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Kristin Fracchia

How to Calculate ACT Scores

When you receive your ACT score report, it’ll look something like this:

ACT Student Report

So, as you can see, there is quite a bit going on.

Let’s break down what’s important:

Composite Score

Your overall composite score is the most important number on your report. Your composite score can range from 1 to 36, and it is an average of the individual scaled scores you received on the four multiple-choice sections of the test.

So let’s say you scored a 24 on English, 19 on Math, 23 on Reading, and 18 on Science, your overall composite score would be a 21.

The ACT does round its averages. So if the exact calculation of your average worked out to 20.5, you’re in luck: the test would round you up to a 21. If your average worked out to 20.25, however, you would receive a 20.

Scaled Scores

But what do these numbers even mean? How do you get an 18 or 21 or 36? This is where it gets a little more complicated.

When scoring, the ACT takes your raw score (the exact number of questions you got right) on a section and converts it to a scaled score of 1 to 36.

The exact relationship between raw score and scaled score varies slightly between tests. So, for example, a raw score of 54 questions right on the English might get you a 22 on one test and a 24 on another. This is because the difficulty level can vary a bit between tests. The ACT uses a process called equating to hash this out: it measures your results against the results of all the other students who took the same test, as well as against some other factors.

Using scaled scores instead of raw scores or percentages means that the ACT can assure colleges that your score can accurately be compared to any other version of the test given. In other words, a 28 on one test should mean the same thing as a 28 on another test.

Unless you order the Test Information Release service, the ACT won’t tell you what your raw score was, so ultimately the precise relationship between the actual number of questions you got right and your 1 to 36 score will remain a mystery to you.


The percentages you see next to your scores compare you to other students who have taken the ACT, so you can see where you rank among other test takers. If your percentile ranking is 73%, that means you did the same or better than 73% of test takers. Not too shabby.


The ACT will also provide you with subscores on the English, Math, and Reading sections. Subscores tell you how well you did on different question types. The ACT has its own formula for calculating these subscores, so the numbers listed here are relatively useless to students. What is useful, however, are the percentages for these subscores. If you scored better than 88% of test takers on Pre-Algebra/Elementary Algebra, but only better than 37% of test takers on Plane Geometry/Trigonometry…well, then you know you need to work on your advanced geometry and trig.

Writing Score

If you took the optional essay, you will receive an essay score between 2 and 12, which is a combined score from two different graders who score you from 1 to 6. You’ll also receive what is called a Combined English/Writing score, which is a score combining your performance on the multiple choice English section and the Writing test. This combined score is basically designed to provide colleges with an easier number to compare to an SAT Writing score, but there are only a few colleges that actually use it.

Scoring Your Practice Tests

If you are using official practice tests from the ACT, you should find a chart at the back of your test that shows you how to convert your raw score to a scaled score specific to that test. If you don’t have that, you can use this raw to scaled ACT score chart to give you a rough idea. But be aware that tests from other companies don’t always match up exactly with the ACT in terms of difficulty, so take any results you obtain this way with a grain of salt.


About Kristin Fracchia

Kristin makes sure Magoosh's blogs are chock-full of awesome, free resources for students preparing for standardized tests. With a PhD from UC Irvine and degrees in Education and English, she’s been working in education since 2004 and has helped students prepare for standardized tests, as well as college and graduate school admissions, since 2007. She enjoys the agonizing bliss of marathon running, backpacking, hot yoga, and esoteric knowledge.

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