ACT Score Percentiles

ACT Test Percentiles, Percentages, and Scores Explained

act-score-percentilesWhat are ACT Score Percentiles And What Do They Mean When Applying For College?

The ACT test is a standardized exam often considered as an entry exam to college or university that is graded based on an ACT score percentile system. The test evaluates high school student’s readiness for college by testing them in four subject areas and a writing section.

ACT is among the requirements for determining a student’s university/college admission eligibility. Assessed subject areas include English, Maths, Science, and Reading, but there is an optional 40-minute Writing section that some colleges might require the student to complete.

Students sit for the test for 2 hours and 55 minutes if they are not taking the writing section, but ACT with the writing section often takes up to 3 hours and 35 minutes. The ACT exam is offered to students seven times in a calendar year in February, April, June, July, September, October, and December.


What Are ACT Test Score Percentiles?

An ACT score percentile is a comparison of how test takers’ scores compare on the ACT exam. They are useful in helping institutions to compare students instead of looking at each applicant’s core.

The ACT percentile will indicate the number of test-takers that scored higher or lower than you. The ACT gives a percentile ranking of the composite score for the four sections.

ACT Score Percentile Chart & Rankings

Here is an ACT score percentile chart that shows the ACT test scoring scale for each section along with the composite scores for high school graduates.

ACT Test Score PercentilesEnglishMathReadingScienceComposite Scores
36100100100100100
359999999999
349699979899
339498959798
329397929697
319196909595
309095879493
298893849291
288691829088
278488808885
268283778582
257979748278
247574717774
237069667069
226565616463
215960545758
205457495052
194853434346
184447383740
174040323033
163631272427
153019221820
142310181314
131831399
12141964
11111541
1061221
931111
811111
711111
611111
511111
411111
311111
211111
111111

What Do ACT Percentiles Mean?

For instance, this means that if your score is in the 25th percentile, then 25% of test-takers performed better or worse than you, with 75% of students performing better than you. Similarly, if you are in the 70th percentile, it means you scored higher or the same as 70% of the students that took the test.

However, it doesn’t mean that you got 70% of the questions correctly because the ACT score percentile is not similar to a grade out of 100.

Unlike percentages in high school exams, the percentile score doesn’t tell you how you scored in individual questions. A 90% in a math test in high school means that you got 90% of the questions right, but it doesn’t indicate how other students performed.

On the other hand, a 90th percentile tells a different story as it shows how you performed relative to other students.

What does a high ACT percentile score mean?

A higher percentile shows that you performed better compared to other test takers. The percentile helps the student understand how they performed relative to others because they are concretely defined compared to the 1-36 ACT scaled scores. If a test taker scores 25 on the Sciences section, they did better than students who got 25 and below.

Generally, it is unclear who the 25 scaled score is calculated from the raw ACT score. But, if the ACT score falls in the 80th percentile rank, then you are certain that you did better than 82% of the student who took the test, thus giving a clearer comparison.

Interestingly, percentile scores don’t change over time, and a composite score of 26 will always be in the 82nd percentile regardless of whether one took the ACT in 2020 or 2018. At most, there will be around two percentile point variance over the years for composite percentiles and up to four percentile variance for the four sections.

For instance, an 18 score in Math was in the 47th percentile in 2016, and in 2020 it was in the 50th percentile. ACT Inc. says that the reason the percentiles don’t change over time is because of equating. It is a process of ensuring scores from different test dates are comparable.


ACT College Entrance Percentiles Explained

ACT college percentiles help institutions understand how applicants’ scores compare with each other. This helps in determining what a good score is. For instance, if institutions were to look at your scaled score without knowledge about the percentile in which your score falls, it will be hard to establish a bad or good ACT score. If the college receives your composite score of, let’s say, 26/36, then the assumption will be that just like a school test, this is around 72%.

However, with ACT percentile knowledge, colleges can understand that a 26 ACT composite score will fall in the 82nd percentile. This implies that you will have performed better than 82% of the test-takers, which is closer to 100% of test-taker that scored a 36. Looking at the college ACT percentiles gives admission officers insight into the test takers’ performance on the ACT and how their scores are stacked against other applicants.

Past years’ ACT percentiles are very crucial when comparing applicants’ scores. When a student applies for college, they compete with students who took the ACT in other years. For example, a student that took the ACT in 2020 will be in the same pool as those who will take the ACT as seniors in 2021.

However, the difference will be tiny, and when applying to schools with less than 10% admission rates, even a small edge can be helpful. If you scored a 33 in 2019 and your friend scored a 32 in 2018, your core will put you in the 98th percentile while your fiend will be in the 96th percentile, and this small difference is the game-changer.


ACT Test Section Percentiles And Why It Is Important

The math section covers pre-algebra, algebra/coordinate geometry, elementary algebra, plane geometry, and trigonometry.

On the other hand, the English section will cover standard English conventions, production writing, and language knowledge, while the science section will cover Biology, Chemistry, Physical sciences, and physics.

Lastly, the reading section tests different topics arts, literature, and social sciences. The writing part involves giving different views on a contemporary issue.

The ACT is important to students because it is an admission application requirement by most universities and colleges. Institutions use the ACT score to compare applicants. Thus it is important to have competitive scores to join some of the best schools.

It is important to note that besides the ACT, you should also perform well in your high school grades as ACT will only boost your admission chances. Usually, students will score differently in the percentiles; thus, you should study hard to be in a higher percentile and boost your university chances.

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