ACT scores are by no means the determining factor in college admissions, but they play a significant role in narrowing down the applicant pool. Admissions teams receive more applications than they can read, so they begin by considering course rigor, GPA, and standardized test scores. If your scores, in conjunction with these other two factors, are high enough to clear this hurdle, then admissions counselors will read your personal statement, discover your extracurricular passions, and get a well-rounded sense of who you are.
What is high enough to clear that hurdle? That depends on where you apply.
What do my ACT scores mean?
ACT Score Overview:
ACT scores range from 1 to 36. This composite score is calculated by averaging four section scores: English, Math, Reading, and Science. In 2016 the average ACT score was a 20. At some schools, a 20 is high enough — at other schools, you’ll need to score significantly higher in order to secure admittance.
What does the percentile on my score report mean? Good question! Percentile rankings compare your performance to other test takers nationwide. If you scored a 20, you would fall in the 50th percentile, meaning that you scored higher than 50% of 11th and 12th graders.
Highly Competitive Scores (Top 10%) | Composite 29-36 | English 30-36 | Math 28-36 | Reading 30-36 | Science 28-36
Scoring in the top 10% of test takers makes you a strong candidate at top state schools, such as UVA and UNC, and at competitive private schools ranging from bustling NYU to serene Davidson College. In order to be competitive at top private schools like Georgetown and U. Chicago or at the Ivy Leagues, you’ll likely need to score above a 30. Successful candidates at Yale, for example, typically have a composite score ranging from 32 to 35.
Competitive Scores (Top 25%) | Composite 25-36 | English 25-36 | Math 25-36 | Reading 25-36 | Science 25-36
If your score lands you in the top 25% of test takers, you’ll be a compelling candidate at competitive state schools, like UGA and UCLA, and at strong private schools including Wake Forest, Fordham, and Boston University. Paired with leadership experience or excellence in extracurriculars, you could land a spot at a top institution, so add a reach school or two to your list.
Above Average Scores (50%+) | Composite 20-36 | English 20-36 | Math 19-36 | Reading 21-36 | Science 21-36
If you rank in the 50th percentile or above, you will be a strong candidate at a wide range of colleges, from sprawling state schools, like the University of Alabama and FSU, to moderately competitive private schools, such as Clemson, Syracuse, and Rhodes College.
Below the 50th Percentile | Composite 19 or lower | English 19 or lower| Math 18 or lower | Reading 20 or lower| Science 20 or lower
If your score is below average, you still have a lot of college options to explore. Every state has smaller-scale state universities — Valdosta State in Georgia or Bowie State just east of Washington, D.C. — and most major state universities are located near a community college. Often, students start at a community college, bulk up their GPA, and transfer into another institution sophomore year.
How is the ACT scored?
The grading process begins with your raw scores — the number of questions you got correct in each section. You get 1 point for every correct answer, and 0 points for wrong or omitted answers. The highest raw score you can get on the math section, for example, is a 60, because there are 60 questions.
Next, your raw scores get converted to scaled scores. A raw score of 60 converts to a scaled Math section score of 36. The scale shifts slightly for each test to account for variations in difficulty. So, on some test forms a raw score of 59 or 60 would convert to a scaled score of 36.
Last but not least, your four section scores are averaged together to obtain your composite score out of 36.
The ACT does not deduct points for wrong answers, so you should always guess if you’re not sure about a question or if time begins to run out.
Tip from our experts: Guess the same letter every time — this strategy will increase your chances of selecting the right answer. Guessing might sound like a cop-out, but it’s actually a powerful strategy! If you guessed on 10 of the reading questions and got 3 of them right, you could boost your reading score by 3 points. That’s right, guessing could be the difference between a 27 and a 30.
What is the essay scored?
Two graders read your ACT essay, and each of them assigns you a score (ranging from 1-6) in four categories: Ideas & Analysis, Development & Support, Organization, and Language Use & Conventions.
After each grader tallies up, they add their scores together, and give you four scores, each ranging from 2 to 12. Your essay scores will not affect your overall ACT composite score.
How Applerouth Can Help You Achieve Higher Scores
Want to know the great thing about ACT scores? They aren’t set in stone. You can study for this test and achieve major score gains if you plan ahead, practice often, and prepare effectively. We can help you with all of the above – it’s kind of our thing. If you’ve taken an official test and want to improve, or if you just want to try your hand at a practice test to learn what this whole ACT thing is all about, we would love to answer your questions throughout this process. Contact one of our specialists at 404-728-0661 or explore our ACT test prep options.
What Else is Important in College Admissions?
We get excited about helping you achieve your dream score, but, when all is said and done, it’s only one factor in college admissions. The classes that inspire you, the grades you achieve, the exciting, creative, ambitious things you pursue outside of school — all of that matters too! In the end the important thing is that you end up at a school where you can thrive. Students like you find that place by paying attention to what they love and giving it their all.