### What are your chances of acceptance?

Duke University
UCLA
##### Your chancing factors
Unweighted GPA: 3.7
1.0
4.0
SAT: 720 math
200
800
| 800 verbal
200
800

#### Extracurriculars

Low accuracy (4 of 18 factors)
8 ACT Info and Tips

# How Does the Scoring Curve Work for the ACT?

## What’s Covered:

If you’re preparing to take the ACT, you’re likely practicing core skills by learning punctuation and grammar rules, working on strategic reading, and memorizing common math formulas. After all, a strong understanding of the ACT’s content is key to earning a high score.

Beyond the raw material, understanding how the ACT is scored is another valuable part of your preparation. Knowing exactly how your performance will be evaluated can help you set goals and build a more effective study plan.

## How the ACT is Scored

First, the number of questions you got right on each separate section (English, math, reading, and science) is tallied, to give you what is known as your raw score. Your raw score does not appear on the standard score report, although you can request a copy of your answer sheet through the ACT’s Test Information release program. Instead, your score report gives you your scaled score.

Your scaled score on each section will range from 1-36, and align with the numbers you’re probably most familiar with if you’ve researched ACT averages at your top-choice colleges.

Your scaled scores for each separate section are then averaged to calculate your composite score. Fractions more than or equal to one half are rounded up to the nearest whole number, while fractions under one half are rounded down to the nearest whole number.

For example, if you earned a 31 on 3 sections and a 30 on one section, your composite score would be a 30.75, which would round up to 31. If, on the other hand, you earned a 30 on 3 sections and a 31 on one, your composite score would be a 30.25, which would round down to 30. If you earned a 31 on two sections and a 30 on the other two, your composite score of 30.5 would round up to 31.

Your composite score is the first number that appears on your score report and is widely accepted as the most important indicator of your success on the test. Colleges might also consider your section scores, however, especially those that are most relevant to your intended major.

For STEM applicants, the math and science sections could carry slightly more weight, whereas for humanities-oriented students, your English and reading scores should be strong. At the same time, the ACT is meant to test skills that will be broadly relevant to your success in college, like data interpretation or analysis of complex ideas, not your abilities in particular subjects, so regardless of your area of interest you ideally want to do well across the board.

Note: If you’re taking the optional writing section, that has an entirely separate scoring process, and does not impact your composite score. Rather, you’ll receive an independent writing score, which will be between 2-12. This post will address only the composite score calculation, as that is the score colleges care about most.

## How the ACT Converts Raw Scores

Raw scores are converted to scaled scores by using a test-specific curve designed to correct for slight variations in the difficulty of each test. While you’re probably used to hearing about curves that plot your performance relative to your peers, the ACT curve is not based in any way on how well or poorly you did compared to other students.

Instead, the curve is calculated based on the difficulty of the specific ACT that you took. Because there are multiple versions of the test administered on each test date, and new versions obviously come out for each new date, the test makers must account for slight variations in how difficult each test is.

For example, they want a score of 31 earned in July 2024 to reflect the same mastery of the material as a 31 that was achieved in September 2022. This consistency is what allows colleges to accurately evaluate what a student’s ACT score says about their ability to succeed at that school. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be able to draw on past data when considering the current applicant pool.

To give you a sense of what your ACT score means and how it stacks up against other test takers, below is a chart of potential ACT scores, from 1-36, and which percentile they correspond to on each section, as well as for the composite score.

The percentile ranking lets you know what percentage of test takers you scored above. For example, if you scored a 33 in English, then you scored better than 94% of test takers. Or, if you got a 31 composite score, you did better than 95% of test takers.

