What is a Good ACT Score?

You need more than an average ACT score.

Kathryn Knight Randolph

November 16, 2022

What is a Good ACT Score?
Learn more about the ACT standardized test.
Every student wants to achieve a “good” score on the ACT, but does everyone know what a “good” score is defined as? While the answer is relative based on each individual student, for this purpose, we’re defining a “good” score by measuring against the national averages of students across the country. Keep in mind, however, that these definitions are not absolute. The goal of the exam is to help with your college admissions, so a “good” or “bad” score is relative to your college choices.

How Important are ACT Scores?

These days, an ACT score is not as important as it used to be in the college admissions process. Some of the most selective colleges in the country have gone test-optional in response to COVID as well as to research that standardized tests are not fair to low-income or disadvantaged students.
However, most schools still accept them, or even require test scores. Therefore, your ACT score should be important to you if it’s important to your future college choice(s).

How Does ACT Scoring Work?

There are four sections of the ACT test: • English • Mathematics • Reading • Science Based on your performance, you will receive a score between 1 – 36 on each section. Those four scores are then averaged together to the nearest whole number to create your Composite Score.

What is a Good ACT Score?

A good ACT score is one that is considered above average. According to the ACT organization, the national average ACT score for the Class of 2022 was just 19.8. Given that number, an average score on the test would be around 19 – 20. A good score would be considered a 23 – 24. Anything higher than that would be above average, excellent, or best.

Grading Scales

Grading scales and scoring on the test are not simple. Although you do receive one point for every question you answer correctly, some sections are loaded with 75 questions, while others just have 40. For each section, you will receive a raw score. This is comprised of the points you received for every question you answered correctly. You are not penalized for wrong answers or guessing, so incorrect questions will not bring your raw score down. They just won’t increase it. Once you have raw score, that number is converted to a section composite score. As stated above, the composite scores that you receive on each section are averaged together to provide your final score. Prep Expert provides a helpful chart when converting the grading scales to composite scores.

Percentile Scores

You can compare yourself to other test takers by viewing which percentile your score falls into. While percentiles aren’t really viewed by admissions committees, it does give you an idea of how you personally did compared to students in your state and across the country. Given that the average ACT score nationwide is around 20, you can view your results knowing that’s the benchmark for the 50th percentile. If you scored a 20, you scored higher than 50% of the other test takers. Percentiles change on annual basis, but you can find data on previous test years that will help you determine which percentile to aim for when testing.

Average ACT Scores

Unfortunately, the national average ACT score is at its lowest in 30 years: 19.8. For the past three decades, that average has remained just above 20. As the ACT Organization states, it’s a troubling trend that began well before the pandemic. However, virtual instruction and lack of access to test prep resource hasn’t helped either. Each state will also have average ACT scores to view. You can view ACT averages by state. Note that some states have a very low percentage of students that took the ACT. In those states, it’s likely that the SAT is the standardized test favored by students and schools.

College Average ACT Scores

College average ACT scores are, by far, the most important for your college admissions process. As you search for colleges, you’ll notice on their admissions website or School Profile that they list average ACT scores for admitted students. That will ultimately help you decide what is a good ACT score – for you. You will want to get just below or higher than their average ACT score for admitted students. In doing so, you’ll increase your chances of getting accepted, and boost your odds of earning merit scholarships from individual colleges. Granted, admissions committees do not look solely at test scores. They also consider GPA, extracurricular and volunteer involvement, letters of recommendation, and more. However, SAT and ACT scores provide a benchmark for them to compare you to other applicants. If you score below the college’s average ACT score for admitted students, do not despair. It is just one component of your application, and there are ways to improve your score over time.

Improving Your ACT Score

Your ACT test score the first time you take the exam is not ultimate. In fact, it’s a score that can be improved upon. The ACT Organization provides a great resource in helping students strategize for performing well on the ACT. However, to start, you can implement the following: 1. Make a schedule. Be sure that you’re familiar with test dates and deadlines for your college applications. From there, you will be able to schedule ACT testing dates that work with your schedule. You’ll also be able to plug in community test prep events in your area. Many schools also offer workshops for students, so take advantage of those. 2. Take ACT practice tests. Your community or school may also host ACT practice tests. These opportunities will give you a chance to see how you would perform on the actual test. There are also online ACT practice tests. You can take practice portions of the test or an entire test for free through sites like Kaplan and Princeton Review. Finally, during your 8th, freshman, or sophomore year, you are eligible to take the PreACT. These practice test will detect college readiness and give students an idea of how they will perform on this particular standardized test. These tests are conducted at school on a set date during the academic year. Contact your school counselor for more information. 3. Work on your weakest subjects. You know better than anyone what your weakest subjects in school are, but you may be surprised to see your results after taking an ACT practice test. Perhaps you need to lean in more on reading comprehension or brush up on algebra. Once you’ve identified your weak spots, take action. Talk to your school counselor or a trusted teacher or mentor about getting help in those areas. They may have extra test prep work, tips and tricks, or tutoring resources that they can pass on to you. 4. Come up with a time strategy for test day. There are multiple strategies you can implement on test day to maximize your time. BestColleges has put together an entire guide on how to use your time effectively. If there is a question, and you don’t know the answer, skip it. You are not penalized on the ACT for not answering or answering incorrectly. If you can, give yourself some time toward the end of each section to go back to questions that you left unanswered. 5. On test day, read every question carefully. Although you should try to complete sections quickly, you also need to take your time. Be sure that you’re reading questions carefully and understand what is being asked. Essentially, you should be taking your time on reading the questions but not on trying to solve questions that you don’t have the answers to. Take a deep breath before you begin each timed section, and just do your best.

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