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Kristin Fracchia

ACT Scores

The ACT Test is scored very differently from the SAT – here’s the gist of what you need to know to plan your goals and understand your score report.

How ACT Scores Work: Top 10 Things to Know


1. Your ACT Test score is a “composite score.”

You’ll get two scores for each section: “raw” and “scaled.”

A “raw score” is calculated by adding up the total questions correct, which is then put into a “scoring formula” to achieve a final “scaled score.” Each test has its own “scoring formula” based on how all the students taking that exam fared. (Here’s an example of an ACT “raw to scaled score” chart.)

Simply put, you’re being graded on a curve.

The scaled score for each section ranges from 1 to 36.

Your composite score is the primary score colleges look at in admissions. It is obtained by averaging the four major subject scores (English, Math, Reading, and Science). And–if you know a thing or two about averages–this of course means that the composite score also ranges from 1-36.

But what about your optional essay score, you say? More on that soon.

2. The national average is approximately 21.

Although you can technically get a 1, 99% of test-takers score a 12 or higher. The majority of students score between a 17 and 25.

What Does My ACT Score Have To Do With Percentiles?

3. The ACT percentiles change from year to year.

They are determined by comparing your score to the scores of other students who took the same test. You can find this information here.

As of 2014, a score of 31 puts you in the 97th percentile.  A score of 28 puts you in the 90th percentile. A score of 24 puts you in the 74th percentile and a score of 20 puts you in the 49th percentile.

4. The ACT has a generous curve!

Answering only 78% of the questions correctly (which would be a C+ in academic subjects) will actually put you in about the 90th percentile on the ACT! This means that 90% of test takers did the same or worse than you did. In other words, you are in the top 10% of test-takers. Bravo! Let’s say you answered only 60% of questions correctly (a D or an F in academic subjects). This would put you around the 70th percentile. So, basically, don’t freak out if you feel that you can’t answer as many questions correctly as you can on a test in school.

5. There are no points subtracted for incorrect answers!

That means you should make sure to answer every single question, even if you have to randomly guess on some of them. Every question you get correct (even if it was just a lucky guess) will raise your score.

How is Each Section of the ACT Scored?

6. The English, Math, and Reading Tests all have sub-scores. 

These sub-scores are calculated as follows:


Although your sub-scores are not likely to be heavily scrutinized by colleges, they can provide you with some useful knowledge about where your strengths and weaknesses lie. There are no sub-scores for the Science section.

7. The ACT essay is scored on a different scale.

Your score for the essay can range from 2 – 12, and it is derived from the combined scores of two different graders (each of whom score your essay on a scale of 1 to 6). This makes getting a 12 really tough! Imagine trying to get two English teachers to separately agree you deserve an A+ on your paper.

Your essay scores is not factored into your composite score, but colleges will be able to see it.

8.  There is also a Combined English/Writing Score

This Combined English/Writing Score is rarely used by colleges, although there are a few that do. It’s theoretically a way to create an easier comparison to the SAT Writing score (which combines both multiple choice questions and the essay).

Although that will change in 2016

How Do Colleges See My Scores?

9. You can choose to send your scores to colleges automatically or later.

When you register for the ACT, you can select up to four schools to receive your score report. The advantage of this is that these first four score reports are free. The disadvantage is that your scores are going to be sent before you have a chance to see them yourself. If you have the means to wait, I recommend waiting to see your scores first, and then deciding to send a paid score report to your colleges once you know what they are. That way if you are unhappy with your score, you have control over the situation.

How Can I Learn More About My Scores?

10. The Test Information Release (TIR) service can tell you a lot more about your scores. 

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.

And just for fun: want to know how your ACT Scores compare to those of famous people?


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About Kristin Fracchia

Kristin makes sure Magoosh's sites are full of awesome, free resources that can be found by students prepping 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 agony and bliss of train running, backpacking, hot yoga, and esoteric knowledge.

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