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Rachel Kapelke-Dale

ACT Scores: Everything You Need to Know

Good ACT scores are the key to getting into the college of your dreams!

But what is a good score? For most students, scoring above average, 21 or higher, is a good score. For those applying to elite colleges, scores in the 94th percentile (30+) or even the 98th percentile (33+) are good scores. But that’s the short answer… there is more to it than that of course. In this post, we’ll cover everything you need to know about ACT scores.

Table of Contents

How are ACT Scores Calculated?
What is a Good ACT Score?
ACT Scores for the Top 100 U.S. Universities
What is an Average ACT Score?
What Is a Good ACT Score for Scholarships?
Should I Cancel My ACT Score if I Get a Bad Score?
How to Improve Your ACT Test Scores

How are ACT Scores Calculated?

The ACT test score range is between 1 and 36. There are two types of scores that fall in this range: your section scores and your composite score.

What are ACT Section Scores?

The ACT exam comprises four sections:

The score on each section is calculated by converting the raw score–the number of questions you answered correctly in a given section–to a scaled score in that 1-36 range. (There are no penalties for questions with an incorrect answer).

If you’re thinking “aw man, do I need to know a formula to figure out my practice ACT results??” — never fear! We actually have this handy dandy score calculator where you can plug in your raw scores to figure out your section scores. You can also check out our ACT Raw Score Conversation Chart for a sense of how many questions you need to answer correctly to get a certain scaled score.

What are ACT Composite Scores?

To make your composite, or overall, score, the test maker then averages your four scores on all sections. This is also scored using the 1-36 ACT scale.

Score range 1 to 36

So what is a good ACT composite score? Many factors will help you determine what a good ACT composite score is for you. But before we get into that, know that the composite score is not the only score that matters! The ACT score report will provide you even more information about your test-taking experience in the form of subscores.

What are ACT Subscores?

We’re so glad you asked! The Reading, Writing, and Math sections also have categories with their own score ranges, as noted in the table below:

SectionOverall Score RangeSub-Score Breakdown
English1-36Usage/Mechanics (1-18)
Rhetorical Skills (1-18)
Essay (2-12)
Math1-36Pre-Algebra/Elementary Algebra (1-18)
Algebra/Coordinate Geometry (1-18)
Plane Geometry/Trigonometry (1-18)
Reading1-36Social Sciences/Sciences (1-18)
Arts/Literature (1-18)
Science1-36No sub-scores on the Science test!

What are 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. In your score report, you’ll be able to see where you stand both in terms of your composite score and your 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 score percentiles

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What is a Good ACT Score?

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 you will get into the colleges of your choice.

That being said, there’s no straight answer on what is a good or bad score; it depends entirely on you, your goals, your grades, your extracurriculars, the schools you want to apply to, and a variety of other factors. A passing score on the ACT for someone else might not be a passing score for you and vice versa.

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.

Liam got a 35 on the ACT. Get a higher ACT score with Magoosh.

Don’t worry, though. I’m not copping out on an answer, I promise!

Objectively speaking, a score of 32 or higher would put you in a competitive position for any school that you choose apply to. If that’s your goal, check out this video by Magoosh expert Kristin on how to get the highest ACT score:

But unless you want to go to super-elite schools, you might find it more useful to focus on your GPA and extracurriculars than aiming for the max score. That’s where it becomes useful to look at school rank when deciding what’s a good score on the ACT.

Good ACT Scores by Grade Level and School Rank

a good act score for a junior

We’ve crunched some numbers and come up with what could be considered good scores, based on your ultimate school goals as well as your grade level. After all, a good score for a sophomore (who’s maybe taking the PreACT instead) won’t be the same as a good score for a senior. If you have time to improve your score by the time you’re applying to colleges, no need to pressure yourself to get the right score right away!

Please note that the numbers on the following ACT scoring chart are loose projections—as I mentioned earlier, a lot of factors affect how high of a score you need to achieve. ACT students with lower scores may still get into their dream schools and students with top scores may not. Still, this is a good place to start as you plan your ACT preparations.

Also, if you don’t know the rankings of the schools that you’re interested in, you can skip to the section on ACT scores for the top 100 U.S. Universities to see the competitive score ranges for a given school. After figuring out the rankings range of a few schools you’re interested in, you may choose to come back to this table to get a more solid idea of the score that you should aim for.

 Only Ivy League for me!I'm going for schools ranked between 25-50I'm going for schools ranked 50-75I'm going for schools ranked 75-100I'm going for schools ranked below 100

If you’re a sophomore or junior, a rise of four points a year is within your grasp if you study hard! If you let everything drop until the last minute, though, you may not see an appreciable rise at all. (However, taking advanced coursework should 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?!

ACT and your college application

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ACT Scores for the Top 100 U.S. Universities

Though not the only piece in the college applications 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. That’s why we provided for you, in the table below, the 25th-75th percentile 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:

ACT percentile ranges for colleges universities

With all that said, take a look at the score ranges in 2019 below. You can search by school–if your schools of interest rank in the top 100, you’ll find it on this table. If the school’s middle 50% aren’t reported, take a look at the scores at similarly-ranked schools.