 Score English Percentile Math Percentile Reading Percentile Science Percentile Composite Percentile 36 100 100 100 100 100 35 99 99 98 99 99 34 97 99 96 99 99 33 95 98 94 97 98 32 34 97 92 96 97 31 92 96 90 95 95 30 91 95 88 94 94 29 90 94 86 93 92 28 88 92 84 91 90 27 87 90 81 89 87 26 85 87 79 87 85 25 82 83 76 84 81 24 79 79 74 80 78 23 75 75 69 74 74 22 71 71 64 67 69 21 66 68 59 62 64 20 60 65 53 56 59 19 55 61 48 50 53 18 51 56 43 44 47 17 47 50 39 37 41 16 43 41 34 30 35 15 38 29 30 24 28 14 31 17 25 18 22 13 25 8 19 13 14 12 20 3 14 9 8 11 16 2 8 6 3 10 10 1 4 3 1 9 5 1 2 1 1 8 2 1 1 1 1 7 1 1 1 1 1 6 1 1 1 1 1 5 1 1 1 1 1 4 1 1 1 1 1 3 1 1 1 1 1 2 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1

## How to Set a Target ACT Score

Very few colleges have a minimum required ACT score for admission. Plus, your ACT—or, for that matter, SAT—score is only one factor admissions departments consider. GPA, extracurricular activities, essays, and so on also carry weight in the decision-making process.

However, a competitive ACT score is definitely a good starting point, especially at more selective colleges. You can get a good idea of how you’ll need to perform on the ACT by researching the middle 50% of scores for accepted students at the colleges on your list.

This metric provides you with the 25th percentile score and the 75th percentile scores for accepted students, which can give you a more complete understanding of which scores are considered competitive than just an average. For example, Princeton’s Middle 50% ACT range in 2023-2024 was 34-35, which means most accepted students earned a 34 or 35 on the ACT.

The ACT also provides benchmark scores. These scores are established by the ACT as a predictor of success in college. Students who meet the benchmark have a 50% chance of getting a B or better, and a 75% chance of getting a C or better, in the corresponding college courses listed below. If you score below one of the ACT benchmark scores, you should probably retake the test.

 College Course ACT Subject-Area Test ACT Test Benchmark English Composition English 18 College Algebra Mathematics 22 Social Sciences Reading 22 Biology Science 23

## How to Get a Perfect Score on the ACT

If you aspire to do better than merely beat the ACT benchmarks and are working toward achieving a coveted ACT max score of 36, you’ll be excited to learn that you do not need to get every question on the ACT correct—you can answer a question incorrectly in both the English and math sections and still achieve an ACT max score of 36.

Plus, you actually don’t even have to achieve a perfect score on every section to get a perfect ACT composite score. Remember, the ACT calculates your composite score by averaging your four section scores and rounding up to the largest whole number, which means you could score below a 36 in a section, or even two, and still end up with a perfect ACT score of 36.

For example, you could score a 35 in English, a 35 in math, a 36 in reading, and a 36 in science and end up with an average score of 35.5, which would round up to a perfect ACT score of 36.

## When is the Easiest ACT?

Contrary to popular belief, there’s no particular month known for having easier ACTs. Even if there was, the point of the score conversion process is to account for exactly these kinds of discrepancies.

That is to say, if you did happen to take a slightly easier version of the exam, the scale to convert your raw score would be slightly steeper, so any mistakes would be more significant than they would be on a harder version of the test.

For example, on one version of the ACT, a raw English score of 65/75 might correspond to a scaled score of 31, while on a slightly harder version, that same raw score might scale to a 32, as getting the same number of questions right on a more difficult test is a more impressive achievement.

Because many people don’t understand the scaling process, there are some misconceptions about avoiding specific test dates. Namely, some people worry about taking the ACT in the same month as a large group of strong students who could throw off the scoring curve.

For example, some people might say that the October test date is typically the most competitive, since many high school seniors are taking the test for the last time. But this idea is actually false, since the scoring curve doesn’t depend on the scores achieved by other students taking the test at the same time as you.

The curve is determined only by the ACT’s internal evaluation of how hard a particular test was compared to past iterations. In a sense, the ACT itself is what’s being curved, not your own performance.

So, even if you take the ACT during a month when many strong students are also taking the test, and many of them score a perfect 36, your score will be the same as it would have been had they not taken the test. Your scaled score depends only on the difficulty of the particular version of the ACT that you took, not the performance of your peers.

