What is a Good ACT Score?

A Good ACT score is different from a high ACT score. Learn about ACT scores, ACT percentiles, preparation tips, universities for your ACT score and more.

Updated by Selva Kumar on 6th October 2020

One most commonly asked question about ACT is “what is a good ACT score?”. A Good ACT score actually depends on the colleges/universities that you desire to apply for.

A national average ACT score ranges from 21-23, scoring above the average line gives you higher opportunities to apply for admissions at many universities. Scoring 21 or above is a good score, however, a good score also depends on the college you want to apply for. For an elite college, a good ACT score is 30+ where the percentile is 93 and above.

If you are looking for what is a good ACT score, then you are in the right place. In this article, we will explore what is a good ACT score, how is the ACT scored, and more.

Also, Read - what is the highest act score you can get

What is the ACT?

The ACT stands for American College Testing, which is an institutionalized test that calculates the student’s ability, talents, and knowledge by considering five subject areas, that is English, Maths, Science, Reading, and writing, where writing is optional. It is a part of the college admission process.

This ACT test composes of four multiple-choice sections as aforementioned- English, Math, Science, and one essay writing section. The total time allotted will be 2 hours and 55 minutes.

The essay writing section is optional the candidate may or may not take this section. but in case if the student is taking the optional essay writing section, then the time allotted will be 3 hours 35 minutes.

One thing that students should keep in mind is that there is no negative marking, so try to cover all the questions as you can.

The ACT Format

The breakdown of each section is below mentioned in the table.

Section

Time limit per questions

Content covered

English

45 minutes for 75 questions.

Grammar, sentence structure, organization, and style

Maths

60 minutes for 60 questions.

Algebra 1,2, 3, Trignometry, coordinate geometry and plane geometry,  

Science

35 minutes for 40 questions.

Problem-solving, interpretation analysis, evaluation, and reasoning.

Reading

35 minutes for 40 questions

Reading and comprehension of what is implied or directly stated.

Writing(optional)

40 minutes for 1 essay.

Writing skills

How is ACT Scored?

After knowing the ACT format, you might still be wondering how the ACT is scored? Understanding how the ACT is scored and scoring mechanism give you a big advantage to set clear goals so that you can schedule your study.

Each section/subject is given a scaled score between 1 and 36. These scores are then averaged into your composite score which also ranges between 1 and 36.

The scaled scores which range between 1 and 36 are derived from your raw scores from each subject area or sections.

The raw scores are nothing but the total score you get for answering correctly from the questions in each section.

And this composite score is the average of the student’s ACT score in all four subject-areas which is rounded down to 25, for example when a student scores the following points in each section, English- 24, Maths- 26, Science- 25 and Reading- 23

Then the Composite score of the student will be=(24+26+25+28)/4=25.75, the score is rounded down to 25.

These standardized tests like the ACT, SAT, GMAT, and more, uses scaled scores to ensure that their scores are consistent throughout multiple test dates.

For English, the raw score is calculated by the addition of three categories; Production of Writing (POW) out of 23, Knowledge of Language (KLA) out of 12, and Conventions of Standard English (CSE) out of 40.

For Mathematics, the raw score is calculated by the addition of two categories; Preparing for Higher Math (PHM) out of 35, Integrating Essential Skills (IES) out of 25, and Modeling (MDL) as an additional category which is not included in the total raw score for mathematics.

For Reading, the raw score is calculated by the addition of 3 categories; Key Ideas & Details (KID) out of 25, Craft & Structure (CS) out of 11, and Integration of Knowledge &Ideas (IKI) out of 4.

For Science, the raw score is calculated by the addition of three categories; Interpretation of Data (IOD) out of 18, Scientific Investigation(SIN) out of 12 and Evaluation of Models, Interferences & Experimental Results (EMI) out of 10.

The ACT provides a table that estimates how the raw scores will translate into scaled scores on each section of the ACT.

                            source:act.org/ACT test guide.

ACT Score Percentiles (2020-2021)

The ACT percentiles are rankings used for comparison of your ACT score with the other students who took the test, this percentile lets you know how many people scored higher than you or scored equal to or lower than.

Don’t misunderstand the word Percentile, it is not like a grade out of 100 given in any other tests, but a specific comparison with you and other students.

