ACT scores range from a low of 1 to a max score of 36. Overall, ACT test scores are the average of test-takers’ sectional scores (also 1-36) in English, Math, Reading, and Science. So what is a good ACT score? The ACT score range for students admitted to different colleges varies, and the average ACT score is 20.8. However, various factors will affect what a “good” ACT score is for you.
“What’s a good ACT score?”
If I had a dollar for every time I’m asked that…well, let’s put it this way: I’d be driving a much nicer car.
Basically, if you’ve taken the ACT, or you’re planning on taking the ACT, you probably want more information about your scores and what they mean.
Where do you stand in terms of the ACT score range? And where do you stand in terms of the ACT score range for colleges you might want to attend?
But hold it! Challenge question:
While a lot of people might cop out by saying no, I’ll take a risk here and say YES—with a big caveat. A “good” ACT score depends entirely on your personal goals.
Does better than average count as good? Top quarter? Top 10%?
All of these thresholds are meaningless without context. In fact, there are about as many different “good” ACT scores as there are ACT scores. And a good ACT score for someone else might not be a good ACT score for you.
Furthermore, while most schools care about the composite score, some will look specifically for your subject area scores. So even a number isn’t just a single number.
Don’t worry, though. We’re not going to leave it at that! In fact, we’re going to dive in and look at every factor that affects how good your ACT score is for your personal goals.
Table of Contents
In this post, we’re going to go over:
- ACT Score Range
- ACT Test Score Range for the Top 100 U.S. Universities
- Average ACT Scores
- Good ACT Scores by Grade Level
- What Is a Good ACT Score for Scholarships?
- What ACT Score Range Do I Need for the Ivy League?
- Pre-ACT Score Range
- How to Improve Your ACT Test Scores
- Diagnostic Quiz: How Will You Score on the ACT?
Let’s get started!
ACT Score Range
The ACT exam comprises four tests:
- …and an optional essay
Within each of the four tests, you’ll receive a scaled score from 1-36.
This score is based on the number of questions you answered correctly, known as your raw score. (If you’re interested in how the test maker converts raw scores to scaled scores, check out our ACT Raw Score Conversion Chart.)
ACT Composite Scores
The test maker then averages your four test scores for the composite, or overall, score. This is also scored using the 1-36 score range.
So what is a good ACT composite score? The lowest composite ACT score possible is 1, while the highest ACT score possible is 36. Other factors will help you determine what a good ACT composite score is for you, and we’ll look at those in a minute.
ACT In-Section Scores
But the composite score is not the only score that matters! ACT score reports will provide you even more information about your test-taking experience in the form of sub-scores.
What do these look like? We’re so glad you asked!
ACT Sectional Sub-Scores
|Section||Overall Score Range||Sub-Score Breakdown|
Rhetorical Skills (1-18)
|Math||1-36||Pre-Algebra/Elementary Algebra (1-18)
Algebra/Coordinate Geometry (1-18)
Plane Geometry/Trigonometry (1-18)
|Reading||1-36||Social Sciences/Sciences (1-18)
|Science||1-36||No sub-scores on the Science test!|
Understanding ACT Percentiles
Finally, last but definitely not least, you’ll see your percentile. Or, rather, percentiles.
Your ACT percentiles compare your scores to the scores of other test-takers. When you get your score report, you’ll be able to see where you stand both in terms of your composite score and your test (or in-section) scores.
If you scored in the 90th percentile, for example, you scored better than 90% (or 90 out of every 100) test-takers. If you scored in the 50th percentile, you scored better than half of your peers.
ACT Test Score Range for the Top 100 U.S. Universities
But even with ALL of the information you can find on your ACT score report, your ACT test scores still don’t mean that much without more context.
As I emphatically stated at the beginning of this post, a good ACT score for you will depend on what your goals are. Well, here’s a chance to see how to tailor those goals to the school(s) of your dreams before you send ACT scores to them.
How Do Colleges Use the ACT?
