What is a Percentile, Anyway?
ACT percentiles are, in some ways, even more important than your actual ACT score. Why? Because they provide an easy way to compare your performance on the ACT to your performance on the SAT and the performance of other students in general!
Your ACT percentile ranking tells you how you did compared to everyone else on the test , so for example, if your ACT composite percentile is 74%, that means that you scored higher than 74% of other students who took that administration of the test. It does NOT mean you scored a 74% on the test.
On your ACT Score Report, you’ll see numerous percentile scores: A U.S. rank percentile, a state rank percentile, and percentiles for each subject test and subscores within each subject. So many percentages to use for data!
What are the ACT Score Percentiles?
You might be surprised to learn just how “good” your ACT score is compared to other students’ scores.
Did you know that if you score a 32+, you did better than 97% of test-takers? Or that if you scored a 26, you did better than 82% of test-takers? And you can improve your ACT percentile with good practice!
How to Find Your ACT Percentile
|ACT Composite Score||Percentile|
(Combined 2018, 2017, 2016)
(Combined 2017, 2016, 2015)
How to Use ACT Score Percentiles to Improve Your Score
Here’s a snippet from an ACT score report to use as an example:
Notice that regarding ACT English “Usage/Mechanics” and “Rhetorical Skills” questions, this student is doing about the same on each question type. Therefore there is no need to focus more on one over the other.
However on the Math section, the student’s ACT percentile score for “Plane Geometry and Trigonometry” at 39% is lower than their subscore percentiles for “Pre-Algebra/Elementary Algebra” or “Algebra/Coordinate Geometry,” so this might be an indication to work more on this category.
You can also use the subject percentiles to compare your performance on each subject. If you were even-steven across the board, your percentiles should look roughly the same on English, Math, Reading, and Science. But in this case, this student is performing much better in English and Reading (74% and 66% respectively) than Math or Science (47% and 32% respectively).
Although it is certainly fine to be stronger in one subject than another, you don’t want any one subject to be dragging down your score or percentile too much. Colleges can see this too and would note that you are weak in certain areas. So this is a wake-up call to work a little more on these sections for an ACT retake.
How Do Colleges Use ACT Percentiles?
College admissions offices typically use concordance tables to compare ACT scores to equivalent SAT scores and use past admitted student data to compare your ACT scores to those of typically admitted students. So, in the college’s eyes, your actual score is more important.
However, ACT percentile rankings provide an easy way of determining at a quick glance roughly how you compare to other students. So admissions officers (particularly ones who don’t have the concordance tables memorized, a.k.a. most of them!) are likely to take notice of your percentiles as well.
ACT percentiles allow you to see at a glance how you did on the test compared to other students.
They tell you what percentage of students you scored higher than and can be a useful tool to see how your ACT score percentiles compare to your SAT score percentiles and which areas you need to improve upon.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in January 2016 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.
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About Kristin Fracchia
Dr. Kristin Fracchia 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 trail running, backpacking, hot yoga, and esoteric knowledge.
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