For example, if a student gets in the 60th percentile, then this means that the student as scored more or less higher than the 60% of test-takers.it doesn’t necessarily mean that the student has scored 60% in the ACT Test.

Source: ACT norms

What is a good ACT score?

A good ACT score can vary depending on the college you choose. Usually scoring above 21 is terms as a good score. One of the frequently asked question is, "is 30 a good ACT score?" Te answer is Yes, 30 is a good ACT score and it yields an ACT score percentile of 93. this expands your choice of applying for college and also enhances your selectivity.

Here is a comprehensive analysis of a good score for ACT 2020-2021.

ACT score

Category of the test-takers

35 and above

(Best)

Top 1% 

31 and above

(Excellent) 

Top 5%

29 and above 

Top 10%

24 and above

(good)

Top 25%

21 and above 

(average)

Middle section

16 and below

(Poor)

Bottom 25%


What is a good ACT Writing score?

A candidate can score an average score of 6.5 in the 2019-2020ACT Writing test. For admittance in top ranking colleges, a score of 8 and above needs to be earned. Let us look closely at the ACT Writing score chart.

Percentile

Score

100 

(Best)

12

99 

(Outstanding)

11

99 

10

96 

(Excellent)

9

90

(Good)

8

66 

7

50 

(Average)

6

27 

(Poor)

5

14

(bottom 14%)

4

5

(bottom 5%)

3

2

(bottom 2%)

2

Number of trials allowed for ACT

You can take the ACT  test maximum up to 12 times,  irrespective of the time and test date limitation. The ACT is administered about seven times a year in the months of September, October, December, February, April, June, and July.

It is excessive, but don’t waste your time and money by attempting one exam after the other, so be clear on the number of times you’ll be taking the test. Also trying other competitive and entrance exams like SAT, GMAT and etc.

The first attempt can be taken as a trial in order to get clarity about the types of questions that are being asked and to get note of the time taken so that you can plan your timing efficiently next time.

How to score high for the ACT?

The maximum score that you achieve out of ACT is 36. Though it is a small number, Only two percent of the students score above 33. Every year out of millions of students, only a few thousand get into the top scores list

Score

No of Students

Percentage of total test-takers 

36

3,741

0.195%

35

14,928

0.780%

34

21,836

1.140%

33

26,930

1.406%

source:ACT.org

But with proper practice and planning, you too can score the highest marks.

Tips that help you score good in ACT

1. Aim for the top

If you’re a teen and this is your first time taking the ACT test, then try to score at least above 22, because 21 is the national average, this will have you placed in the top half of the other students who took the test.

2. Practice makes a man perfect

Before starting your ACT Preparation, work on your weakness and your constraints, If you’re weak in maths then take your time, practice more problems in maths, or if it is the science or any others.

You learn from your mistakes!

Be clear with the patterns of your mistakes and keep in mind, so that you can solve the problems with ease.

3. Be a Grammar Nazi

Don’t go easy on English, thinking that it is the easiest part, sometimes grammar can do the trick of lowering your scores, revise the grammar portions, be clear with the punctuations, and practice reading more and more.

4. Understanding is the key

Try to adapt the key Test strategies, learn how to understand and the questions fast, Incase if you’re out of ideas about a specific question, then try mild guessing. Learn how to guess it right. To make your guess, also use the elimination method, try to remove the most unsuitable choices, until you are left with the right choice. This works most of the time.

5. Have a game-plan

Before taking the actual ACT test, practice Full-length Tests, as many ACT coaching experts say “plan your study, study by your plan.” Planning and time management is very crucial. Plan accordingly based on your reading and problem-solving speed.

6. Seek professional help

Joining an academy or coaching would be a good idea if you can’t manage the portions on your own.

To learn more about the ACT test preparation visit: ACT test prep guide.

ACT scores (2020-2021) for Colleges and Universities

A good ACT score actually depends on the Colleges/ Universities that you’re aiming for. For example, if you aim at going to Arizona State University, then considering that college 28 is a way too good score, but if you consider going to Yale University, then the  ACT score of 28 would not be enough, hence for that university 32 is the good ACT score.

Here is the list of most popular colleges for your ACT score and the acceptance rate for that college/university.