The ACT, like its cousin the SAT, is a standardized test meant to measure both knowledge gained in high school and potential to succeed in a college setting. The higher the score, the more likely a student will excel in college.
Though not the only piece in the college application puzzle, your ACT score is the first thing most admissions counselors see. If you don’t score in the same range as most of the current students, it is going to be VERY HARD to convince them that you would be the perfect fit.
ACT Scores of Accepted Students
In the table below, you’ll see the 25th-75th percentile ACT scores (also known as the “middle 50%” scores) for the top 100 U.S. universities.
What do all those numbers mean? In short, the middle-scoring 50% of incoming students scored within this range. 25% of incoming students scored below the lower number, while 25% of incoming students scored above the higher number. Everybody else (the middle 50%) scored between the two.
Here’s an approximation of what the distribution of score percentiles could look like:
With all that said, take a look at the ACT score range in 2016 below.
ACT Score Range for the Top 100 U.S. Universities
|College Ranking||College Name||25th Percentile Scores||75th Percentile Scores|
|3||University of Chicago||32||35|
|5 (tie)||Columbia University||32||35|
|5 (tie)||Stanford University||31||35|
|7||Massachusetts Institutes of Technology (MIT)||33||35|
|8 (tie)||Duke University||31||34|
|8 (tie)||University of Pennsylvania||31||34|
|10||Johns Hopkins University||32||34|
|12 (tie)||California Institute of Technology (CIT)||34||35|
|12 (tie)||Northwestern University||31||34|
|15 (tie)||Cornell University||30||34|
|15 (tie)||Rice University||32||35|
|15 (tie)||University of Notre Dame||32||34|
|15 (tie)||Vanderbilt University||32||35|
|19||Washington University in St. Louis||32||34|
|20 (tie)||Emory University||29||33|
|20 (tie)||Georgetown University||30||34|
|20 (tie)||University of California--Berkeley||29||34|
|23||University of Southern California||30||33|
|24 (tie)||Carnegie Mellon University||31||34|
|24 (tie)||University of California--Los Angeles||25||33|
|24 (tie)||University of Virginia||28||33|
|27 (tie)||Tufts University||30||33|
|27 (tie)||University of Michigan--Ann Arbor||29||33|
|27 (tie)||Wake Forest University||27||33|
|30||University of North Carolina--Chapel Hill||27||32|
|32 (tie)||College of William & Mary||28||32|
|32 (tie)||University of Rochester||29||33|
|34 (tie)||Brandeis University||29||32|
|34 (tie)||Georgia Institute of Technology||30||33|
|36||New York University||29||32|
|37 (tie)||Case Western Reserve University||30||33|
|37 (tie)||University of California--Santa Barbara||24||30|
|39 (tie)||Boston University||27||31|
|39 (tie)||Northeastern University||31||34|
|39 (tie)||Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute||28||32|
|39 (tie)||Tulane University||29||32|
|39 (tie)||University of California--Irvine||N/A||N/A|
|44 (tie)||Lehigh University||29||32|
|44 (tie)||University of California--Davis||24||30|
|44 (tie)||University of California--San Diego||27||32|
|44 (tie)||University of Illinois--Urbana-Champaign||26||31|
|44 (tie)||University of Miami||28||32|
|44 (tie)||University of Wisconsin--Madison||27||31|
|50 (tie)||Pennsylvania State University--University Park||25||29|
|50 (tie)||Pepperdine University||25||30|
|50 (tie)||University of Florida||27||31|
|50 (tie)||Villanova University||29||32|
|54 (tie)||Ohio State University--Colombus||27||31|
|54 (tie)||University of Washington||26||31|
|56 (tie)||George Washington University||27||31|
|56 (tie)||Southern Methodist University||28||32|
|56 (tie)||University of Georgia||26||31|
|56 (tie)||University of Texas--Austin||26||31|
|60 (tie)||Fordham University||27||31|
