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Thomas Broderick

Average ACT Score by State

In such a numbers-obsessed world, it’s easy to become obsessed with comparing your own “numbers” to the numbers of others. Who has more Instagram followers? Who has the better GPA? Who can eat the most Peeps in 30 seconds? And who blow the average ACT score out of the water with their intellectual prowess?

Average ACT Score

So it’s easy to understand why we want to know how our test scores compare to average ACT scores, although there is not always an easy answer.

First, the typical answer…

Average ACT Scores by the Numbers

In 2014, US students averaged a composite score of 21.0 on the ACT, broken down like this:

ACT Test (Section)Average Score 2015

However, keep in mind that these numbers are being drawn from an incredibly large pool of students (over 1.8 million, to be exact) each of whom is taking the ACT for different reasons: because it counts as their high school assessment, because they are trying to get into Harvard, because their parents made them, because they couldn’t think of anything better to do on a Saturday morning…

So it’s really not all that helpful. Let’s look at averages in your state.

State ACT Score Averages

Here are the average ACT scores by state, plus information about the percentage of students who meet national performance benchmarks.

Average ACT Score by State (2015)

StatePercent of Graduates TestedAverage Composite ScoreMet English Benchmark (%)Met Reading Benchmark (%)Met Math Benchmark (%)Met Science Benchmark (%)
North Carolina10019.047343226
North Dakota10020.662414238
South Dakota7621.970545146
New Mexico7120.155403330
West Virginia6620.869483434
South Carolina6220.461433834
District of Columbia4221.157464439
New Jersey2923.278596352
New York2823.779636659
New Hampshire2324.386686862
Rhode Island1923.178635852
This chart contains 2015 data on the percent of high school graduates who took the ACT, average composite scores, and the percent of tested students who met subject benchmarks. The data is organized by U.S. state.

Data from The Condition of College & Career Readiness 2015 by ACT


Let’s break it down. The states are listed by percentage of graduating students tested. Listed are the average composite scores and percentage of students who met readiness benchmarks in English, Reading, Science and Math.

ACT Score Readiness Benchmarks?

That would be college readiness we’re talking about. ACT has done a lot of research and I invite you to read it, but let me break it down for those of you on a tight schedule.

  • ACT (and just about every other piece of academic research) admits that high school grades are the best predictor for college success. Just because your ACT wasn’t great doesn’t spell doom in your future.
  • However, ACT scores are the SECOND most valuable predictor of college success.
  • Students who have solid goals for their careers perform better on the ACT and in college.

What Average ACT Scores by State Means for Everyone

First, let’s take a look at the states where the ‘Percent of Graduates Tested’ is 100%. These are at the top. We can infer that these states are making taking the ACT a graduation requirement, and though you may not live in any one of them, they are a great starting place for us.

If we look at these ‘100% states,’ we get a more comprehensive picture of your competition when it comes to college admissions or scholarships. For example, though Maine has a 23.6 average composite score, only 9% of its graduates took the ACT. That’s not a representative sample size, and tells us very little how the other 91% of students would do on the ACT. Big Hint: probably worse.

A Better Way to Compare Your Score to an Average ACT Score

To get a better idea of how your scores compare to an average ACT score, it’s better to look at a smaller pool of students.

  • First of all, you can look at average ACT scores for your state.

Although you will find that scores don’t vary drastically between states, you may live in a slightly less or more competitive one.

  • You can look at average ACT scores for your school.

Many students can access this data on their high school’s “Profile” sheet. This might be posted on your school’s website or you can ask your college counseling department for it. In fact, this is a really crucial piece of paper. Did you know that this is the cheat sheet colleges use to understand how your high school compares with other high schools and how you compare with your fellow students? So, yeah, you might want to have it too.

An Even Better Way

You need to know how your ACT scores compare to the average ACT scores at the colleges or universities you are targeting.

You can typically find average test scores directly on admissions websites. But if you don’t have a college list yet (or even if you do), I highly recommend doing some exploratory searches on College Navigator, a great free tool you can use to find the average test scores at any U.S. college or university along with a ton of other useful statistics.

Some colleges are still stuck in the stone ages of only publishing average SAT scores, but if this is the case, you can easily convert this SAT score to an ACT score to see where your scores shake out.

The Magoosh Answer

True, your ACT score can be a very important factor in determining college admissions. So make sure to arm yourself with all of the above facts and figures before you set your ACT goals. But it’s also important to keep in mind that your ACT scores are only one part of who you are as an applicant–you have lots of other talents, both quantifiable and unquantifiable, to offer a college.

And, don’t forget the most important person to be comparing yourself to is…you.

If you studied hard and increased your ACT score from a 16 to a 20, that is a huge win, and to heck with any charts on average ACT scores! You are now way more awesome than “average you” was before.

What All this Average ACT Score Info Means for You

There is something to be said about being Math obsessed. Though that may not describe you, a little obsession about average ACT scores by state can be a good thing.

Here’s what I mean: If you’re on the college/scholarship path, average ACT scores by state will show you the states where you are the most competitive applicant. So if you’re even thinking about going to college out of state, average ACT scores are something you can’t afford to miss.

Back to the study tests, ACT scholars! I want you to be able to go to college in any state you want!

About Thomas Broderick

Thomas spent four years teaching high school English, social studies, and ACT preparation in Middle Tennessee. Now living in Northern California, he is excited to share his knowledge and experience with Magoosh's readers. In his spare time Thomas enjoys writing short fiction and hiking in the Sonoma foothills.

2 Responses to “Average ACT Score by State”

  1. Misty says:

    How do ACT scores look for 2016 with the new revisions?are the scores lower? The test seems more difficult…

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert Magoosh Test Prep Expert says:

      They haven’t really compiled the data for 2016 yet, so that’s a really good question! The recent changes to the ACT aren’t actually designed to make the test more difficult. So new scores shouldn’t be impacted– in theory at least. It’s possible that students may find the new format changes more challenging. Only time will tell, although if that does prove to be the case, the ACT will probably try to make a few more adjustments, as “more difficult” was not what they were aiming for.

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