ACT Score Range

Learn about the ACT score range, ACT percentiles, and more.

TCM Staff

14th October 2021

ACT Score Range

Are you confused about the ACT score range? In this article, we break it down for you. Also, learn about the ACT percentile, the highest act score, and much more.

The ACT is a standardized test that measures a student's skills in five core areas: English, math, reading, science, and writing. Many colleges and universities use ACT test scores as part of their admissions process. The better your ACT score, the better your chances are of getting into a school.

When you take the ACT, you’ll get a score for each of the sections of the test. You’ll also get an ACT composite score, which is simply the average of the scores you receive on each section.

In this article, we’ll break down the ACT score range and the ACT subscores. We’ll also tell you about score percentiles and what a good score on the ACT is.

ACT score range

ACT scores range from a low of 1 to a high of 36 (1–12 for the writing section of the exam). You’ll receive scores for each section of the test as well as a composite score that indicates your performance on the exam overall.

1. Section scores

The ACT contains four separate sections:

  • English
  • Math
  • Reading
  • Science

Each section’s scoring ranges from 1–36. Higher scores are better.

Your score for each section is determined using the following process:

  • First, the graders will count the number of correct answers you gave on each section of the test. There is no penalty for incorrect answers, so you should at least guess on every question, even if you’re not sure of an answer. This is your raw score.
  • Your raw score is converted to a scaled score based on the results of everyone who took the ACT. This means that students with similar levels of knowledge will receive similar scores, regardless of the time they take the test and the exact questions that show up.

2. Composite score

Your composite test score measures your performance on the exam as a whole. 

To find your composite score, simply take the average score on each of the sections of the exam, then round to the nearest whole number.

For example, if you scored a 24 on math, a 27 on science, a 19 on English, and a 21 on reading, your composite score would be (24 + 27 + 19 + 21) / 4 = 23.

All of this is separate from your writing score. You can learn more about the writing section of the ACT, as well as the test as a whole, in our article, “What is the ACT?”

ACT subscores

On top of receiving scores for each section of the exam, your score report will include subscores. These indicate your knowledge of specific subjects within each section of the exam.

For example, the math section includes questions covering geometry, algebra, statistics, and other subjects. You’ll get a subscore for each of these subjects.

If you plan to take the ACT multiple times, these scores can be helpful, as you can see where you underperform and focus your studying efforts on those specific topics.

We’re so glad you asked! The reading, writing, and maths sections also have categories with their own score ranges, as noted in the table below:

Section

Overall Score

Subscore

English

1-36

Usage/Mechanics (1-18)

Rhetorical Skills (1-18)

Essay (2-12)

Maths

1-36

Pre-Algebra/Elementary Algebra (1-18)

Algebra/Coordinate Geometry (1-18)

Plane Geometry/Trigonometry (1-18)

Reading 

1-36

Social Sciences/Sciences (1-18)

Arts/Literature (1-18)

Science

1-36

No Sub Scores

What is an ACT percentile?

When you get your ACT score report, you’ll get to see your scores and subscores. You’ll also get to see how you rank compared to other test-takers. 

The score report will show your state and national percentiles for math, science, STEM, English, reading, writing, and ELA. 

Your percentile ranking indicates what percentage of test-takers you outperform. For example, if your score is in the 90th percentile, you scored better than roughly 90% of other students who took the ACT. 

The higher the percentile you fall into, the better you did compared to other test-takers.

What is the highest ACT score?

ACT scores range from 1–36, so the highest ACT result possible is 36.

To understand more about how ACT scores work, let’s look at the following facts:

  • Your score depends on the questions you answer incorrectly or leave blank.  You can still earn a high score even if you don’t answer every question correctly. 
  • Those who earn a 34 or 35 often still find themselves in the 99th percentile.

There’s no doubt that scoring a 36 will make you a competitive college applicant. However, you can still be proud of high scores that are lower than 36. 

Average ACT scores

The average ACT score changes yearly based on the number of students taking the test and how difficult it is. However, the average score for each section typically falls into these ranges:

  • English: 19-20
  • Math: 19-20
  • Reading: 20-21
  • Science: 20-21

Earning an average or above-average score will increase your chances of getting into college.

Schools also make public the average score of students that they accept. If you’re thinking about applying to a specific college, you should check the average scores of the students it’s admitted. This can give you an idea of the score you should aim for when taking the ACT.

Schools will also publish whether they expect students to submit scores from the optional writing portion of the ACT. If a school you’re applying to does require your writing score, you’ll know that you have to prepare for that portion of the exam. 

What is a good ACT score?

The higher your score on the ACT, the better. The maximum score, 36, is the best score you can achieve.

There isn’t a single definition of a good score or a bad score. It entirely depends on your expected course of study and target schools.

Some schools are more selective and expect higher test scores. If you want to get into an Ivy League school, you’ll probably want a score in the 30s. For a less selective university, a score in the high 20s is likely very good compared to other applicants. 

Similarly, if you plan to study science, schools might look more closely at your math and science score than your language scores. So, what counts as a good score for each section depends on what you plan to study.  

You should also focus on your GPA and extracurriculars if you aspire to go to super-elite colleges.

The most selective schools expect applicants to have a stellar academic record on top of extracurricular activities and test scores that impress the admissions committee. 

If you want to know more, you can check out our guides about what counts as a good act score.

Conclusion

When you take the ACT, it’s important that you remember:

  • The ACT consists of four subjects: English, Math, Reading, and Science, plus an optional writing test
  • The range of scores for the four main sections is from 1–36
  • The average score ranges from roughly 19–21

With enough planning and focused studying, you should be able to ace the test!

To learn more about applying to college, visit The College Monk.

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