|60 (tie)||Purdue University--West Lafayette||25||31|
|60 (tie)||Syracuse University||24||29|
|60 (tie)||University of Connecticut||26||31|
|60 (tie)||University of Maryland--College Park||N/A||N/A|
|60 (tie)||Worcester Polytechnic Institute||27||32|
|66 (tie)||Clemson University||27||31|
|66 (tie)||Yeshiva University||24||29|
|68 (tie)||Brigham Young University--Provo||27||31|
|68 (tie)||University of Pittsburgh||26||31|
|70||Rutgers University--New Brunswisck||N/A||N/A|
|71 (tie)||Baylor University||25||30|
|71 (tie)||Stevens Institute of Technology||29||32|
|71 (tie)||University of Minnesota--Twin Cities||26||31|
|74 (tie)||Clark University||26||30|
|74 (tie)||Texas A&M University--College Station||25||30|
|74 (tie)||University of Massachusetts--Amherst||25||30|
|74 (tie)||Virginia Tech||N/A||N/A|
|79 (tie)||Miami University--Oxford||26||30|
|79 (tie)||University of California--Santa Cruz||23||29|
|79 (tie)||University of Delaware||25||29|
|82 (tie)||Colorado School of Mines||28||32|
|82 (tie)||Michigan State University||23||28|
|82 (tie)||Texas Christian University||25||30|
|82 (tie)||University of Iowa||23||28|
|86 (tie)||Binghamton University--SUNY||27||31|
|86 (tie)||Indiana University--Bloomington||24||30|
|86 (tie)||Marquette University||24||30|
|86 (tie)||University of Denver||23||30|
|86 (tie)||University of San Diego||26||30|
|86 (tie)||University of Tulsa||26||32|
|92 (tie)||Florida State University||25||29|
|92 (tie)||North Carolina State University--Raleigh||27||31|
|92 (tie)||University of Colorado--Boulder||24||30|
|92 (tie)||University of Vermont||25||30|
|96 (tie)||Drexel University||25||30|
|96 (tie)||Saint Louis University||25||31|
|96 (tie)||Stony Brook University--SUNY||26||31|
|99 (tie)||Auburn University||24||30|
|99 (tie)||Loyola University Chicago||24||29|
|99 (tie)||SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry||25||29|
|99 (tie)||University at Buffalo--SUNY||24||29|
A ton of information, right? Always a good thing. (We break down these scores even further in ACT Scores for Top Universities, just FYI!)
Just make sure that you’re using the information appropriately. We provide the middle 50% ACT test scores for a reason.
It’s really tricky to use ALL test scores from accepted students. For example, it’s incorrect (exciting, but incorrect) to follow a train of thought like this:
“Wow, the ACT score range for Harvard is 22-36. I have a 29. I’m in!”
Hold on, there, buddy. Yeah, Harvard isn’t lying when it tells you that someone with a 22 got it. Yet he (or she) was an exception to the rule.
Maybe she got a medal in the last Olympics. Maybe his father is an alumnus with a fat (and generous) wallet. We can’t know for sure, but it doesn’t really matter.
What you need to do is make sure that you use the best info available—and in this case, it’s those middle 50% test scores. There are no ACT score requirements for Harvard, but 75% of admitted students do score above 32 on the ACT.
ACT Score Ranges and Your Application
However! I’m not saying that falling below an ACT score range means that there is a 0% chance you’ll get into your dream school. Some people do, or there wouldn’t be a range.
What I am saying is is that if you’re in (or above) the range, that’s one big hurdle taken down between you and the “fat envelope.”
Average ACT Scores
So by now you know that the ACT score range is 1-36, and that 36 is the perfect ACT score. You also have some idea of where you’ll need to score to get into your dream school, as well as where you’d be likely to score if you took the test today.
But where do you stand compared to the average test-taker?
The ACT average score was 20.8 (composite) in 2016. Basically, if you scored above 21 overall, you’re ahead of the curve.
