What is a Good ACT Score?
Getting a good ACT score can open up doors of opportunity for you to be accepted at your dream college or to obtain an advantageous merit scholarship. But how do you know what your target score should be? What is a good ACT score in 2022?
Generally speaking, a good ACT score is 24 or higher; that's because it's best to aim for an ACT composite score that's in the 75th percentile or above. However, a score that's "good" for you may not be the same as for somebody else – your ACT score goal will vary based on your college, scholarship, and career goals for the future. Different colleges and universities will have different standards they expect potential students to meet in order to be accepted.
Let's take a deeper dive into what defines a good score on the ACT, and how you can choose your personal goal score to aim for.
What is a good score on the ACT?
- Understanding the ACT Test
- Before Taking the Test: Good Pre ACT Scores
- What is a Good Composite ACT Score?
- What is a Good ACT English Score?
- What is a Good ACT Math Score?
- What is a Good Science ACT Score?
- What is a Good ACT Reading Score?
- What is a Good ACT Writing Score?
- Good ACT Scores by School
Understanding the ACT test
The ACT is a standardized test that is for 10th, 11th, and/or 12th-grade students to prepare for post-secondary education. Every year, it's administered both nationally and internationally.
What does the ACT test?
Rather than being an aptitude or IQ test, the ACT questions are meant to show what test-takers have learned in their high school courses. It primarily evaluates your math, science, and verbal skills, with the four main sections being English, Math, Reading, and Science, plus an optional Writing section.
Educators and counselors in high school can learn a lot from the ACT reports that show the results of their test-takers. These results can help counselors and teachers guide students in college and career preparedness and decisions. It also helps them to evaluate how effective their teaching strategies and curriculum are. This way, they can make changes and improvements, where needed.
How is the ACT scored?
The ACT is graded by combining your score of 1-36 on the four main sections within the test and then averaging this for your composite score. Rather than penalizing you for incorrect answers, your score on each section of the ACT is based on the number of questions you answered correctly.
Generally speaking, it's best to aim for an ACT composite score that's in the 75th percentile or above – this means a score of at least 24. However, a score that's "good" for you may not be the same as for somebody else – your ACT score goal will vary based on your college, scholarship, and career goals for the future. Different colleges and universities will have different standards they expect potential students to meet in order to be accepted.
There's no set passing score for the ACT. A “good” score is entirely based on the school you hope to attend, as well as your other goals for future education, scholarships, and career. For many post-secondary educational institutions, your ACT score is a deciding factor in admission decisions. Achieving a high ACT score that meets the expectation of the college you hope to attend can increase your chances of being accepted. Knowing this can help you in setting a realistic, yet ambitious goal for yourself.
How important is the ACT to the college admission process?
The ACT is a standardized test and a college entrance exam, along with the SAT. Students within the United States (and some outside) have the option to take either the ACT or the SAT in high school. Many colleges and universities don't distinguish between these two tests and will accept either. But your standardized test scores can make up as much as 50% of the admission decision for a school looking at your application. Depending on the school, a high ACT score may even help boost your application if your GPA is lacking.
Not all colleges factor in ACT or SAT scores, though. Some opinions are shifting these days regarding standardized tests, and some colleges may not like them. In addition, some schools have gone “test-optional” since the coronavirus pandemic made it more difficult to complete standardized tests.
Before you register to take the ACT, you'll want to find out for sure if the schools you hope to apply to require the ACT as part of the application. If the school is test-optional and your score ends up below the 50th percentile range, it may actually strengthen your application if you don't send your score in to them. These are some things you'll want to consider before taking the ACT and before sending your score in to schools.
Before taking the test: good Pre-ACT scores
The PreACT can be an extremely helpful practice test to help test-takers prepare for the actual ACT down the road. Taking a practice test can give you a starting point when studying for the ACT. It can help identify your weak points. It can also give you a chance to get familiar with the format of the test and the type of content therein.
How is the PreACT scored?
The PreACT is scored almost identically to the ACT. It is graded on a scale from 1-35 (while the ACT is 1-36), with your composite score being the median of your scores from all four of the same sections that are tested in the ACT.
Since it's scored so similarly, the average grade is about the same as it is for ACT test scores: 20 or 21. Of course, the higher your score the better, and you'll probably want to shoot for above average.
