What's a Good ACT Score?

What's a Good ACT Score?

November 3, 2018

More than likely if you've been studying for the ACT, you're scratching your head wondering, "So what on earth is a good score?" This is a natural question, especially considering all of the contradicting information from Internet rumors and falsities. Have you spent time determining what the average 25th or 75th percentile score is from your chosen college or university? Such data and statistics can come in very handy in determining how and when you will sit for the exam.

While no one wants to be saturated with more facts that test-day strategies, such information is critical when devising an ACT study plan. Let's examine the various factors and facts that go into what makes a good ACT score, not just for your own personal use, but a general sense to paint a full picture of the test prep scenario. Leave it to an academic services company like Manhattan Review to provide such valuable insight and information to prospective students around the globe!

ACT Basics

The ACT is scored on a scale from 1-36, based on the number of questions you answered correctly. (This is otherwise known as your raw score.) The four sections on the ACT are as follows: English, Math, Reading, Science, and an optional Essay. Without the optional essay portion, the test lasts 175 minutes; with the essay, it lasts 215 minutes.

To better understand raw scores and composite scores, let's examine the following information. Remember, your raw score is the number of questions you answered correctly; for instance, if you answer 55 questions correctly on the English test, then your raw score for ACT English is 55. These raw scores as then turned into scaled scores. The following will provide you further insight into the raw/scaling process.

Raw English ScoreRaw Math ScoreRaw Reading ScoreRaw Science ScoreScaled Score (Composite)

Hopefully, this illuminates for you the scoring process, one that you can utilize during your own course of study. Are you practicing with mock diagnostic exams? These are crucial in determining your real score in relationship to your goal score. Being able to score your own tests as you progress through your ACT prep is of great value, especially as you get closer and closer to test day.

Keep in mind that a "perfect score" of 36 is very hard to obtain. According to the ACT website, only about 1,000 students every year attain this magic number—and that's out of a total of 1.8 million test-takers! In order to do so, the following must be true: 

  • In Math, you cannot miss any questions or only one question, depending on the breakdown.
  • In English, you cannot miss any questions at all. One wrong question will automatically bring you down to a 35.
  • In Reading, you cannot miss any questions.
  • In Science, you cannot miss any questions. For this section, in particular, one wrong answer could bring your score down to a 34 or 35.

While we all may strive to get "that perfect score," let's not drive ourselves crazy with unrealistic expectations. In order to better understand your score and all that goes into making it a good one, let's examine some more statistics as it relates to percentiles. Hopefully, this will shed some light on your own ambitions throughout your course of ACT prep!

ACT Scores & Schools

Naturally, the best way to determine if your score is adequate for application purposes is to assess it in relationship to the average percentile scores from your preferred university. Let's take a look at the following top schools and their average 25th and 75th percentile scores. This information is derived from the U.S. News & World Report annual National Universities Ranking.

College Name25th Percentile Scores75th Percentile Scores
University of Chicago3235
Johns Hopkins3234
University of Pennsylvania3134

Of course, your ACT score may also impact the viability of your candidacy for scholarships. Merit-based scholarships are given on a college-by-college level, but some will give out scholarships just based on ACT scores alone. The following is a list of schools that provide scholarships based on ACT performance: 

  • University of Arizona
  • University of Oregon
  • Georgia State
  • Clemson University
  • Baylor University
  • University of Texas at Arlington
  • Utah State University
  • Texas Tech
  • University of Nevada at Las Vegas 

Clemson University has class rank requirements when it comes to how much money it will give out to students. For example, their Trustee Scholarship for in-state residents is $1,000 for those scoring a 27 or above. Their Trustee Scholarship for out-of-state residents is $7,500 for scores of 29 or above. Colorado State University has a similar system for both in-state and out-of-state students, with the scholarships increasing in size the higher the ACT score becomes.

ACT National Averages

In order to further understand our ACT scores, it's helpful to examine them in contrast to the national averages. (This could greatly encourage you throughout your course of study and give some much-needed guidance!) The following information comes from the ACT as part of their annual publication.

TestScore RangeAverage Score

While the English, Math, Reading, and Science sections are more self-explanatory as it relates to scoring, the optional Essay creates some confusion since it's less discussed. Frankly speaking, the average score for writing rests at about a 7; hence, a good ACT score is an 8 or higher. Ivy League schools typically accept students with an average of a 10 or higher on the ACT writing section.

In general, ACT scores are rising, according to ACT.org, the makers and administrators of the exam. Below is published material from their annual report spanning from 2013-1017. While the average national score may be slowly increasing—nevertheless, it's going up, not down!


Furthermore, understanding how your score relates to your demographic can also be of great use when determining your course of study. Of course, demographics are nothing more than mere information and should not encourage or hinder your hard work and determination, but they may play a factor in the application process, especially for minority-centered scholarships to various universities. This information is also from ACT.org.

The gender ACT statistics are as follows:

GenderStudentsPercentageComposite Average Score

The racial demographic ACT statistics are as follows:

Ethnicity# of studentsComposite Average Score
American Indian/Alaskan Indian14,26318.0
Hawaiian/Pacific Islander5,67618.6
Two or more races70,01321.2

The Takeaway

In the end, only you can devise the proper course of study that will get you to your target ACT score. Continue to make use of mock exams to help you track your score as you progress along. "When we know where we are, we are able to determine how to get where we're going" is how the old saying goes. The same applies to this important exam. Continue to stay confident as you approach test day, keeping in mind all of this value information, statistics and data to light and guide your path.

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