Contextualizing Your ACT Results
To see how far ahead of the curve you are, or the points you’d need to score to reach 21, looking at ACT percentiles is a good place to start.
It can also be helpful to look at the ACT in comparison to other standardized tests, particularly the SAT, to see how your score stacks up.
If you’re feeling super competitive, you can also check out how your score compares locally in Average ACT Scores by State.
Average Sectional (Test) Scores on the ACT
The average ACT composite score of 20.8 reflects the average overall score on the ACT tests. Let’s take a look at how this breaks down for each of the four tests and the essay (which isn’t factored into your overall score) on the following ACT score chart.
Average ACT Scores by Test
|Test||Score Range||Average Score|
|Essay (subsection of English Test)||2-12||6.9|
A Word About ACT Writing Scores
What is a good ACT Writing score? A quick note on this essay business. You might be worried about the ACT essay, as the scoring has recently changed. But there’s nothing to fear!
Actually, the scores have just reverted to the old ACT score range for essays of 2-12.
If you’re craving more detail on scoring the essay and the English section, find out what we say when students ask “What is a Good ACT Writing Score?” and “What is a Good ACT English Score?” (We get a lot of questions around here!)
Good ACT Scores by Grade Level
When considering the questions, ”What is a good ACT score for a sophomore,” “What is a good ACT score for a junior,” and “What is a good ACT score for a senior,” things get a little more complicated.
Now, in addition to the factors we’ve already discussed, we’ll add in one more: grade level.
This will help us pinpoint a good ACT score range for you to target depending on your circumstances. After all, what is considered a good ACT score for a sophomore (and maybe taking the PreACT) won’t be the same as what is considered a good ACT score for a senior.
Okay…So What IS Considered a Good ACT Score?
We’ve crunched some numbers and come up with the following, based on your ultimate goals.
The numbers on the ACT score chart are loose projections—as I mentioned earlier, students with lower scores may still get into their dream schools! Still, these scores are good/great starts for students at different grade levels with the following goals.
Good ACT Scores by Grade Level and Goal
|Only Ivy League for me!||I'm going for schools ranked between 25-50||I'm going for schools ranked 50-75||I'm going for schools ranked 75-100||I'm going for schools ranked above 100|
Keep in mind that we constructed this table with the assumption that you’ll keep studying and pushing yourself in your ACT prep as you move through high school!
A rise of four points a year is within your grasp if you do this. If you let everything drop until the last minute, though, you may not see an appreciable rise at all. (However, the more advanced coursework you’re encountering should still help give your scores a bump.)
On the other hand, if you’ve scored a 36 and you’re a sophomore, that’s awesome. Don’t take the test again. Also, what are you still doing reading this post?
What Is a Good ACT Score for Scholarships?
Imagine this: It’s test day, and you’ve finally finished taking the ACT. The proctor calls “pencils down!” You turn in your test, walking out of the room with a sense of accomplishment, pride…and potential fistfulls of dollars.
Yup, a strong ACT score can put you in the running for scholarships. But just what is that strong (okay, okay—”good”) ACT score for scholarships?
As with ACT scores for college admissions, there’s no one magic number. On the other hand, there are a few guidelines we can look at.
Is My Score in the Ballpark for ACT Scholarships?
If you’re scoring in the 30s, that’s a great place to start. After all, if you score above 30, you’re in the top tenth percentile of all ACT test-takers.
On the other hand, you can still get a scholarship even if you’re scoring in the mid-20s.
The main variables here? Which scholarships you’re applying for, and which schools you hope to attend.
How Much Money Will I Get?
In almost every case, the higher your score, the bigger the payout.
Baylor University gives scholarships of up to $41,996 a year to students getting a perfect score of 36 on the ACT. But knock that score down a few points, to 29, and suddenly that scholarship’s only $27,996.
Oklahoma State University gives students scoring 24 on the ACT (and a 3.0 GPA) up to $7,000 a year. Six points more, though, and students scoring 30 are eligible for up to $12,500 annually.
