There’s no doubt that the ACT and the SAT are among the most important tests that a high school student takes. As such, it’s imperative that you know how to interpret your scores and glean from them as much information as possible.

The new ACT score reports, most recently modified in September 2016, contain many valuable insights into your performance. By interpreting your results, you can find where to direct your studying for future tests, which academic areas might need reinforcement in school, and even how closely your interests align with your potential college major.

In this post, we will provide an overview of how your ACT is scored, when and how to access your results, and what your detailed score report actually means. We’ll also answer a few potential questions you might have about sending reports or verifying their validity. For more information about ACT score reports and how you can use them to your advantage, read on.

How Are ACTs Scored?

Simply put, your score for each section is calculated by a computer that scans the number of answers you got correct and produces your raw score. Your raw score for each section is then converted into a scaled score, ranging between 1-36, which takes into account very slight differences in difficulty on different forms of the ACT. Basically, it ensures that a specific score indicates the exact same level of mastery across every version of the test.

Next, your scaled scores from 1-36 for each of the four required sections (English, math, reading, and science) are averaged together to create a composite score indicating your overall performance. Your composite score is rounded to the nearest whole number, with fractions less than one-half being rounded down and fractions equal or more than one-half rounded up.

If you take the optional Writing test, your overall score is reported on a range from 2-12. This score is the average of four domain scores also ranging from 2-12. These domain areas are: Ideas and Analysis, Development and Support, Organization, and Language Use and Conventions.

Two trained readers will give you a score from 1-6 in each of the domains. If their scores vary by more than one point, another reader will resolve the discrepancy. Your score for each domain is the total of both readers’ points.

To learn more about the ACT scoring process, check out CollegeVine’s post How the ACT’s Graded: A Breakdown.

When Will My Results Be Available?

The exact timeframe for returning score reports varies. Generally, scores will become available sometime between ten days and six weeks after the test. If you took the ACT with Writing, your Writing score is usually available about two weeks after the rest of your scores. For a complete calendar of score release date ranges, see the ACT Score Release Date Calendar.

How Can I Access My Scores?

You can access your Student Report through your online ACT web account. This is the same account that you can use to register for tests online and to access the practice ACT Question of the Day. Your Student Report will include your ACT scores along with college and career planning information.

Your High School Report will be delivered to your high school about two to eight weeks after the test date. This will include all of the same information as your Student Report.

What Does My ACT Score Report Mean?

Let’s break down the score report. When you first open it up, you’ll find a page that looks like this one, taken from the ACT Sample Student Score Report :

 

Image courtesy of ACT
Image courtesy of ACT

That’s an awful lot of writing and numbers to take in all at once, so let’s look at it piece by piece.

Composite and Section Scores

The first thing you’re probably looking for is your composite score. This is basically your overall score and is the single most important number on your ACT score report.

Your composite score is located at the top left, with your scores from each test located next to it. See the image below for a closer look:

 

Image courtesy of ACT
Image courtesy of ACT

 

In this example, the composite score is 21, with scores for each test indicated next to it: Math 19, Science, 18, etc. You might be confused to see a score for STEM and ELA, since there are no sections on the ACT that bear those names. Those scores simply represent the average of your test scores falling into those categories. The STEM score represents your overall performance in Math and Science while your ELA score represents your overall performance in English, Reading, and Writing (if you took it).

In general, your composite score and the individual test scores are the most important elements of your score report. These are the numbers that colleges and scholarship committees will consider when weighing the strength of your application.

The bar graphs below each test give you a visual of your performance on the overall score spectrum. The highlighted bars show your performance with the shaded area around them indicating the range you’d be likely to score in if you took the test again without additional coursework or studying. The dark purple bars indicate the ACT College Readiness Benchmarks. We’ll discuss those in more detail in a little bit.

State and National Rankings

Underneath your composite and section scores, you’ll see your national and state rankings. See the image below.

Image courtesy of ACT
Image courtesy of ACT

 

These graphs show how your scores compare to others. The bar graph under the US Rank heading on the left shows your performance percentile compared to students nationally. If your composite score were in the 56th percentile, as in the example above, that would mean that you scored above 56% of your peers nationally. Similarly, the State Rank heading on the right shows your performance compared to other students in your state.

You shouldn’t spend too much time worrying about these percentile rankings. They give you some perspective about how your performance stacks up, but they aren’t something that will be given weight in the college admissions process and they don’t reveal any more about your strengths or weaknesses than the other components of your score report. You can use them to get a quick visual of how you compare to your peers, but don’t get hung up on them specifically.