## How Can I Calculate My Scaled ACT Score From My Raw Score?

Unless you have an official ACT Converted Score Chart produced specifically for the version of the test that you’re trying to score, you cannot convert your own raw score to the scaled score. That’s why official practice tests include a conversion chart made specifically for that test. While the chart changes only slightly from one version of the test to another, it cannot be reliably used to convert scores from other versions of the ACT.

However, getting a general sense of which raw score corresponds to which scaled score can solidify your understanding of how this conversion process works, so we’ve included a sample below, provided by the ACT in their official Preparing for the ACT Test booklet. Just remember that the exact values vary from test to test.

 Scaled Score Raw Score English Raw Score Math Raw Score Reading Raw Score Science 36 72-75 58-60 39-40 38-40 35 70-71 56-57 38 37 34 68-69 54-55 37 36 33 67 53 35-36 35 32 66 51-52 34 34 31 65 49-50 33 – 30 64 48 – 33 29 62-63 46-47 32 32 28 61 44-45 31 31 27 60 41-43 30 – 26 58-59 39-40 29 30 25 56-57 37-38 28 28-29 24 53-555 35-36 27 26-27 23 51-52 33-34 26 25 22 48-50 31-32 24-25 23-24 21 45-47 30 23 22 20 42-44 28-29 21-22 20-21 19 40-41 26-27 20 19 18 38-39 24-25 19 17-18 17 36-37 21-23 17-18 15-16 16 33-35 17-20 16 13-14 15 30-32 13-16 14-15 12 14 27-29 10-12 12-13 11 13 25-26 8-9 11 10 12 23-24 6-7 9-10 9 11 19-22 5 7-8 8 10 16-18 4 6 7 9 13-15 – 5 6 8 11-12 3 – 5 7 9-10 – 4 4 6 7-8 2 3 3 5 6 – – – 4 4-5 1 2 2 3 3 – – 1 2 2 – – – 1 0-1 0 0 0

## How Do I Maximize My ACT Score?

There is no magic formula for doing well on the ACT. No test dates are easier than others, no test facilities will administer an easier test on any given day, and no amount of peer influence will change the way your raw score is converted to the 36-point scale.

The only way to ensure that you receive the highest ACT score you’re capable of is to focus on your own studying. Some students find a study group helps to keep them on track and hold them accountable. Other students find that a personal ACT tutor is the most effective means of preparing. Still others prefer studying independently.

Whatever the case may be for you, make sure to begin your preparation well ahead of time. Since the ACT is designed to provide a comprehensive picture of your abilities, not test any specific knowledge, it’s nearly impossible to cram. Here are some CollegeVine study guides to get you started:

In addition to studying the test content, be sure to study test strategy and format as well. You should go into the test knowing exactly what to expect on test day so that there are no surprises to throw you off your game. Be familiar with the instructions and pacing for each section, as well as test-taking tricks like process of elimination.

While there is no single test date or facility that will magically transform your ACT score from drab to fab, there are certain measures you can take in advance to set yourself up for the most successful testing experience possible. Don’t overlook the value of proper planning and prior preparation as you get ready for your ACT day.

## The Impact of Standardized Tests on Your Chances of Acceptance

Even with many colleges adopting test-optional policies, standardized test scores can still be a crucial part of your application, especially at more selective institutions. To see how your ACT score stacks up at your top choice schools, within the overall context of your application, or to get a sense of which schools your score would be competitive at, check out CollegeVine’s free chancing engine.

This tool accounts for all quantifiable aspects of your application, including not just test scores but also grades, course rigor, extracurriculars, and so on to give you personalized odds of acceptance at more than 1,600 schools around the country. It will also give you suggestions for how to increase your chances of admission, for example by earning a higher ACT score.

Short Bio
A graduate of Northeastern University with a degree in English, Tim Peck currently lives in Concord, New Hampshire, where he balances a freelance writing career with the needs of his two Australian Shepherds to play outside.