What is a Good ACT Score and How Do I Get It?

24/10/202321 minute read
What is a Good ACT Score and How Do I Get It?

Despite test-optional trends, a robust ACT score remains crucial for elite college admissions. The national average ACT score is 19.9. Aim for scores between 32 and 36 to be competitive at top-tier universities. Adequate preparation involves strategic studying, consistent practice, and mastering time management. While the ACT score is influential, colleges also value a holistic application approach. Expert guidance can enhance your admissions strategy.


How Important are ACT Scores for College Admission in 2023?

Although most U.S. universities have continued test-optional policies for the Class of 2027, many of the most selective colleges in the nation have decidedly stated that they do not plan to adopt permanent test-optional policies. A good ACT score will still boost your application above the competition and help get you into your dream school. A score in the 75th percentile or, ideally, in the 99th percentile will allow admissions officers to quickly and objectively compare you to the rest of the applicant pool, so building a good ACT score should be a priority in your college admissions process.

Pros and Cons of Submitting your ACT Scores

Even amidst the prevalence of test-optional policies, submitting your ACT scores can offer a plethora of benefits if colleges accept them:

  • Showcasing Strengths: If your ACT score is robust and aligns with or exceeds the average scores of admitted students at your target institutions, submitting it can underscore your academic strengths.
  • Enhancing Competitiveness: For students whose GPA might not fully reflect their academic capabilities, a strong ACT score can serve as a compensatory element, potentially elevating your competitiveness amid the applicant pool.
  • Scholarship Opportunities: Some institutions and scholarship programs utilize ACT scores as a criterion for eligibility or selection, providing potential financial aid opportunities.
  • Holistic Application: An ACT score becomes an additional academic metric, contributing to a more comprehensive view of your academic profile when considered alongside GPAs, course rigor, and other academic achievements.

Conversely, if your ACT score does not reflect your academic capabilities or is incongruent with your other academic achievements, opting to withhold your scores and applying under test-optional policies might be a strategic choice.

How is the ACT Scored?

Delving into the ACT requires a grasp of its unique scoring structure. The ACT's composite score ranges up to a perfect 36 points, derived from averaging the scores of its four main sections:

  1. English
  2. Mathematics
  3. Reading
  4. Science

ACT Score Range

Each section of the ACT is graded on a scale of 1 to 36. The composite score, which is the average of these four scores, also ranges from 1 to 36. Unlike some other standardized tests, there is no penalty for incorrect answers on the ACT, so your raw score is determined solely by the number of questions you answer correctly.

The Optional Writing Test

The ACT also offers an optional writing test known as the ACT Essay. While this essay score doesn't contribute to your composite score, some colleges require or recommend it. If you choose to take the writing test, your essay will be scored on a scale of 2 to 12, offering an additional opportunity to showcase your writing and analytical prowess.

ACT Percentile Scores

Percentile scores on the ACT give you a comparative view of your performance against all test-takers. For instance, an ACT score in the 85th percentile signifies you performed as well as or better than 85% of students.

Percentile scores are significant in college admissions. They highlight your competitiveness and give a clearer picture of how your scores compare to those of other applicants to a specific institution.

Key Scoring Takeaways

  • The pinnacle of ACT perfection is a composite score of 36.
  • The ACT comprises four mandatory sections: English, Mathematics, Reading, and Science.
  • Scores begin from 1, ensuring no student receives the dreaded zero.
  • Familiarity with the ACT scoring methodology empowers you to tailor your preparation, focusing on areas that maximize your scoring potential.
ACT Composite Score vs. Percentile Score
ACT Composite ScorePercentile Score
34-3699%
32-3498%
30-3295%
28-3090%
26-2885%
24-2678%
22-2465%
20-2250%
18-2035%
16-1825%
14-1615%
12-145%
10-121%
1-10<1%

This table is a representation, and actual percentiles can differ. Always refer to the official ACT reporting for the most accurate percentiles.

What is Considered a ‘Good ACT Score’?

