The ACT is not simply scored by adding the total questions correct. Instead, a “raw score” is calculated which is then put into a “scoring formula” to achieve a final “scaled score.” The scaled score on the ACT ranges from 1 through 36 however most test-takers score somewhere between a 17 and a 23. The national average is approximately 20.
Although the ACT percentiles vary from year to year, generally the following scaled scores correspond to the following approximate percentile ranks:
31 Scaled = 99% Percentile Rank = 90% of Questions Correct
26 Scaled = 90% Percentile Rank = 75% of Questions Correct
23 Scaled = 76% Percentile Rank = 63% of Questions Correct
20 Scaled = 54% Percentile Rank = 53% of Questions Correct
17 Scaled = 28% Percentile Rank = 43% of Questions Correct
The ACT has a generous curve; answering only 75% of the questions correctly (which would be a C in academic subjects) will actually put you in the 90th percentile on the ACT! Achieving a 90th percentile means that 90% of test takers did as well as or worse than you did. In other words, you are in the top 10% of test-takers!
Let’s say your scaled score was a 23. Answering only 63% of questions correctly (a D or an F in academic subjects) would put you in the 76% percentile, meaning you would be in the top quarter of test-takers!
Another huge plus about the ACT is that there is no wrong answer penalty! That means you should make sure to answer every single question, even if you have to randomly guess on some of them. Every question you get correct (even if it was just a lucky guess) will raise your scaled score.
The scaled score mentioned above is also known as a “composite score.” This is calculated by averaging the four major subject scores (English, Math, Reading and Science). It is the primary score colleges look at in determining admissions.
However you will also receive an individual scaled score for each section that will also range from 1 to 36 and some individual “sub-scores.”
Here are the scores you can expect to see on your full score report:
English Score (from 1 – 36): Usage/Mechanics sub-score (1 – 18)
Rhetorical skills sub-score (1 – 18)
Writing sub-score (2 – 12)
Math Score (from 1 – 36): Prealgebra/Elementary Algebra sub-score (1 – 18)
Algebra/Coordinate Geometry sub-score (1 – 18)
Plane Geometry/Trigonometry sub-score (1 – 18)
Reading Score (from 1 – 36): Social Sciences/Sciences sub-score (1 – 18)
Arts/Literature sub-score (1 – 18)
Science Score (from 1 – 36): There are no sub-scores for the Science Test
Combined English/Writing Score (from 1 – 36): This score, unlike the other four tests, does not count towards your composite score but will be included on your score report and colleges will see it.
The Writing Test is always the last section on the ACT. It is optional although many schools require it so check with your guidance counselor and the individual admissions departments to be sure!
When you sign up for the ACT, you can choose colleges to receive your scores automatically. The first four score reports are free. Unless you have a deadline quickly approaching, you may want to wait until you receive your score and then send it to the schools yourself. That way if you are unhappy with your score, you can re-take the test and send only the better score.
Remember that on the ACT answering just a few extra questions correctly can really boost your scaled score and push you into a higher percentile, so every little bit of studying helps!