Understanding the ACT Score Range

Learn what the ACT score range is, how it is calculated, and what it means for your college admission chances. Find out how to improve your ACT score.

Understanding the ACT Score Range: A Comprehensive Guide

The ACT is a standardized test that plays a crucial role in college admissions. Your ACT score is a reflection of your academic abilities and can greatly impact your chances of getting accepted into your dream college. But what exactly do ACT scores mean? How are they calculated? What is an ACT score calculator? And what is considered a good ACT score?

In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the intricacies of the ACT score range, decoding the scoring system, exploring percentiles, and providing insights into what makes a good ACT score. Whether you’ve already taken the ACT or are planning to do so, this guide will equip you with the knowledge you need to understand and improve your ACT score.


The ACT Scoring System: From Raw Scores to Composite Scores

To understand the ACT score range, it’s essential to grasp how the scoring system works. The ACT consists of four sections: English, Math, Reading, and Science. Each section is scored individually, and the scores range from 1 to 36. But how do these individual section scores translate into an overall composite score?

The first step in the scoring process is converting the number of correct answers on each section, known as raw scores, into scale scores. Raw scores are simply a count of the correct answers and do not penalize incorrect answers. The ACT then converts these raw scores into scale scores, which have the same meaning across different versions of the test.

Once the scale scores for each section are determined, they are averaged to calculate the composite score. The composite score, also ranging from 1 to 36, represents the average of the four section scores, rounded to the nearest whole number. It’s important to note that fractions less than one-half are rounded down, while fractions one-half or more are rounded up.

Decoding Percentiles: Understanding Your ACT Score in Comparison

Now that we know how ACT scores are calculated, let’s explore how they are interpreted in relation to other test-takers. ACT scores are reported in percentiles, which indicate how your score compares to the scores of other students who took the test. A percentile represents the percentage of test-takers who scored lower than you.

For example, if your ACT composite score is at the 60th percentile, it means you scored higher than 60% of students who took the test. The higher your percentile, the better you performed in comparison to others. Conversely, a lower percentile indicates that you scored below the majority of test-takers.

The ACT score distribution follows a normal distribution, meaning that most test-takers score around the middle of the scale, with fewer scoring towards the higher and lower ends. The average ACT score is around 19, representing the 50th percentile. A score of 24 places you at the 76th percentile, indicating that you scored better than 76% of test-takers.

To provide a clearer perspective, here’s a breakdown of percentile ranges for various ACT composite scores:

  • ACT score below 16: Bottom 25%
  • ACT score of 21: Average score (50th percentile)
  • ACT score of 24+: Top 25%
  • ACT score of 29+: Top 10%
  • ACT score of 31+: Top 5%
  • ACT score of 35+: Top 1% of test-takers

As you can see, even a few points can significantly impact your percentile ranking. A higher score not only reflects your academic abilities but also enhances your chances of gaining admission to competitive colleges and universities.

What Makes a Good ACT Score?

Now that we understand the ACT score range and percentiles, let’s address the question on every test-taker’s mind: what makes a good ACT score? The answer depends on several factors, including your personal goals and the colleges you are applying to.

The average ACT composite score is around 19, which represents the 50th percentile. However, the definition of a good ACT score goes beyond the average. To determine what is considered a good score, it’s crucial to research the requirements and expectations of the colleges you are interested in.

Different colleges have different ACT score expectations, often indicated by the 25th and 75th percentile scores of admitted students. The 25th percentile score represents the score at or below which 25% of admitted students fall, while the 75th percentile score represents the score at or below which 75% of admitted students fall.

For example, if a college has a 25th percentile ACT score of 23 and a 75th percentile score of 31, scoring at or above 31 would put you in the top quarter of admitted students. This would be considered a competitive score for that particular college. However, scoring at or below 23 would place you below the middle 50% of admitted students.

It’s essential to note that the competitiveness of ACT scores varies across colleges and universities. Highly selective institutions, such as Ivy League schools and top-tier universities, often have higher ACT score expectations. On the other hand, less selective schools may have lower score expectations.

To determine what makes a good ACT score for you personally, research the average ACT scores of the colleges you are interested in. Aim for a score that places you within the range of admitted students at your target schools. Keep in mind that a higher ACT score can increase your chances of admission and may even make you eligible for merit scholarships.

ACT Score Ranges for Popular Schools

To provide you with a reference point, here are the ACT score ranges for 35 popular schools, including their 25th and 75th percentile composite scores, acceptance rates, and current U.S. News rankings:

School25th Percentile75th PercentileAcceptance RateU.S. News Ranking
University of Alabama233159%143 (National)
Texas A&M University253267%70 (National)
Penn State University253056%63 (National)
Ohio State University273254%53 (National)
Clemson University273351%66 (National)
University of Chicago33356%6 (National)
Duke University33357%8 (National)
Massachusetts Institute of Technology34367%4 (National)
Stanford University33354%6 (National)

Remember, these score ranges are specific to each school and may vary from year to year. Use them as a starting point to gauge your target ACT score for your desired colleges.

What If Your Score Falls Short?

If your ACT score falls short of your target or the average score of your desired colleges, don’t panic. There are several strategies you can pursue to improve your score and increase your chances of admission.

Strategy 1: Retake the Test and Prepare Strategically

If you have the time and resources, retaking the ACT and preparing strategically is a viable option. Study the areas where you struggled the most and dedicate focused preparation time to improve in those areas. Consider seeking guidance from test preparation resources, such as online courses or tutoring, to enhance your performance.

Strategy 2: Focus on Other Aspects of Your Application

While an excellent ACT score can strengthen your college application, it’s not the sole determining factor. Admissions committees also consider other aspects, such as your GPA, extracurricular activities, essays, recommendation letters, and personal achievements. If your ACT score is below your target, focus on excelling in these other areas to showcase your strengths and unique qualities.

Strategy 3: Consider Test-Optional or Test-Flexible Schools

An increasing number of colleges and universities have adopted test-optional or test-flexible policies, which allow applicants to choose whether or not to submit standardized test scores. If your ACT score does not meet your expectations, research schools that have implemented test-optional policies and evaluate whether this option aligns with your college aspirations.

Strategy 4: Explore Alternative Pathways

If your ACT score is significantly lower than your target or the average score of your desired colleges, consider exploring alternative pathways to achieve your academic goals. Look into community colleges, transfer programs, or colleges with more lenient admissions requirements. These institutions can provide you with an opportunity to build your academic record and transfer to your desired college later on.

Remember, your ACT score is just one component of your college application. Admissions committees take a holistic approach in evaluating applicants, considering multiple factors to assess your potential for success. Focus on showcasing your strengths, pursuing your passions, and presenting a well-rounded application that highlights your unique qualities.


Understanding the ACT score range is crucial for any student aiming to excel in their college admissions journey. By decoding the scoring system, comprehending percentiles, and researching the requirements of your target schools, you can determine what makes a good ACT score for you personally. Remember that a good score is relative and varies depending on the colleges you are applying to.

Use the information provided in this guide to set realistic goals, strategize your preparation, and make informed decisions throughout your ACT journey. With dedication, focus, and the right resources, you can improve your ACT score and increase your chances of gaining admission to the college of your dreams.