ACT Score Range for the Top 100 U.S. Universities

College RankingCollege Name25th Percentile Scores75th Percentile Scores
1Princeton University3235
2Harvard University3335
3 (tie)Columbia University 3335
3 (tie)Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
3 (tie)Yale University 3335
6 (tie)Stanford University 3235
6 (tie)University of Chicago3335
6 (tie) University of Pennsylvania 3235
9 Northwestern University3335
10 (tie)Duke University3335
10 (tie)Johns Hopkins University 3335
12 (tie)California Institute of Technology (Caltech)3536
12 (tie)Dartmouth College 3135
14Brown University 3235
15 (tie)University of Notre Dame 3335
15 (tie)Vanderbilt University 3335
17 (tie)Cornell University 3234
17 (tie)Rice University 3335
19Washington University in St. Louis3235
20University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) 2834
21Emory University3134
22 (tie)University of California--Berkeley2834
22 (tie)University of Southern California (USC)3034
24 Georgetown 3134
25 (tie)Carnegie Mellon University3335
25 (tie)University of Michigan--Ann Arbor3034
27 Wake Forest University2933
28University of Virgina 3034
29 (tie)Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) 3134
29 (tie)New York University (NYU)2934
29 (tie)Tufts University 3134
29 (tie)University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (UNC Chapel Hill) 2733
29 (tie)University of Rochester 3034
34 (tie)University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) 2632
34 (tie)University of Florida 2732
36University of California, Irvine (UCI) N/AN/A
37 (tie)Boston College 3134
37 (tie)University of California--San Diego2633
39 University of California, Davis (UC Davis) 2531
40 (tie)Boston University 3033
40 (tie)Brandeis University2933
40 (tie)Case Western Reserve University3034
40 (tie)College of William and Mary3033
40 (tie)Northeastern University3234
40 (tie)Tulane University3033
46 (tie)University of Wisconsin Madison2732
46 (tie)Villanova University3033
48 (tie)University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign2632
48 (tie)University of Texas, Austin (UT Austin)2733
50 (tie)Lehigh University2933
50 (tie)Pepperdine University2632
50 (tie)Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute2933
50 (tie)University of Georgia2732
54 (tie)Ohio State University--Columbus2732
54 (tie)Santa Clara University2832
54 (tie)Syracuse University2532
57 (tie)Florida State University2630
57 (tie)Pennsylvania State--University Park2530
57 (tie)Purdue Univesity-West Lafayette2532
57 (tie)University of Miami 2932
57 (tie)University of Pittsburgh2832
62 (tie)Rutgers University--New Brunswick2531
62 (tie)University of Washington2732
64 (tie)Loyola Marymount University2731
64 (tie)Southern Methodist University2933
64 (tie)University of Connecticut2631
64 (tie)University of Maryland--College Park2833
64 (tie)University of Massachussetts-Amherst (UMass Amherst)2631
64 (tie)Worcester Polytechnic Institute2933
70 (tie)Clemson 2932
70 (tie)George Washington University2530
70 (tie)Texas A&M University--College Station2531
70 (tie)University of Minnesota--Twin Cities2631
74 (tie)Fordham University2832
74 (tie)Stevens Institute of Technology3032
74 (tie)Virginia Institute of Technology (Virginia Tech) 2531
74 (tie)American University2731
77 (tie)Brigham Young University--Provo2631
79 (tie)Baylor University2631
79 (tie)Binghamton University2832
79 (tie)Gonzaga University2530
79 (tie)Indiana University--Bloomington2431
79 (tie)University at Buffalo2429
84 (tie)Colorado School of Mines2833
84 (tie)Elon University2530
84 (tie)Marquette University2430
84 (tie)Michigan State University2329
84 (tie)North Carolina State University--Raleigh2731
84 (tie)University of California--Santa Cruz2431
84 (tie)University of Iowa2328
91 (tie)Clark University2831
91 (tie)Miami University--Oxford2631
91 (tie)Stony Brook University (SUNY)2631
91 (tie)University of California--Riverside2329
91 (tie)University of Delaware2530
91 (tie)University of San Diego2530
97 (tie)Drexel University2530
97 (tie)New Jersey Institute of Technology2530
97 (tie)Saint Louis University2531
97 (tie)Texas Christian University2630
97 (tie)University of Denver2631
97 (tie)University of San Francisco2329
97 (tie)Yeshiva University2230

Data from the U.S. News & World Report: National Universities Ranking.

What are the Score Ranges for the Ivy League?