Recent National Averages

According to ACT.org, the average composite score for 2023-24 is 19.9. This score is the average derived from millions of students across the United States, offering a broad benchmark against which individual test-takers can gauge their performance.

National Average ACT Scores 23/24
SECTIONAVERAGE SCORE
English19.0
Maths19.4
Reading20.5
Science20.0
Composite19.9

Source: ACT.org, based on ACT-tested high school graduates of 2021, 2022, and 2023 (n=4,031,328).

In college admissions, a composite score of 19.9, while representative of the average student, can be viewed differently depending on the specific criteria and standards.’ specific criteria and standards. An "average" score of 19.9 might align with the typical admit’ typical admitted student profile, while it may be above or below that average at others.

Colleges often disclose the ACT score ranges of their admitted students, typically indicating the 25th and 75th percentile scores. If your score of 19.9 is near or surpasses the 75th percentile for a particular institution, it positions you advantageously, potentially being regarded as above average for that college. On the other hand, a score near or below the 25th percentile might be viewed as below average for that specific institution.

Note: Always consult with specific institutions to understand their unique admissions criteria and how your ACT score aligns with their standards.

ACT Scores at Top US Universities

When aiming for top-tier institutions, it's crucial to understand the competitive ACT score range that places you favorably in the pool of applicants. A competitive ACT score typically positions you within the 75th percentile of admitted students at a particular college or university, indicating that your score is as good as, or surpasses, 75% of the students admitted there. However, the exact competitive score can vary considerably depending on the institution.

Let's examine the 25th and 75th percentile ACT scores for a selection of top colleges to gain a clearer perspective:

US Top 20 Universities ACT Score Range
University25th Percentile75th Percentile
Princeton3435
MIT3536
Harvard3436
Stanford3335
Yale3335
U Penn3435
Duke3335
Brown3436
Johns Hopkins3435
Northwestern3335
Columbia3435
Cornell3335
U Chicago3335
Rice3436
Dartmouth3236
Vanderbilt3435
Notre Dame3235
U Michigan3134
Georgetown3235
Carnegie Mellon3336

Given the provided data and considering the scores from these prestigious universities, a good ACT score for those aspiring to gain admission into a Top 20 U.S. university generally lies between 32 and 36. To stand out in your application, aiming towards the upper end of this range (closer to the 75th percentile scores) is advisable.

It's essential to remember that while a high ACT score can significantly enhance your application, top institutions also prioritize other application components. These include your GPA, essays, extracurricular engagements, and letters of recommendation. Always approach your college application holistically, ensuring each element complements the other to present a robust and compelling profile.

What's a Good ACT Score for You?

Venturing into college admissions requires a strategic approach, particularly when selecting institutions that mirror your academic strengths. Grasping what makes up a "good" ACT score for you entails aligning your score with the admission standards of your prospective colleges.

Understanding Admission Benchmarks

It's essential to delve into the average ACT scores of previously admitted students at the colleges on your radar. This furnishes you with a standard against which you can juxtapose your score, facilitating a clearer insight into your standing among other applicants and helping you gauge your likelihood of acceptance.

Check out our University Profiles for an in-depth look at the ACT score ranges of leading universities.

ACT Score Benchmarks Across Institutions

  • Ivy League Universities (e.g., Harvard, Princeton): These esteemed institutions typically prefer scores above 32, with the most competitive applicants often showcasing scores upwards of 34.
  • State Universities (e.g., University of Wisconsin, University of Florida): While these universities might exhibit a broader score spectrum, compelling scores usually commence from 28 and go upwards.
  • Liberal Arts Colleges (e.g., Oberlin, Bowdoin): The score range here can differ significantly, but competitive candidates generally present scores starting from 30.

Finding the Right School for You

Given that each institution has distinct admission criteria, using our college admissions calculator can be instrumental. This tool is adept at suggesting safety, match, and reach schools based on your present ACT scores. In doing so, it presents a curated list that resonates with your academic credentials and aspirations. By deploying this tool, you're empowered to design a well-balanced application strategy, encompassing a medley of colleges where your chances of admission span from probable to ambitious, thus amplifying your prospects and reducing uncertainties.

