What Is a Passing Score on the ACT?

Whether you’re waiting for your ACT scores, have just received your ACT scores, or are looking over your practice exams, you’ll probably wonder at some point, “Am I passing the ACT? What is a passing score on the ACT, anyway?” You may even start to look at your dream schools and ask…

What Is a Passing Score on the ACT? -Magoosh


Fear not! In this post, we’ll talk about what a “passing score” on the ACT really means. No matter where you currently are in your ACT studies, let’s find some numbers to help you progress.


The ACT has no official ‘pass’ score. Unlike your teachers, the ACT doesn’t give letter grades. It doesn’t leave notes in the margins. It just gives you a set of numbers with very little commentary. In fact, many first-time test takers have more questions than answers after seeing their scores.

The truth is that everyone has his or her own unique “passing” score. Though everyone takes the same ACT, every person’s plan for the results is different. If you don’t have your own passing score on the ACT, let’s figure yours out.

Your Passing Score on the ACT

Taking the ACT is one of only many steps in preparing to apply for college. To come up with your individual passing score, you need to have a good idea of the types of colleges you might apply to your senior year. You don’t have to have the final college list ready a year in advance, but a general idea helps.

With that long list of potential colleges, look up each college’s ‘Middle 50%’ ACT score range. Create an average of all the different score ranges for schools you’d like to apply to.

And voila! There’s your individual passing score on the ACT—anywhere within that score range.

Don’t I Want to Do Better than ‘Middle 50%’?

You want to do the best you can. If your score is better than the ‘Middle 50%’ range, that’s awesome. It puts you in a great position when you apply. Also, more scholarship opportunities open up with higher ACT scores.

That being said, at ultra-competitive schools across the country, the only score above the ‘Middle 50%’ is a perfect 36. Scoring anywhere in the ‘Middle 50%’ will keep your application in the “maybe” box long enough so that admissions counselors can get to know the real you. Besides, not obsessing over getting the perfect 36 gives you more time to focus on your grades, extra curricular activities, volunteer work etc.

At the end of the day, an admission counselor would much rather admit a well-rounded applicant with a ‘Middle 50%’ ACT score rather than an applicant with perfect test scores and…that’s it.

Final Thoughts

Put a little time into creating your own passing ACT score, and the results will pay off later. You’ll have a challenging yet reasonable goal to work towards. Also, your study plan will benefit from having a target score range.

That’s all for now, Magoosh readers. Good luck with your test preparation!


  • 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!

No comments yet.

Magoosh blog comment policy: To create the best experience for our readers, we will only approve comments that are relevant to the article, general enough to be helpful to other students, concise, and well-written! 😄 Due to the high volume of comments across all of our blogs, we cannot promise that all comments will receive responses from our instructors.

We highly encourage students to help each other out and respond to other students' comments if you can!

If you are a Premium Magoosh student and would like more personalized service from our instructors, you can use the Help tab on the Magoosh dashboard. Thanks!

Leave a Reply