Ah, the $200,000 (and rising) question! No faffing about. Although the Ivy League score ranges were featured in the above chart, here they are again for your convenience:

College RankingCollege Name25th Percentile75th Percentile
1Princeton University3235
2Harvard University3335
3 (tie)Yale University3335
3 (tie)Columbia University3335
6 (tie)University of Pennsylvania3235
12 (tie)Dartmouth College3135
14Brown University3235
17Cornell University3234

If you’re wondering about the relative “value” of the SAT vs. ACT in Ivy League admissions, our ACT expert, Kristin, does a great job of explaining that in this video:

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 (or any of your dream schools, really), it’s worth putting in the time to pull it up. Maximize those chances!

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What is an Average ACT Score?

So by now you know that the ACT score range is 1-36, and that 36 is the perfect score. You also have some idea of where you’ll need to score to get into your dream school. You might already have an idea on how you would score on the ACT if you took the test today, either because you have taken real or practice ACT tests or you can convert your SAT score to a predicted ACT score.

But where do you stand compared to the average test-taker?

The ACT average score was 20.8 (composite) in 2018. Basically, if you scored above 21 overall, you’re ahead of the curve.

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.

If you’re feeling super competitive, you can also check out how your score compares locally in Average Scores by State.

Average Section 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 score chart.

TestScore RangeAverage Score
Essay (subsection of English Test)2-126.7

A Word About ACT Writing Scores

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!)

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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 fistfuls of dollars.

Yup, a strong score can put you in the running for scholarships. But just what is that strong score for scholarships?

As in the case of college admissions, there’s no one magic number. On the other hand, there are a few guidelines we can look at.

act for 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.

For example?

Baylor University gives scholarships of up to $21,000 a year to students getting at least a 31. But knock that down a few points to a 28 ACT score (and keep everything else, such as GPA or class rank, the same), and suddenly that scholarship’s $18,000 a year.

Arizona State University gives in-state students scoring 21 on the ACT (and a 4.0 GPA) up to $6,000 a year. Four points more, though, and students with a 25 ACT score are eligible for up to $8,000 annually.

Some scholarships will also have additional requirements, such as a minimum GPA or an application to fill out, so be sure to thoroughly check eligibility requirements before assuming that money’s in the bank.

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Should I Cancel My ACT Score if I Get a Bad Score?

If you get your ACT scores and find that you’ve scored significantly below your target score, you might be tempted to cancel your ACT scores, worrying that colleges would penalize you for having low scores on your record. But there are a few reasons why you should definitely not cancel your ACT scores.

First and foremost, if you take the ACT more than once, most colleges only care about the highest ACT score you earn. And that’s true even if you do a little worse on the second try, so it’s just best to keep all the options on the table by not canceling scores.

Other colleges superscore ACT results, meaning that if your highest subscores for each section are spread out across different test dates, colleges will only focus on those highest scores. It’s like making a standardized test version of Frankenstein, but using only the best parts!

So let’s say you take the ACT and score really well on Math and Science but not so great on Reading and Writing. If you cancel your scores, you’d risk those great Math and Science scores that could potentially be superscored with better future results in Reading and Writing.

Another reason not to cancel your ACT scores is that you’d be giving up a clear-cut set of results that explains your strengths and weaknesses when your scores come out. Even “bad” results are an invaluable tool for getting great ACT scores next time.

To learn more about how to make the most of a potential ACT retake, read on to the next section!

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How to Improve Your ACT Test Scores

Whether you have a few years or a few days before you take the official ACT, here are some preparation tips to help you be the best ACT student you can be. (The Magoosh ACT Blog is generally a good place to get free advice on ACT study plans, the best ACT resources out there, and everything else ACT-related).

Finally, 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 when you get your score report. You can sign up for this service through your ACT login page between registering for the ACT and up to five days after the test (if you order by mail, you have six months after your test date).

Although you have to pay, the Test Information Release gives an incredible amount of information to help you get closer to your ACT passing score. Keep in mind that because the ACT score release dates are typically 3 to 8 weeks after the test, you’d want to make sure there are ample test dates available for a retake before you’d need to send your scores to colleges.

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A Final Word on ACT Test Scores

Whew! That’s everything you need to know about ACT test scores (and probably more)! If you’re wondering how your scores stack up to SAT scores (or still wondering which test to take), check out the ACT to SAT conversion.

Good job, guys. As a reward for sticking this post out and filling your head with all kinds of useful ACT information, check out how your 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!

About Rachel Kapelke-Dale

Rachel is one of Magoosh’s Content Creators. She writes and updates content on our High School and GRE Blogs to ensure students are equipped with the best information during their test prep journey. Rachel has helped students around the world prepare for various standardized tests, including the SAT, ACT, TOEFL, GRE, and GMAT, and she is one of the authors of our Magoosh ACT Prep Book. Rachel has a Bachelor of Arts in Comparative Literature from Brown University, an MA in Cinematography from the Université de Paris VII, and a Ph.D. in Film Studies from University College London. For over a decade, Rachel has honed her craft as a fiction and memoir writer and public speaker. Her work has appeared in over a dozen online and print publications, including Vanity Fair Hollywood. When she isn't strategically stringing words together at Magoosh, you can find Rachel riding horses or with her nose in a book. LinkedIn

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