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 93rd 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.


 

Click the links below to go straight to that section, or keep reading to get everything you need to know ACT 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.

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.

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.

Subscores

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!

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.

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What is the Highest ACT Score?

Seeing as the ACT score range is between 1 and 36, naturally, the highest score that one can receive on the ACT is a 36. Here are some facts to know about the max ACT score:

Getting the highest ACT score, while an amazing feat, is nothing worth breaking your back over. Sure, a perfect score does make your application all the more appealing—colleges love to brag about the percentage of perfect-scoring applicants they’ve admitted each year. And a 36 will definitely get your application moved to the top of the pile at less competitive institutions.

Still, a 36 was worth a lot more ten or fifteen years ago. Not only have many colleges and scholarships adopted more well-rounded admissions approaches to giving out letters of acceptance and/or monetary awards, but the number of students getting a perfect score on the ACT is also growing every year—truly an indication of just how competitive the college admissions process is becoming.

My advice? If you end up scoring in the 34 or above range on the ACT, it might be best if you’re trying to wow admissions committees through other aspects of your application. This advice is particularly relevant to admissions at Ivy Leagues and other competitive schools; some of these schools have a whopping quarter of their entering class scoring perfectly on the ACT or SAT.

But if you feel like getting the highest ACT score can help you shine at less competitive colleges, make sure to check out our post on perfect ACT score stories to know how it’s done!

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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.

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 Scores by Grade Level and School Rank

 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
Sophomore24+21+17+16+13+
Junior28+25+21+20+17+
Senior32+29+25+24+21+

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.

Please note that the numbers on the ACT scoring chart are loose projections— 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 (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). Still, this is a good place to start as you plan your ACT test prep.

Good Scores by Section

So those are good composite scores. But what does a good sectional score look like on the ACT? As we describe in our post on good ACT English scores, most people would consider any score above the average (around 20 per section, though this varies slightly by year) to be “good.”

However, if you’re applying to very competitive schools, aim for the 90th percentile or higher. This translates to the following scores:

  • English: 20.1
  • Math: 20.4
  • Reading: 21.2
  • Science: 20.6

Meanwhile, ACT Writing is scored slightly differently. So what makes a good ACT Writing score? Here, a 9+ puts you in the range for the most competitive colleges.

The general guidelines for a “good score” by section also apply to PreACT scoring (though you won’t find an essay on that exam!). However, this is not the case for ACT Aspire, which uses entirely different scoring scales.

Average Scores

So by now, you know the basic facts and may already have an idea on how you’d score on the ACT, either because you have taken real or practice ACT tests or you can convert your SAT to ACT score.

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

The average exam score was 20.7 (composite) in the 2020-2021 school year (Source: ACT.org). 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 ACT Scores by State.