As we’ve seen, some scholarships will also have GPA requirements, or applications, so be sure to check before assuming that money’s in the bank.
What ACT Score Range Do I Need for the Ivy League?
Ah, the $200,000 (and rising) question! No faffing about. Let’s get to it with our Ivy League ACT score range chart:
Ivy League ACT Score Range
|College Ranking||College Name||25th Percentile||75th Percentile|
|3 (tie)||Yale University||31||35|
|5 (tie)||Columbia University||32||35|
|8 (tie)||University of Pennsylvania||31||34|
Kristin breaks this down further for us, explaining what these scores mean. If you’re wondering about the relative “value” of the SAT vs. ACT in Ivy League admissions, she does a great job of explaining that, as well.
Final word? Remember that, when applying to the Ivies, it’s important for your whole application to, well, sparkle.
If you’re scoring slightly below the middle 50% for your dream Ivy, it’s worth putting in the time to pull it up. Maximize those chances!
Pre-ACT Score Range
As a freshman or sophomore, you may be in one of several scenarios regarding the ACT, the Pre-ACT, and the ACT Aspire. Let’s take a look at what these might be:
- You’ve decided to forego the Pre-ACT and ACT Aspire tests in favor of the ACT;
- You’re taking both the Pre-ACT and the ACT Aspire;
- You’re only taking the Pre-ACT;
- You’re only taking the ACT Aspire.
Now, let’s go into these scenarios in greater detail.
You’ve decided to forego the Pre-ACT and ACT Aspire tests in favor of the ACT.
I definitely don’t recommend useless extra testing, but if you’re offered the opportunity to take both these tests before the real ACT, it’s a good idea to do so.
You’re probably in tenth grade or younger, and most likely won’t have covered all the coursework that the ACT tests. By taking the Pre-ACT, you’ll be able to see the ACT range that you might hit, as well as areas that you can work on before the official test.
The 9th and 10th grade Aspire tests will also help you sharpen those test-taking skills. Colleges won’t see these scores, so it’s great to get a sense of your weaknesses under exam conditions before your official exam.
You’re taking both the Pre-ACT and the ACT Aspire, just the Pre-ACT, or just the ACT Aspire.
First of all, make sure you know exactly what you’re taking! Sophomores can take both tests, but they’re scored very differently.
The Pre-ACT is scored on the same 1-36 ACT score scale. This means that you can use the above guidelines to see approximately where you’re scoring within your peer group.
It also means that you can see exactly what you need to work on before taking the ACT to get your dream score. You can find out more about Pre-ACT scoring in “What Is a Good Pre-ACT Score?”
ACT Aspire Scoring
On the other hand, the ACT Aspire uses “benchmark” scores in the triple-digits. Meeting the benchmark scores is one way to predict success in first-year college courses.
ACT Aspire does not use the same format or scoring as the ACT, but it can be really helpful to see where your scores are weaker and where they’re stronger, because guess what? The ACT Aspire tests the same subject areas as the official ACT.
ACT Aspire and ACT Score Predictions
And, in fact, the 9th and 10th-grade ACT Aspire test predict how you’ll do on the ACT in 11th grade in terms of the benchmark scores.
Wondering what those benchmarks are? We’ve broken it down for you below in the ACT score chart, and you can check out “What Is a Good ACT Aspire Score?” for more details.
ACT Aspire Benchmarks
|Subject||Grade 9 Score Range||Grade 9 Benchmark Score||Grade 10 Score Range||Grade 10 Benchmark Score|
Data from Discover ACT Aspire.
Because we’ve been looking at general ACT scores, on the 1-36 scale, it can be helpful to have a rough conversion between the ACT Aspire and general ACT scores, as well. As always, we’ve got you covered!
ACT Aspire to ACT Score Conversion
|ACT Aspire 9 Score||Projected ACT Score||ACT Aspire 10 Score||Projected ACT Score|
Data from ACT Aspire: Predicted Scores.