Detailed Results

The section following your national and state rankings will show your detailed results. This section has information on your performance within each subject area on more precise skill and content area questions. You can find an example of this section below:

Image courtesy of ACT
Image courtesy of ACT

 

Note that the categories under each section test show subsections of knowledge that are assessed during the test. While questions are not grouped or labeled by their category on the test, each question is categorized by the ACT to fall into one of the subscore categories under each section.

On the Math test, questions fall into the following categories: Preparing for Higher Math, Integrating Essential Skills, and Modeling. The Preparing for Higher Math questions can be further divided into Number & Quantity, Algebra, Functions, Geometry, and Statistics & Probability questions.

On the Science test, questions can be broken down into Interpretation of Data, Scientific Investigation, and Evaluation of Models, Inferences, & Experimental Results.

On the English test, questions can be broken down into Production of Writing, Knowledge of Language, and Conventions of Standard English.

Finally, on the Reading test, questions can be broken down into Key Ideas & Details, Craft & Structure, and Integration of Knowledge & Ideas.

While your percentage of correct questions in each subcategory bears little to no weight on college admissions decisions, it is a great indicator to you of your performance in more specific content areas on the ACT. If you plan to take the test more than once, these subscores should help to shape your studying by highlighting areas in need of further reinforcement.

Next to each of these subscores, you will see your performance as a percentage of questions correct, with the same percentage shown visually on a bar graph. This bar graph will also include a purple bar indicating the ACT Readiness Range. If your performance in each category meets the readiness benchmark, you will see a checkmark to the right of the bar graph.

Readiness Benchmarks

The purple lines that you see on every bar graph included on your score report indicate the ACT Readiness Range. The ACT College Readiness Benchmarks are standards of performance intended to predict a 50% chance of obtaining a B or higher or about a 75% chance of obtaining a C or higher in corresponding first-year college courses.

While meeting these benchmarks shows your proficiency in the subject area, the benchmarks themselves are relatively new and are not given much weight in the college admissions process. Instead, your composite and individual test scores are much more important.

The newest benchmark is the STEM Benchmark. It was introduced in late 2015 to provide additional insight on STEM-specific skills assessed through the Math and Science ACT tests.  There is currently no benchmark for ELA or the Writing test.

The STEM Benchmark, at 26, is the highest of all ACT Readiness Benchmarks. This is indicative of the difficulty of the first math and science courses taken by students enrolled as STEM majors as compared to those taken by most other college students. STEM majors can be expected to dive right into college calculus, chemistry, biology, physics, and engineering courses and an ACT STEM score of 26 or higher is associated with a 50% chance of earning a B or higher and about a 75% chance of earning a C or higher in these entry-level STEM courses.

College and Career Planning

Although there are a few more sections of your score report, the last one that we’re going to discuss in any depth is the College and Career Planning section. The remainder of the score report descriptions are fairly self explanatory or simply outline ACT policies.

The College and Career Planning portion of your score report will look something like this:

Image courtesy of ACT
Image courtesy of ACT

 

Before you began the ACT, you took an interest inventory that asked questions about the things you enjoy doing or are interested in learning. You were also invited to indicate your intended college major if you had one. On this section of your score report, your interest inventory has been categorized to indicate a general idea of what you like to work with (data, things, ideas or people) and these interests have been used to create a short list of example occupations involving that kind of work.

You will also see an indication of how closely your interests seem to mesh with the major you intend to enter. While for many, high school is quite early to know exactly what career path suits you best, you might be able to use some of this information to help shape your college course selection. For example, if your intended major and your interests don’t seem to align, you might use this information to experiment with classes more attuned to your interests, and see if you think they might provide an alternate career path.

Don’t worry about this section too much, though. It is offered purely for your own reference, and while it is summarized on the score reports that colleges receive, it will not generally receive much attention from admissions committees.

How Do I Send My ACT Scores to Colleges?

There are four methods for requesting score reports to be sent to colleges. You may select up to four colleges to receive your score report automatically when you register for the exam, or at a later date you may order score reports online, by letter, or by telephone.

Four Free Score Reports

To order your four free score reports when you register, you will simply enter the college codes for the schools to which you want them sent. This will be clear on the online registration form, and you may look up school codes ahead of time by using the ACT College Codes Search. For more about ordering scores in advance, read CollegeVine’s Should I Send My Test Scores to Colleges Before I Know Them?

Online Requests

To order score reports at a later date, the most straightforward method is through online ordering. Simply log into your ACT web account and follow the instructions online. You will need a valid credit card to place your request.