The practice ACT test is about 2 hours long – roughly half the time of the ACT (depending on whether or not you'll complete the writing section of the ACT). It can be a helpful tool in showing test-takers what to expect for the real test. This practice run can also point out for you your strong points, as well as weak points that you'll want to work on before taking the actual test.
Along with your score, your PreACT results will include predictions for your ACT score ranges. Keep in mind, though, this may not be a perfect predictor of what you'll achieve when you take the actual ACT. After all, students often take the PreACT in 10th grade, and most students take the ACT in 11th grade, at the earliest. You'll have plenty of time yet to learn from your high school course materials. And you'll also have time to study specifically for the ACT. But taking the PreACT can help you feel more prepared and have more effective study time because you'll know which areas to focus on.
Remember, the PreACT is just a practice test. If you're not happy with your score, don't panic. These scores are not seen by college admissions.
Preparing to test
As you're studying and preparing to take the ACT, it may help to think of this time as an extra class. Devote the same amount of time and effort into it as you would one of your high school courses (or perhaps even more!). Create a study schedule for yourself, and decide which materials and courses of action you'll use to prep. Look into all your options, such as hiring a tutor, using a practice book, or taking a practice test. Figure out which approach will suit you and your learning style best, and then create your weekly study schedule around that plan.
If you're looking for study materials for the ACT, check out the official ACT prep materials, which include classes, books, tutoring, practice tests, and more.
Your plan to prep for the test should also include narrowing your list of colleges to apply for. Make sure to include “match” schools (schools that fit your academic ability spot-on), “reach” schools (those that are a bit above your academic achievements), and safety schools (which are a bit below your academic capabilities, but may provide a safety net, should things fall through with your preferred schools).
After you've made plans for studying and a solid list of colleges, schedule at least one ACT test. It's probably best to take the ACT for the first time around the fall or winter of your junior year. This gives you time to have learned most of what you need to in your high school classes before taking the test. But it will also give you plenty of time to retake the test afterward, should you so desire. If things don't go as well as you'd hoped the first time around, remember, you can still take the ACT several times. Then when you're ready to apply to colleges, submit only your best score.
Making the most of test day
It's essential to go into your ACT test day with your mind and body primed for focus and calm. This means you must be well-rested and well-fed. Get a full sleep the night before. Limit your activities that evening and go to bed early enough that you can get at least 8-9 hours in. Then, in the morning, be sure to get a balanced, nutritious breakfast so you don't get too hungry during the test.
The entire ACT test is about 3.5 hours, including breaks. The ACT Plus Writing adds about another half hour. So your entire testing day, including all the administrative instructions and protocols, will probably fall between 4.5-5 hours. That's a pretty long day. Be sure to bring a snack and water bottle along with you. You'll get a chance to snack during your test breaks as the day progresses.
It's perfectly normal for test-takers to get a little nervous before a test as big and important as the ACT. A little bit of nervousness can enhance your focus on strengthening your performance. But excess test anxiety can set you up for a miserable day. Take a few deep breaths if you start to feel too overwhelmed. And keep in mind, even if things don't go as you planned, you'll always have other options. The ACT is not the only factor colleges will consider during the college admission process.
What is a Good Composite ACT Score?
Let's review what makes up a composite ACT score: The ACT test is made up of four required sections: English, Math, Reading, and Science. Each is scored on a scale from 1-36, and then your composite score is the average of all four. (While there is an optional writing section of the test, this is scored differently and separately and not included in your composite score.)
In general, composite scores above the 50th percentile – about 19-21 – are decent, average ACT scores. However, it probably won't be a strong enough score for a competitive college. You'll probably find it's best to aim for the 75th percentile – a score of about 24 – for an above-average ACT score.
Keep in mind, though, that the concept of a “good score” is quite relative. It all depends on your goals and the type of college or university you hope to attend. For example, to attend a highly competitive school, such as an Ivy League, you'd want to aim for a score closer to the 32-26 range (as we'll discuss in more detail later on). This is why it's critical to devote some of your ACT prep time to determining the post-secondary path you hope to pursue.
What to do if you're unhappy with your score
If you get a score lower than you had hoped, remember that you can prepare and study and retake the ACT. You can even do this several times, if needed and if you have the time for it. If this happens, be sure to spend extra time prepping and studying for the sections you had weaker scores in.
If you were only 1 or 2 points off from your goal score, it may actually be best to just accept the score you achieved and move on. Of course, this may depend on how competitive the school is that you're hoping to get into. But, in many of these cases, your time might be better spent strengthening other aspects of your college applications.
