ACT Score Percentiles
October 27, 2018
There are a variety of ways to wrap your head around your admissions competition: study hard, take the exam more than once, try to stick out in your interview process. Of course, your ACT score is a primary means of differentiating yourself from others since it is, well, a definite score. Standardized tests are used to not only evaluate college readiness, but also to help streamline the application process, in general. Yes, you are competing for a spot with your GPA, but you're also doing so with your ACT score, as well.
How well do you understand the statistics surrounding ACT percentiles? Schools typically use them in the 25th and 75th categories, accepting students from both, depending on other factors from their overall application. Thankfully, most schools publish percentile data, but we're going to delve into a bit of it in this article to give you further insight and understanding. Hopefully, this paints a picture of how a particular school organizes applications and determines admissions. While we can't get inside the crevices of their mind, we can attempt to reflect on the data widely available to everyone.
The format of the ACT is in four mandatory sections: English, Math, Reading, and Science. The length of the ACT lasts two hours and 55 minutes; with the optional writing section, it lasts three hours and 35 minutes. The test, as a whole, is graded on a scale of 1-36. Below is a chart detailing ACT specifics in terms of question length and allotted time:
|ACT Test Section||Length of Time||# of Questions|
|Writing (optional)||40 minutes||1 essay|
It's important to note that the 20-minute Experimental section is given only to some test-takers. You are also allowed two breaks: a ten-minute one between the Math and Reading sections, and a five-minute break between the Experimental and Writing portion.
In order to best understand the relationship with ACT percentiles that relate to students and schools, it's important to look at recent 2017 statistics published by ACT.org, as it pertains to national averages.
|ACT Section||Average ACT Score|
Below is also a 2017 study recently published about ACT scores and how they correlate to gender:
Naturally, your aim as a test-taker applying to an elite school is to surpass national averages—as well as school averages. Percentiles help make sense of this data, as well as how you determine your chances against your fellow applicants.
The following percentile chart is widely available from ACT.org, the makers of the ACT. As you can see, percentiles have increased the last three years compared to 2013-2015. This could be partly due to the fact that the ACT has become a more popular exam, with far more test-takers than its rival exam, the SAT. However, hopefully, this chart gives you an idea of what admissions counselors are talking about when referring to ACT percentile data.
|ACT Total Score||Percentile (Combined 2017, '16, '15)||Percentile (Combined 2013, '14, '15)|
Having the benefit of this data to see how these scores and percentiles have changed over time is an important insight when taking into account the changing nature and difficulty level of the ACT—not to mention the competition you face with other students also sitting for it, as well.
The following table is the most recent data regarding 2017-2018 percentile statistics from ACT.org.
|Composite ACT Score||English||Math||Reading||Science||Percentile|
Naturally, when looking at ACT percentiles, you want to examine how your own score fits into the average percentiles at your chosen school. While your ACT score is not the only determining factor for admission, it plays greatly into the minds of the admissions committee. Below is a chart about top schools and their 25th and 75th percentiles, published by Niche.com, an educational services site that publishes standardized testing data:
|University||ACT 25th Percentile||ACT 75th Percentile||Acceptance Rate|
|University of Southern California||30||33||16.6%|
|University of Pennsylvania||31||34||10.2%|
All in all, finding the right course of study is your best bet to make it into a higher percentile to your chosen school. Naturally, with higher percentiles comes the understanding you may need to take the ACT more than once. If your particular college or undergraduate university requests all of your ACT scores and not just your highest, make note of that before scheduling your initial test day. Keep in mind there are other important factors that go into your college admissions package, but your ACT score is perhaps one of the most important.