When you do so, you’ll be given the option to place a regular request or a priority request. Regular score report requests are processed within one week after your request is received and the reports are delivered in batches according to the college’s delivery schedule preferences, at least once every two weeks. Regular score reports cost $12 per test date, per report for recent scores, or $35 per test date, per report for archived scores taken prior to 9/1/2014.

Priority score reports are processed within two working days after your request and are usually delivered three to four business days later. They cost $16.50 per test date, per report for recent scores, or $39.50 per test date, per report for archived scores taken prior to 9/1/2014.

Requests By Telephone

You may also make priority requests by telephone. You will need a valid credit card and there is a $15.00 phone service fee, in addition to the priority report fee. The phone number is: (319) 337-1313. Be sure to review the lengthy Telephone Order Checklist before making your call.

Requests By Mail

Finally, you may also request score reports by mail. Doing so is the least efficient method, but also the only method that allows you to pay by check or money order. You may request regular or priority reports through the mail. To do so, you will need to fill out the Additional Score Report Information Request form. You will also need to include a letter that contains the following information:

▪ current full name

▪ full name at the time you registered or tested (if different)

▪ current mailing address

▪ address at the time you registered or tested (if different)

▪ ACT ID from your score report

▪ date of birth

▪ home phone number

▪ the test date (month and year) for which you want scores reported (include test location if you tested more than once in the same month)

▪ the valid codes and names (with city and state) for the colleges and scholarship agencies to which you want ACT to report your scores

▪ signature

When ordering any score report, keep in mind that once submitted, you cannot cancel your request, nor will you be eligible for a refund at any time. Also keep in mind that priority reports can be sent only within the US and include only your identifying information and scores, but not career planning and educational background information.

All other score reports include everything on the Student and High School Report, plus the grades you reported in up to 30 high school courses. They may also include predictions about your performance in specific college programs and courses. A sample college score report is available here.

What Score Do I Need to Get Into a Good College?

There is no official minimum ACT test score required for college admissions. Different schools have different standards and place differing amounts of weight on standardized test scores. Generally more competitive schools will require higher test scores, but nearly every college will weigh your application as a whole, so your ACT test scores will almost never be the only factor in admissions decisions.

That said, some schools will definitely pass over candidates with lower standardized scores in favor of candidates with similar academic profiles and higher standardized test scores. To get a better idea of where your score places you, read CollegeVine’s What Is a Good ACT Score?

What If I Think My Test Was Scored Incorrectly?

Although it’s very rare for an ACT to be scored incorrectly, it’s not entirely impossible. If you think your test was scored in error, you can ask ACT to verify your multiple-choice and/or your writing test scores up to 12 months after your test date.

To do so, you will need to fill out the Request for ACT Score Verification and send it to:

ACT Student Services
PO Box 414
Iowa City, IA 52243-0414, USA

You’ll also need to include a check payable to ACT Student Services. The fee for multiple-choice verification is $50 and the fee for Writing test essay verification is $40. The fee for both is $90.

The verification process for multiple-choice questions involves verifying that your responses were checked against the correct score key and scanned correctly.

The process for verifying the scores of Writing test essays involves verifying that your essay was scored by at least two independent readers and by a third reader in the event that the two scores differed by more than one point in any domain. ACT will also verify that your essay was properly scanned and displayed to readers.

You should note that neither process includes rescoring your test as a standard procedure. Only if errors are discovered during score verification, will ACT rescore your essay or rescan your multiple-choice answers. In this case, scores will be changed and corrected reports will be released to you and all previous score report recipients at no charge. Your score verification fee will also be refunded.

Your ACT score is ultimately important in a few different ways. Most obviously, it will affect your chances at college admissions since it is weighed (sometimes heavily) on most college applications. Aside from that, your score can lend important insights to your academic performance. If you take the test more than once, the score report from your first test will be a key study tool for future test prep. Finally, the College and Career Planning section can provide you with some of the earliest insight you’ve probably received about the alignment of your interests with potential career and academic paths. By understanding your ACT score report, you make the most of the information it provides.

If you still have questions about ACT Test strategies or you are interested in our full-service, customized ACT Test tutoring, head over to CollegeVine’s ACT Tutoring Program, where the brightest and most qualified tutors who are intimately familiar with the exam can help you ace it too, just like they did.

To learn more about the ACT test, check out these CollegeVine posts:

Kate Sundquist

Kate Sundquist

Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Kate Koch-Sundquist is a graduate of Pomona College where she studied sociology, psychology, and writing before going on to receive an M.Ed. from Lesley University. After a few forays into living abroad and afloat (sometimes at the same time), she now makes her home north of Boston where she works as a content writer and, with her husband, raises two young sons who both inspire her and challenge her on a daily basis.
Kate Sundquist