Universities accepting ACT Score above 30

Rank

College Name

ACT 25th Percentile

ACT 75th Percentile

Acceptance Rate

1

Stanford University

31

35

5

2

University of Southern California

30

33

17

3

Harvard University

32

35

5

4

Northeastern University

31

34

29

5

University of Pennsylvania

32

35

9

6

Cornell University

31

34

14

7

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

33

35

8

8

Rice University

32

35

15

9

Columbia University

32

35

7

10

Duke University

31

34

11

11

Brown University

31

34

9

12

University of California-Berkeley

31

34

17

13

Yale University

32

35

6

14

Boston College

30

33

31

15

Washington University in St.Louis

32

34

17

Universities accepting ACT scores between  25-29

Rank

College Name

Act 25th Percentile

ACT 75th Percentile

Acceptance Rate

1

New York University

29

33

32

2

University of California-Los Angeles

28

33

18

3

University of Michigan-Ann Arbour

29

33

29

4

University of Texas-Austin

26

32

40

5

Penn State

25

29

56

6

Boston University

28

32

29

7

University of Florida

27

31

46

8

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

28

33

27

9

University of Virginia

29

33

30

10

University of Georgia

26

31

54

11

Tulane University

29

32

26

12

Purdue University

25

31

56

13

University of Washington

26

32

45

14

Syracuse University

25

29

52

15

University of Miami

28

32

38

Universities accepting  ACT score between 20-24

Rank

College Name

ACT 25th Percentile

ACT 75th Percentile

Acceptance Rate

1

Texas A&M University

24

30

67

2

James Madison University

22

27

72

3

Temple University

22

28

52

4

Michigan State University

24

29

66

5

San Diego State University

23

28

35

6

University of California-Irvine

24

30

41

7

Arizona State University

22

29

70

8

University of Delaware

22

29

70

9

California State University-Long Beach

20

26

32

10

Indiana University-Bloomington

24

30

79

11

University of San Francisco

23

28

71

12

The University of Alabama

23

31

53

13

High Point University

21

26

79

14

University of Central Florida

24

28

50

15

Liberty University

21

28

24

Universities accepting ACT score between 16-19

Rank

College Name

ACT 25th Percentile

ACT 75th Percentile

Acceptance Rate

1

San Francisco State University

18

24

68

2

California State University-Fullerton

19

24

48

3

California State University-Chico

19

24

65

4

North Carolina A&T State University

18

23

48

5

California State University-Northridge

16

23

48

6

Old Dominion 

18

25

85

7

California Baptist University

19

24

64

8

Florida A&M University

19

24

31

9

Stockton University

19

24

77

10

California State University-Sacramento

17

22

72

11

Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania

18

23

78

12

Western Michigan University

19

25

82

13

La Salle University

19

25

77

14

Portland State University

19

25

89

15

Clark Atlanta University

18

21

72

Universities accepting ACT score below 16

Rank

College Name

ACT 25th Percentile

ACT 75th Percentile

Acceptance Rate

1

California State University-Los Angeles

15

20

64

2

Prairie View A&M University

15

19

85

3

Virginia State University

15

19

94

4

California State University-Dominguez Hills

15

19

48

5

Texas Southern University

15

19

51

6

Bowie State University

15

19

41

7

Alabama State University

15

19

46

8

Bethune-Cookman University

15

18

64

9

New Jersey City University

15

17

85

10

Dean College

15

17

85

11

Lincoln University of Pennsylvania

15

19

87

12

Coppin State University

15

18

40

13

South Carolina State University

14

17

86

14

Fort Valley State University

10

19

26

15

Central State University

15

18

42

What are the new guidelines for the ACT?

The ACT has introduced changes into its constitution, with effect from September 2020.  

  • ACT Superscoring has been initiated for students who attempt the test multiple times. The candidate’s best scores from each section would be taken into account to formulate the final ACT score.  

  • Students are allowed to retake the ACT for individual sections of the test, instead of sitting for the entire exam.

The Takeaway

We can’t define what is a good ACT score, a good score according to your perception may not be good to others or to the Colleges/Universities. Or It can be the other way around, an average or bad ACT score according to you may be a good score for others or even to the institution that you are aiming for. So set aside your perception and aim for higher ACT scores, prepare well, take coaching classes, take full-length tests until you are clear and ready to go.

As a teen or an adult, scoring above 22 is a good score by general comparison with other students who scored below the average line, you may never know what is a good score, but for a good score, it should serve you the purpose of getting you into your desired college.