If your Aspire or Pre-ACT scores aren’t where you’d like your ACT scores to be, don’t panic! You have plenty of time to make the leap to your dream score in the coming year or two. Just make sure you study intelligently! And on that note…
How to Improve Your ACT Test Scores
Whether you have a few years or a few days before you take the official ACT, several resources can really help you on your way!
Magoosh’s ACT Prep offers so many resources with which you can increase your score:
- 200+ lesson videos
- 700+ practice questions with video explanations
- up to 3 full-length practice tests
- study schedules
- mobile apps to help you learn key concepts
- 4 point score guarantee
- helpful email support from expert tutors
But that’s not even the best part!
By going through the Magoosh ACT Blog, you can also use these resources to make a study plan, get great advice, and get detailed practice questions and explanations from our experts.
If you’re looking for one-stop shopping for your ACT prep, this is it.
Magoosh’s ACT Mobile Apps
I know that your phone never leaves your side. So, why not adapt your prep to your lifestyle by studying on your Android or iPhone? We offer two free mobile apps to accompany your prep:
ACT Practice Test
Even if your test is this weekend, it’s a really good idea to familiarize yourself with the test format and question types you’ll see. This will allow you to spend time actually answering questions, rather than figuring out what you’re supposed to do, during the test! Magoosh even offers a free, printable ACT Practice Test with over 200 of our student-tested ACT questions.
And if you’re just beginning your prep, this is still the best place to start. Once you’ve taken the test, you can analyze which areas need the most improvement and then strategize your study plan.
Finally, keep in mind that if you take the ACT in December, April, or June, you have the option of signing up for the Test Information Release service, which will provide you with a copy of the test questions, your answers, and the answer key. This can provide you with an incredible amount of information to help you prepare to do better on a retake.
A Final Word: What IS a Good ACT Score?
So what IS a good ACT score? It’s the score you’re happy with, because it’s the score that will take you where you want to go.
Whew! Good job, guys. As a reward for sticking it out and filling your head with all kinds of useful ACT information, check out how your ACT scores compare to those of famous people, and get the definitive answer to those eternal questions: Are you more of a Barack Obama or a Marilyn Monroe? Peyton Manning or Sonia Sotomayor? Now you’ll know.
You can also take our diagnostic quiz to find out how prepared you really are for the ACT… 🙂
Quiz: How Will You Score on the ACT?
Wondering how well you would perform on the ACT if you were to take it today?
At the start of your ACT prep journey, it’s important to establish a baseline—that way, you know how much you need to improve before test day and you have a way to measure how well all your studying has paid off.
The absolute BEST way to measure how prepared you are for the ACT is to take a timed, full-length practice test and see how well you score under test-like conditions. But, since you probably don’t have 3-4 hours to spare right this minute, let’s start with a 12-question quiz.
Quiz Starts Here:
This quiz has one page for each ACT test (4 total): English, math, reading & science. Each section has 3 questions: 1 easy, 1 medium & 1 hard (in that order).
This quiz will take about 10-20 minutes to complete, so grab some scratch paper and a calculator, and do your best!
End of Quiz
If your results don’t match your expectations, remember that it is definitely absolutely 100% possible to boost your score before the official exam! It’ll just take some dedicated prep time, some good materials, and a solid plan. Sign up for a free 7-day trial of Magoosh ACT prep to get access to over 200 lesson videos, 700 practice questions, and 3 full-length practice tests.
On the other hand, if your results reflect where you want to be, that’s a great start! But keep in mind that there are a lot of variables that can affect your test score.
Taking a few full-length practice tests before the official ACT exam, reviewing your answers, and studying your weak areas, will ensure that you get the score you want when you sit down to take the real ACT.
Improve your SAT or ACT score, guaranteed. Start your 1 Week Free Trial of Magoosh SAT Prep or your 1 Week Free Trial of Magoosh ACT Prep today!