How to Deal with Disappointing ACT Scores

The ACT scores are in…and they’re not what you wanted. Being disappointed with your ACT scores is tough, but know that there are ways to recover from the blow and go on to succeed. In this post, we’ll take a look at how you can deal with disappointing ACT scores, and how to move on from here.

Feel Your Feelings

How to Deal with Disappointing ACT Scores -Magoosh

Because everyone makes mistakes.

It’s okay to be disappointed, as long as you don’t beat yourself up about your performance. There are certain things you can control right now, and those scores aren’t one of them. Give yourself a day or two to deal with the frustration and shock—but know that you’re moving on to bigger and better things! This includes a possible higher score on a retake. All is not lost!

Consider What Went Wrong on the ACT

Once your head is in a better place, take some time and evaluate what happened on test day. Thankfully, an ACT score report breaks down your areas of strengths and weaknesses. Even if your composite score was low, you most likely excelled in some areas.

Knowing your strengths and weaknesses will set you up well for retaking the ACT. With this information, you can create a study plan perfectly tailored to your needs. Reviewing all the concepts the ACT covers will probably be necessary before your retake. However, by starting with an evaluation of this exam, you now know where to best allocate your time.

Prepare for your Retake

Once you know where you need to improve, sign up to retake the ACT, preferably in the summer between your junior and senior year of high school. Without other academic pressure, you’ll be able to commit more time and energy to preparing.

If you didn’t have a study plan before taking the ACT, now is the time to make one. Like any long-term project, set goals for each day and week leading up to the test. Doing this in advance will help you focus during your study time, and you’ll get more out of every hour you put into it.

Be Strategic about your ACT Scores

If you are one of the number of students whose composite score was dragged down by a single sub-score, see if the college(s) you are planning to apply to accept superscores. If the answer is yes, you can plan ahead to put most of your studying energy into just that one section.

On ACT Test Day

If you’ve done your best studying for your retake, test day is sure to be successful. Leave the past in the past, and do the best you can. You’ve put in the work—now it’s time to shine!


  • Thomas Broderick

    Thomas spent four years teaching high school English, social studies, and ACT preparation in Middle Tennessee. Now living in Northern California, he is excited to share his knowledge and experience with Magoosh's readers. In his spare time Thomas enjoys writing short fiction and hiking in the Sonoma foothills.

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

2 Responses to How to Deal with Disappointing ACT Scores

  1. Andrew Lawson September 20, 2016 at 2:32 pm #

    Hi, I am a senior, and i recently took my ACT in September 2016.
    I got my scores today. I took this for the fourth time. Studied harder each time I took it and I STILL SCORED A 20.
    I HATE IT. I don’t know why this has happened. I took 10000000000 practice tests, took 5 tutor sessions which were 12 weeks long in each session since freshman year.
    I know I am capable of getting a 30 plus, but its just NOT HAPPENING.

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert September 24, 2016 at 8:06 am #

      Hi Andrew. My first piece of advice for you is to not be so hard on yourself. Yes, this is a very frustrating situation. But many ACT students have been where you are, with a score that seems “stuck” at an unsatisfactory level. And just as many ACT students have found ways to move on from this sticky situation and get their scores to improve.

      One thing you should do right away, if you’re not doing it already, is to use “real” ACT practice questions and tests from the people who make the exam. Be sure to do practice tests with the most recent edition of The Real ACT Prep Guide, and be sure that you are also practicing with ACT test preparation from the official ACT website.

      Of course, you may already be using those materials. If so– good! Those are the best materials to prep you for test day and give you an accurate sense of your current ACT ability.

      Next, it’s important to know and understand your strengths and weaknesses. Don’t just look at your whole-test score in ACT practice. Also make a plan for future studies based on how you’re doing in individual sections. For example, you may find you are scoring higher in Reading or English, compared to Math. Or vice versa. Maybe the Science section is the hardest for you, while Reading is the easiest.

      Look at individual question and passage types as well. Are story problems harder than other math problems, or easier? are you strong or weak in your use of ACT math formulas? Are you more confident with ACT Science Reading passages or ACT Science graphs and tables? Are there any ACT English question types that you’re stronger or weaker in?

      You should also look at how you’re doing with test strategies. Often, when someone is stuck with a low score but they know they’re capable of getting a 30+, the problem is test skills and strategy rather than academic knowledge. If you determine that test skills are your main problem,this can actually be good news. Test skills can be built on and improved fairly quickly, compared to the time it takes to gain new academic knowledge. Think about how you’re doing in skills such as ACT multiple choice strategies. And think of strategies to help you score well even in difficult situations, such as things you can do when your’e running out of time on ACT Reading.

      Finally, consider a new approach to tutoring. It’s definitely good that you have sought out tutoring. But it sounds like your’e seeking ACT help in fixed 12 week sessions, probably from a major test prep company. This kind of set up is often “one size fits all.” But to improve your score, it’s usually better to find assistance that addresses your individual learning needs. Sometimes, just a handful of 1 on 1 sessions with an individual private tutor can be more beneficial than a 12 week course with fixed curriculum. And sometimes, all it takes to improve on the ACT is guided self-study, where you make most of study decisions and plans on your own on your own. Or you can do this with light additional guidance from a self study service, such as our very own Magoosh ACT.

      Whatever you choose to do next, I also believe you’re capable of getting a 30+. Take careful stock of your strengths and weaknesses, stick with the right materials and assistance, and you should be able to make a plan of action that gets you out of your twenty point rut and moves you forward to success. A lot of other students are in your very frustrating situation. I appreciate your courage in coming forward to talk about this, Andrew. The discussion we’re having here on the blog can help a lot of ACT students.

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