- Practice, practice, practice.
- Understand grading. (Check out How the ACT Is Graded: A Breakdown for a summary.)
- Get help through a tutor. CollegeVine’s Tutoring Program can help you achieve the scores you need to get into your target colleges.
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Finding and Achieving Your Target ACT Score
“What’s a good ACT score?” is a common question among college-bound students. At CollegeVine, we hear it frequently.
There’s no objective definition of a “good” ACT score. While some scores are certainly stronger than others, the score for which you should aim depends on your personal goals and target schools. One student might be happy with a composite score of 30, while another might aim for a 35. Check out What Is a Good ACT Score? for more advice on determining your target score.
The ACT is comprised of four sections—Reading, English, Science, and Math, plus an optional Writing section—and graded on a scale of 1-36, with 36 being the maximum composite score. Each of the four main sections are scored on this scale as well, while the Writing section is graded on a 2-12 scale. Many students wonder how ACT grading compares with that of the SAT. Check out this infographic to see how the scores match up.
What’s a Good ACT Score for You?
To figure out your personal target score, start by looking at national and state averages.
(Source: The ACT® Profile Report)
As you can see from the chart above, the 2017 national average is 20.7 in Math, meaning roughly 50% of test takers scored better than 20.7 and roughly 50% of test-takers scored lower.
Look at this ACT chart for score-percentile equivalents for the past three years.
ACT also sets benchmark scores to indicate your likelihood of succeeding in college courses in these subject areas. For instance, as per the chart above, if you score at least a 22 in Reading, you have about a 50% chance of attaining a B or higher in Social Sciences and a 75% chance of attaining a C or higher. You definitely want to meet and exceed benchmark scores no matter what school to which you’re applying, since it serves as an indication of your likelihood of college success. For top-tier schools, you should aim even higher, because the coursework may be more demanding.
You should also consider where you are compared with others in your state because colleges pay attention to demographics.
When setting your goal score, look at the middle 50% or average scores at your target colleges. For instance, at Brown, 50% of the class of 2020 had an ACT composite score between 33-35. That means you don’t have to have a 36 to get in—nor do you necessarily need a 33—but should aim for something in that range if that’s your dream school. For your safety school, aim for the 75th percentile of the class scores. In other words, make sure your scores are better than about 75% of students at that school.
If after a few practice tests you’re finding that your score is somewhere around 29 or 30, a 33 is probably within your reach. However, if your score is a 26, it’s unlikely more practice tests are going to get you to a 33. Focus on a more achievable goal. You may also want to seek out the help of a tutor.
A score that’s lower than the middle 50% of students won’t kill your chances at your dream school, but make sure you’re doing your best and not underestimating your own ability. For instance, if you’re a top student at your high school and consistently get good grades (particularly in comparison to classmates), as well as do well on practice tests, but perform poorly on the actual test, something else, such as test anxiety, could be interfering with your ability to perform well. On the other hand, if your grades aren’t stellar, and your test results are similar to your practice tests, they may be a better reflection. That doesn’t mean they can’t improve, however.
Use Superscores to Your Advantage
Many colleges superscore, meaning they combine highest scores from each section of the ACT or SAT for your composite score. That means that you can take the ACT again if you’ve achieved your target in some sections but not others, and you can devote all your preparation to weak areas. It does NOT mean you should sit there and twiddle your thumbs during the tests in which you’ve already achieved your target. For starters, you can only use the time allotted for a section for that section. Additionally, your score on a strong section may get even higher. Finally, not all schools use superscoring.
It’s Okay to Be Lopsided
Set target scores for your better subjects higher than your weaker ones. You still need to do well in all sections, but if you’re looking to study English, don’t worry if your math score is a couple points lower than English. Colleges seek out specialized candidates, and will see your individual scores in addition to the composite score.
That doesn’t mean a very weak math score won’t count against you though—it will drag down your composite. Still, it can be a little lower than your best subject. It will also allow you to keep taking the ACT and try to improve particular sections without having to worry about the subjects in which you’ve already achieved top scores.
How Do I Achieve My Target Score?
Check out What Is a Good ACT Score? for more advice on determining your target score. Be sure to t a look at some of CollegeVine’s other articles: