What is a Good ACT Score?

Good ACT Test Scores and Exam Results Explained

good-act-scoreBetter Understand Your ACT Test Results

Most colleges and universities require students to submit ACT scores as part of their application process. The strength of your score really depends on the college you choose to attend.

Every college has different admission standards and requirements with more prestigious universities having the highest. Thus, your score might be good enough for some colleges and not competitive enough for others.

Let’s look at how the ACT exam is scored and graded as well as what makes a good ACT score vs a bad ACT test score, so you can understand what results you should aim for to get into the college of your choice.

How High is a Good ACT Test Score?

Typically, a test score of 24 or higher is considered a good ACT score. This would place you in the 74th percentile of test takers, according to the 2022 ACT National Profile Report. Meaning, you scored better than 74% of students and ranked in the top 26 percent of those tested.

If you want to see how competitive your score is for the colleges your are applying to, simply look up their published admission scores. Most colleges publish their students’ scores for admission purposes, so you can see how your score compares.

If your score falls in the 74th percentile of that school’s admitted students, your score is likely good enough to be accepted.

ACT Scoring and What Makes a Good Composite Score

Since the ACT test is scored out of 36, a composite score of 28 – 36 places a student in the top 10 percent of test takers. Thus, a score of 28 is usually a good score, but it is more complicated than a simple percentile.

Let’s look at how the test is graded and what the scores actually mean before we determine what score is good and what score is bad.

Below is a chart displaying the good composite act score range along with rankings of each score.

1 - 19Below AveragePoor
20 - 25AverageGood
26 - 29Above AverageCompetitive
30 - 35HighestBest

The ACT scoring system can be broken down into basic stats like section scores, total scores, percentile rankings, benchmark and reporting category scores. Each of the four sections receive a scaled score each, ranging from 1-36. These scores will then be averaged into composite scores within a range of 1-36.

The scaled scores are derived from the raw score, converted into the 1-36 scale. For every question answered correctly, you will get the point that accounts for the raw score for each category area in the test. Fascinatingly, there is no penalty or point deduction for a wrong answer or omitted question.

As indicated, the ACT score ranges between 1 and 36, so you might think that having a higher raw score will make your college chances better. However, your score corresponds to a percentile comparing your test results to other test takers.

If you are in a higher percentile, it means you scored higher than most of the test takers. For instance, a 55th percentile implies that you scored better than 55% of the test takers. The average ACT score is 20.6.

Thus if you scored 21, then you scored better than 50% of other test-takers. A good score is relative and depends on the college you apply to, but generally, a higher ACT score will boost your chances of getting into the college of your choice even if your GPA is lower.

What Subjects are Scored on the ACT Test?

The ACT is a standardized test assessing the test taker’s readiness to attend college. The test is made up of four tests, which are multiple-answer questions plus the writing section. ACT scores are vital to the admission process because it is among ways the university uses to assess the student’s eligibility.

The ACT sections include English, Math Reading, and Science, plus the optional Writing section. Students in Grade 11 and 12 take the test to submit the scores as part of the college application process. The ACT exam takes 2 hours and 55 minutes, but if you are taking the writing section, the test will take 3 hours and 35 minutes.

The test evaluates student’s skills in four subject areas of Math, English, Reading, and Science. Let’s look at each of these sections and evaluate what a good score looks like for each.

ACT English Section

Good English ACT Scores

1 - 19Below AveragePoor
20 - 23AverageGood
24 - 28Above AverageCompetitive
29 - 36HighestBest

This is the first ACT section comprising five passages of 75 multiple choice questions to be completed in 45 minutes. The section tests knowledge on grammar and punctuates usage, organization of the passage, and rhetoric skills.

The first skillset tested is usage and mechanics usage which entails punctuation, grammar, and sentence structure. It requires mastery of grammar rules and punctuation.

The other skill set tested is rhetoric skills, which evaluate the student’s ability to ensure the passage makes sense, if it has writing flow, and communicate a point effectively.

ACT Math Section

Good Math ACT Scores

1 - 19Below AveragePoor
20 - 23AverageGood
24 - 27Above AverageCompetitive
28 - 36HighestBest

This section comprises 60 multiple answer math questions that the student should attempt within 60 minutes.

The section tests six math areas including, Pre-Algebra, Intermediate Algebra, Elementary Algebra, Plane Geometry, Coordinate Geometry, and Trigonometry.

ACT Reading Section

Good Reading ACT Scores

1 - 20Below AveragePoor
21 - 25AverageGood
26 - 29Above AverageCompetitive
30 - 36HighestBest

This section comprises passages or passage pairs accompanied with 40 multiple choice questions you should attempt in 35 minutes. This implies that there will be ten questions per passage, and the questions are based on the passages.

The passages in the section cover subject areas including natural sciences, humanities, literary fiction, and social science.

ACT Science Section

Good Science ACT Scores

1 - 20Below AveragePoor
21 - 24AverageGood
25 - 26Above AverageCompetitive
27 - 36HighestBest

Questions in the section are based on passages, and you don’t need advanced science knowledge to attempt the questions. There are seven passages with 40 multiple-choice questions that you should attempt within 35 minutes.

The passages will include diagrams such as tables, charts, and graphs, and it tests topics on biology, physics, chemistry, and space/earth sciences.

ACT Writing Section

Good Writing ACT Scores

1 - 20Below AveragePoor
21 - 25AverageGood
26 - 29Above AverageCompetitive
30 - 36HighestBest

This is a 40-minute optional essay in which students are tested in their ability to combine different perspectives and viewpoints and analyze the argument in an essay.

You are given an essay prompt, and you will evaluate three perspectives to the original issue. It involves analyzing each argument’s strengths and weaknesses and then comparing them on how they can be improved.

What ACT Test Score do I need for College Acceptance?

Most four-year universities and colleges require students to submit ACT scores as part of the admission requirements. Colleges use your ACT score to evaluate your college readiness and compare your knowledge/skills to other college applicants. It acts as a normalizer for admissions and helps the admission board determine if your GPA represents your ability.

For example, if your GPA is high and your ACT score low, an admission board might feel like your grades were inflated. However, if you had a perfect ACT score of 36 and a GPA of 4.0, the admission board would not question your capabilities.

Another aspect of the ACT is its use in judging the test taker’s academic preparedness for college. The ACT score is vital to colleges because once admitted, and the institution will incorporate the ACT in their annual ACT statistics. ACT score ranges judge colleges, and each year they publish freshman admit profiles.

The profile offers data in the admitted students, and often it includes either the 25th/75th percentile ACT scores. Most colleges provide the 25th/75th percentile rather than the average score.

Ivy League ACT Scores

You may have thought, “do I need a perfect score to get into an Ivy League School?” The answer is no. You don’t need a perfect score, but you do need a high score. Here are the 25th and 74th percentile scores for the top 5 Ivy League schools.

University25th Percentile Score75th Percentile

What is a good ACT score for Harvard?

A score of 35 is good for Harvard. This would put your score in the top 26 percent of Harvard students and almost guarantee your acceptance as long as other requirements were also met.

ACT Score Breakdown

Here is a ACT score breakdown that shows the ranges of ACT scores from good to perfect:

  • ACT composite score range: 1 – 36
  • National average ACT score: 20.8
  • Average score: 20 – 22
  • Good score: 24 – 26
  • Competitive score: 28 – 30
  • Highest score: 30+
  • Perfect, Max score: 36

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