applying to college, the 50th percentile would be a higher score than a 21.
A complete list of percentiles for the ACT score chart can be found here.
What Score Should You Aim for on the ACT?
For a “good” score on the ACT, you should aim for above average (which based on the percentiles, would be in the 20-21 range). However, as noted above, many of the scores are not from college-bound students and therefore the percentiles listed are not always a reliable way to determine if your score is “good.”
For most college-bound students, scoring above 22 is a pretty safe spot to be admitted to a college. If you are hoping to get into a top-tier college, then a more competitive score, typically above 30 will likely be necessary. That being said, college admissions are based on multiple other factors besides just your standardized test scores.
Study to set goals
If you took the ACT once, be encouraged to take it again. Research shows that taking the ACT for a second time improves your score most of the time. Aiming for a couple of points higher than your first time taking the test is very a realistic goal. That being said, the higher your original score is, the more difficult it can be to further raise it.
The ACT offers many practice questions and tests for you to take yourself for free on their website. This will make you familiar with the pacing and question format of the ACT. It will also help you understand where you will likely score before taking the actual exam. It would be economical to take a few practice tests before paying for the actual ACT. Furthermore, it would help set a realistic goal for yourself before the day of the test.
Taking practice tests and scoring them is another method to grasp your level of knowledge and develop a goal score for the ACT. Every student will have different scores they aim for based on their familiarity, preparedness, and time management.
Can You Get a Scholarship with Your ACT Score?
There are many scholarships from specific universities that depend on your ACT or SAT score. Most colleges have awards from donors or organizations that are for students pursuing a specific area of study. In this case, your ACT score will be a deciding factor of your eligibility to apply and your qualification to receive the award.
Another system that colleges use for scholarships is a “ladder-system.” In this situation, the ranges of SAT and ACT scores determine how much aid you will receive in a scholarship amount. At some institutions, a high enough score will secure you a full-ride.
Outside Scholarship Awards
There are a number of community organizations, individuals, and memorial foundations that offer scholarships each year. They often ask for your ACT score to compare to other applicants. Therefore, scoring well on the ACT will significantly improve your chances of receiving the award while setting you apart from your competition in terms of academics.
If, however, your ACT score isn’t superior, scholarships often consider a number of other factors while making their decisions including your GPA, volunteer work, and letters of recommendation. Therefore, with a lower ACT score than the students you are competing against, there is still hope that you receive some aid if you are well-rounded and have credentials in other aspects of your life.
How is the ACT Score Range Different from SAT?
A common question asked regarding standardized tests is: is the ACT or SAT easier? There are many similarities and differences between the two tests that make this question nearly impossible to answer. Students who decide to take both tests usually score within a comparable range when your ACT score is compared to SAT.
A significant difference in the scoring is that it is out of fewer total points (36 instead of 1600). Therefore, there is less of a range of values. Students who may score 30 points apart on the SAT may receive the same score on the ACT (if their performance was consistent). This can be an advantage for some and a disadvantage for others. This reveals the wider range of performance students have for each score on the ACT than on the SAT.
Another difference is there is a science section on the ACT and not on the SAT. If science is a strength of yours, then taking the ACT would be an opportunity to reflect this while the SAT wouldn’t present you with one. Furthermore, the ACT has less emphasis on math. Your performance on the Math section counts for ¼ of your composite score for the ACT, and ½ of your total composite score on the SAT.
Understanding your strengths will help you take advantage of the scoring differences of the ACT and SAT. However, students usually will score the same. A chart can be found here that illustrates how your ACT score translates to an SAT score.
The writing sections on the ACT and SAT are both optional and separate from your composite score. The SAT essay section is out of 8 points based on rhetorical analysis. Meanwhile, the ACT essay section is out of 6 points and is an argumentative piece. You have 50 minutes to write the SAT essay and 45 minutes for the ACT essay.
ACT Score Range for the Top 25 Universities
Where can your ACT score take you? Below are the top 25 universities in the United States and what ACT score it typically takes to be accepted. If you don’t meet the criteria below, don’t be discouraged, there are many more universities that aren’t as prestigious that accept much lower ACT scores.
|1||Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)||Cambridge, Massachusetts||34-36||7%|
|2||Stanford University||Stanford, California||32-35||4%|
|3||Yale University||New Haven, Connecticut||33-35||6%|
|4||Harvard University||Cambridge, Massachusetts||33-35||5%|
|Princeton, New Jersey||32-35||5%|
|6||Duke University||Durham, North Carolina||33-35||9%|
|7||Brown University||Providence, Rhode Island||32-35||8%|
|8||Columbia University||New York City, New York|
|9||University of Pennsylvania||Philadelphia, Pennsylvania||32-35||8%|
|10||Rice University||Austin, Texas||33-35||11%|
|11||Northwestern University||Evanston, Illinois||33-35||8%|
|12||Vanderbilt University||Nashville, Tennessee||33-35||10%|
|13||Dartmouth College||Hanover, New Hampshire||31-35||9%|
|14||California Institute of Technology||Pasadena, California|
|15||University of Notre Dame||Notre Dame, Indiana||33-35||18%|
|16||University of Chicago||Chicago, Illinois||33-35||7%|
|17||University of Southern California||Los Angeles, CA||30-34||13%|
|18||Cornell University||Ithaca, New York||32-34||11%|
|19||Bowdoin College||Brunswick, Maine||31-33||10%|
|20||Amherst College||Amherst, Massachusetts||31-34||13%|
|21||University of Michigan||Ann Arbor, MI||30-34||20%|
|22||Georgetown University||Washington D.C.||31-34||15%|
|23||Tufts University||Medford, Massachusetts||31-34||15%|
|24||John Hopkins University||Baltimore, Maryland||33-35||11%|
|25||Carnegie Mellon University||Pittsburg, Pennsylvania|
Wrapping Things Up: ACT Score Range
Defining your ACT score range is an important step in navigating your future. Scoring well can help you get into college and receive scholarships. There are also many opportunities for you to improve upon your score. The ACT is comparable to the SAT, but unique in many ways, making it advantageous for some students.
If you found this post helpful, be sure to save this link so that you can easily reference the ACT score ranges for the top 25 universities and these commonly asked questions surrounding the ACT.
You may also like our other content covering the ACT and SAT exams.