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How to get a Good ACT Score?

The ACT test requires a blend of consistent preparation and astute strategy. Whether preparing for a retest or gearing up for your debut, refining your study habits, tapping into valuable resources, and fostering an optimistic and practical mindset are paramount.

1. Set a Benchmark: Know Where You Stand

Begin your ACT journey by understanding your starting point. Undertake the following ACT practice tests to gauge your proficiency in the various test areas:

Remember, the ACT spans 2 hours and 55 minutes (or 3 hours and 35 minutes with the optional essay). Familiarize yourself with the structure and content, ensuring you can manage the time allocated for each section.

2. Craft a Study Regimen: Consistency is Key

Long-term improvement hinges on dedicated and consistent effort. Design a study schedule and adhere to it religiously. Whether it's a year or merely a week before the test, consistent study intervals—even if brief—can culminate in significant progress. Your commitment and consistency will pay dividends through a higher score.

3. Simulate the Test Environment

Experience is the best teacher. Undertaking ACT practice tests under actual test conditions not only familiarize you with the test's structure but also illuminates areas of strength and weakness. Moreover, it hones your ability to perform under time constraints.

4. Zero in on Your Weaknesses

The ACT encompasses four core sections (English, Mathematics, Reading, and Science) with an optional writing segment. To optimize your preparation, pinpoint the challenging sections and direct your energies there. It's pragmatic to concentrate on areas that offer the most room for improvement.

5. Master Time Management

The ACT has specific time limits for each section:

  • English: 45 minutes for 75 questions (approx. 40 seconds/question)
  • Mathematics: 60 minutes for 60 questions (1 minute/question)
  • Science and Reading: 35 minutes for 40 questions (just under a minute/question)
  • Writing (optional): 40 minutes for one essay

Familiarize yourself with these constraints and devise a strategy to manage your time effectively during the exam. If a question seems too challenging, move on and revisit it later if time permits. Remember, lingering on a single question can derail your time management for the entire section.

6. Online Resources and Seek Guidance

Augment your preparation by accessing resources like our online digital ACT practice tests. These simulations offer invaluable insights into your performance and areas that demand attention. Furthermore, consider utilizing our ACT tutoring services. Personalized Guidance, insights, and strategies from experts can significantly elevate your score.

7. Reassess and Refine Your College Choices

If, after diligent preparation and retaking the ACT, your score still doesn't align with the requisites of your dream institutions, it might be judicious to reevaluate your college list. Ensure that your chosen institutions resonate with your academic capabilities and aspirations.

8. Cultivate a Holistic Approach

Remember, the ACT score is just one facet of your college application. An impressive overall application can counterbalance a modest score. U.S. colleges often adopt a holistic review process, considering all elements of your application. Exceptional grades, riveting essays, and unique extracurricular engagements can often overshadow an ACT score slightly below the norm for a particular institution.

9. Craft a Comprehensive Application

Endeavor to ensure every component of your application, from academic accolades to personal essays, paints a vivid, genuine, and compelling picture of you as both a student and a person. Your unique story, aspirations, and impact are what institutions are truly keen on discovering.

Final Thoughts

The road to college is a transformative experience, brimming with anticipation, zeal, and, inevitably, a touch of nervousness. Your ACT score, while significant, is merely a single chapter in the vibrant narrative of your college application. Whether you're gearing up to boost your score, delving into college research, or refining your application, always remember that the sum of your attributes, endeavors, and dreams truly resonates in your pursuit of higher education.

Harness our ACT practice tests and tutoring services to hone your competencies, and check out our college admissions calculator to curate your ideal list of institutions. Most importantly, approach this journey with a heart full of hope and authenticity. College admissions isn't just about scores and rankings; it's about your tale, goals, and the distinct mark you're poised to imprint on the academic world.

To further illuminate your path with expert insights, schedule a free consultation with our admissions connoisseurs. Together, let's craft a college journey that's informed, strategic, and truly reflective of who you are.

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