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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
2 (tie)Columbia University 3335
2 (tie)Harvard University3335
2 (tie)Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
3436
5Yale University 3335
6 (tie)Stanford University 3135
6 (tie)University of Chicago3436
8 University of Pennsylvania 3335
9 (tie)California Institute of Technology (Caltech)3536
9 (tie)Duke University3435
9 (tie)Johns Hopkins University 3435
9 (tie)Northwestern University3335
13Dartmouth College 3235
14 (tie)Brown University3335
14 (tie)Vanderbilt University 3335
14 (tie)Washington University in St. Louis3335
17 (tie)Cornell University 3235
17 (tie)Rice University 3436
19 University of Notre Dame 3235
20University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) 2934
21Emory University3134
22University of California--Berkeley2735
23 (tie)Georgetown 3135
23 (tie)University of Michigan at Ann Arbor3134
25 (tie)Carnegie Mellon University3335
25 (tie)University of Virgina 3034
27 University of Southern California (USC)3034
28 (tie)New York University (NYU)3134
28 (tie)Tufts University3235
28 (tie)University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB)2633
28 (tie)University of Florida2933
28 (tie)University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (UNC Chapel Hill)2733
28 (tie)Wake Forest University3033
34 (tie)University of California--San Diego2633
34 (tie)University of Rochester3034
36 (tie)Boston College3134
36 (tie)University of California, Irvine (UCI) NANA
38 (tie)Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) 3135
38 (tie)University of California, Davis (UC Davis)2531
38 (tie)University of Texas, Austin (UT Austin) 2633
38 (tie)College of William and Mary3034
42 (tie)Boston University 3034
42 (tie)Brandeis University3133
42 (tie)Case Western Reserve University3135
42 (tie)Tulane University3033
42 (tie)University of Wisconsin Madison2732
47University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign2733
48University of Georgia2732
49 (tie)Lehigh University2933
49 (tie)Northeastern University3335
49 (tie)Ohio State University2632
49 (tie)Pepperdine University2631
49 (tie)Purdue Univesity-West Lafayette2533
49 (tie)Villanova University3033
55 (tie)Florida State University2731
55 (tie)Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute2934
55 (tie)Santa Clara University2832
55 (tie)University of Miami 2832
59 (tie)Syracuse University2530
59 (tie)University of Maryland--College Park2934
59 (tie)University of Pittsburgh--Pittsburgh Campus2832
59 (tie)University of Washington2733
63 (tie)George Washington University2933
63 (tie)Pennsylvania State--University Park2530
63 (tie)Rutgers University2532
63 (tie)University of Connecticut2732
63 (tie)Worcester Polytechnic Institute2933
68 (tie)Fordham University2732
68 (tie)Indiana University--Bloomington2431
68 (tie)Southern Methodist University2932
68 (tie)Texas A&M University--College Station2532
68 (tie)University of Massachussetts-Amherst (UMass Amherst)2732
68 (tie)University of Minnesota--Twin Cities2531
68 (tie)Yeshiva University2431
75 (tie)Baylor University2631
75 (tie)Clemson 2732
75 (tie)Loyola Marymount2731
75 (tie)Virginia Institute of Technology (Virginia Tech) 2531
79 (tie)American University2732
79 (tie)Brigham Young University--Provo2632
79 (tie)Gonzaga University2530
79 (tie)North Carolina State University--Raleigh2732
83 (tie)Binghamton University2932
83 (tie)Colorado School of Mines2833
83 (tie)Elon University2530
83 (tie)Howard University2226
83 (tie)Marquette University2530
83 (tie)Michigan State University2329
83 (tie)Stevens Institute of Technology3134
83 (tie)Texas Christian University2531
83 (tie)University of California--Riverside2229
83 (tie)University of Iowa2229
93 (tie)Stony Brook University (SUNY)2632
93 (tie)University at Buffalo2329
93 (tie)University of California--Merced1722
93 (tie)University of Delaware2531
93 (tie)University of Denver2631
93 (tie)University of San Diego2531
99 (tie)Auburn University2531
99 (tie)University of Colorado Boulder2431
99 (tie)University of Oregon2229
99 (tie)University of Utah2229

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
2 (tie)Harvard University3335
2 (tie)Columbia University3335
5Yale University3335
8University of Pennsylvania3335
13Dartmouth College3235
14 (tie)Brown University3335
17 (tie)Cornell University3235

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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How ACT Scores Can Help You Win Scholarships

Yup, a strong score can put you in the running for merit-based scholarships. But just what is that strong score for scholarships? As in the case of college admissions, there’s no one magic number.

If you’re scoring in the 30s (top tenth percentile), that’s a great place to start. On the other hand, you can still get a scholarship even if you’re scoring in the mid-20s. Learn more in our post on good ACT score for scholarships.

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

If you get your scores and find that you’ve scored significantly below your target score, you might be tempted to cancel your 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 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!
    • For example, maybe you 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 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 scores next time.

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A Final Word

Whew! That’s everything you need to know about ACT test scores (and probably more)! If you’re curious about how to boost your score to hit your ideal range, check out how to improve your ACT score by 10 points.

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. Now you’ll know!

Author

  • Rachel Kapelke-Dale

    Rachel is a Magoosh Content Creator. 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. As a test-prep instructor for more than five years in there different countries, 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 novel, THE BALLERINAS, is forthcoming in December 2021 from St. Martin's Press, while her memoir, GRADUATES IN WONDERLAND, co-written with Jessica Pan, was published in 2014 by Penguin Random House. 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. Join her on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook!

By the way, Magoosh can help you study for both the SAT and ACT exams. Click here to learn more!