Perhaps, if necessary, you could consider changing your list of schools to be more attainable. You can still receive a great education at a school that's slightly less selective than you had originally planned. This is an especially good approach if you don't have time to retake the test. You can still apply to your dream schools, but maybe spend most of your energy and time on your applications to the “match” and "safety" schools on your list. You could also add some institutions to the list that don't require ACT scores as part of your application.
Remember, it's okay to make mistakes. Resist the inclination to compare yourself to others, and just do the best that you can. You can have some self-compassion, and even feel proud of what you've accomplished! It may seem cliche, but it's really not the end of the world if your ACT score is lower than you hoped for. You will still find an excellent higher education path that suits you.
Next, let's break down what makes a good score in each subject the ACT test covers:
What is a Good ACT English Score?
The English section of the ACT test focuses on grammar, punctuation, organization of passages, rhetoric skills, and sentence structure. It is comprised of 75 multiple choice questions that go along with 5 passages. Test-takers are given 45 minutes to complete this section.
For English section scores, 1-19 is below average, 20-23 is average, 24-28 is above average, and 29-36 is the highest you can get.
What is a Good ACT Math Score?
The math section of the ACT tests pre-algebra, intermediate algebra, elementary algebra, plane geometry, coordinate geometry, and trigonometry. It is made up of 60 multiple choice math problems, and test-takers will be given 60 minutes in which to solve them.
In this section, the score ranges are similar to those of English: 1-19 is below average, 20-23 is average, 24-27 is above average, and 28-36 is the highest score you can reach for.
What is a Good Science ACT Score?
The science section of the ACT tests topics such as biology, physics, chemistry, and space/earth sciences. It's comprised of 7 passages and 40 multiple choice questions based on those passages. Test-takers will have 35 minutes to complete the section.
The score ranges for the ACT science section are as follows: 1-20 is below average. 21-24 is average, 25-26 is above average, and 27-36 is the highest range you can achieve.
What is a Good ACT Reading Score?
In the reading section of the ACT test, test-takers will have 35 minutes to complete 40 multiple choice questions that go along with passages or passage pairs. There are approximately 10 questions based on each passage. The subject matter of the passages typically includes natural sciences, humanities, literary fiction, and social science.
A good ACT reading score depends on your goals, but the score ranges tend to fall as follows: 1-20 is below average, 21-25 is average, 26-29 is above average, and 30-36 is the highest score range.
What is a Good ACT Writing Score?
As mentioned previously, the writing section of the ACT is optional. You only need to complete it if one of the schools on your list requires it. To take this section, your test will cost $85 instead of the $60 it costs to take the ACT without the writing section. It includes an essay prompt. You'll evaluate three different perspectives of an issue or argument. In your own essay, you’ll detail each viewpoint's strengths and weaknesses and compare them to give a full analysis of the various arguments surrounding the issue at hand. Finally, you'll give your own perspective on the issue.
Test-takers have 40 minutes to complete this section. The two readers who grade your essay will assess your ideas and analysis, development and support, organization, and language use and conventions. Based on the averages of the grades you're awarded for each category, you'll receive a total score on a scale of 2-12. This score does not count toward your composite score and is reported separately.
Though optional, your writing scores can be important to colleges depending on your score range. A score of 6 is an average, decent score. 8 or above falls in the 90th percentile and is a good, strong score. A score of 10, 11, or 12 will stand out as a sign of extremely strong writing skills.
Good ACT Scores by School
To help determine your goal ACT score, you'll need to find out what the colleges on your list are looking for in their admissions decisions. You'll want to shoot to achieve at or above an average ACT score for that school – so the middle 50% of their students’ ACT scores. To find this number, you can look for a first-year class profile page or a facts and figures page on the school's website. Or you can search online for the school's name and then the phrase “ACT score range.” Find the range between the 25th to 75th percentile of ACT scores at that school, and then aim for your score to fall between the 50th to 75th percentile.
Less competitive institutions will probably accept something closer to the national average ACT score of 21. Highly selective universities will prefer something in the 32-36 range. In fact, for an Ivy League school, a 34 or higher seems to be the magic number to reach for.
To get you started, here is a list of 20 of the top schools in the U.S. Many of them are quite competitive schools, but others are more average. Also listed are the 25th percentile and 75th percentile ACT scores for each school's students.