What’s the Highest ACT Score Possible?

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No matter where you are in your standardized test prep, it’s important to know what you’re up against. Many students spend a significant amount of time reviewing test instructions and format (which you should absolutely do), but neglect to look at how a test is scored and what the scoring scale looks like.

 

In this post, we’ll outline just what a perfect score on the ACT looks like, and what you need to do to get one. If you’re hoping to ace your ACT and possibly even achieve one of those coveted perfect scores, don’t miss this CollegeVine post.

 

What Is a Perfect Score on the ACT?

 

The ACT is scored on a scale from 1-36, so the highest score you can get on the ACT is 36.

 

It’s important to realize, though, that this score is actually the average of your four section scores, so let’s step back for a minute and review just how the ACT is scored. The ACT itself consists of four required section tests, and one optional section. The required sections are Reading, Science, Math, and English. The optional section is the Essay.

 

When your ACT is scored, your raw score, or the number of answers that you got correct, is converted into a section score on the scale from 1-36 for each of the four required sections. These four scores are then averaged and rounded to nearest whole number. The essay is scored separately, on a scale from 1-12, and it is not averaged into your total ACT score. This means that you can score a perfect 36 on the ACT regardless of how you perform on the optional essay section.

 

Do I Have to Get Every Problem Right to Get a Perfect Score on the ACT?

 

The good news is no, you don’t have to get every problem right in order to get a perfect score on the ACT. The chart below shows exactly how many questions you need to get correct in each section to achieve high section scores, but remember, you don’t need a perfect section score in every section to average out to a 36. We’ll provide some examples later on.

 

Scale Score Raw Scores
English Math Reading Science
36 74-75 59-60 40 40
35 71-73 57-58 38-39
34 70 55-56 37 39
33 69 54 36 38

 

*Data provided from ACT.

 

As you can see from the table above, it’s possible to get a question wrong in the English and Math sections and still receive a 36 in those sections. In Reading and Science, where there are fewer questions total, each question is weighed more heavily so you need to get every question right to get perfect section scores in those sections.

 

Also, you should keep in mind that this is just one example from the ACT of how raw scores are scaled. This conversion does change frequently and according to individual test difficulty, so there’s no guarantee of how many questions you can get wrong. In fact, it is safest to assume that you need to get every question right to get a perfect section score.

 

That being said, you do not need four perfect section scores to achieve a perfect composite score. You just need scores high enough to average out to a perfect 36. Let’s take a look at a few examples.

 

Student A receives the following section scores:

 

English: 35

Math: 35

Reading: 36

Science: 36

 

This makes an average of 35.5, which then rounds up to 36. Student A received a perfect 36 composite score without getting every problem correct and without getting a 36 on every section.

 

Student B receives the following section scores:

 

English: 34

Math: 36

Reading: 36

Science: 36

 

Student B has an average section score of 35.5, which also rounds up to a perfect composite score of 36. Using the table above, you can see that Student B may have missed five questions on the reading section, and still achieved a perfect score.

 

In this way, the ACT scoring method is a little more forgiving than the SAT. The SAT uses a sum of your section scores, so in order to receive a perfect SAT score, you’ll need a perfect section score in both sections. The ACT uses an average, which allows a little bit more leeway.

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How Many Students Get a Perfect ACT Score?

 

According to the ACT, more than 1.9 million members of the class of 2018 took the test. Of these students, just over 3,700 received a perfect composite score of 36. This means that only 0.195% received a perfect score. This seems like a minuscule percentage.

 

That being said, this 0.195% represents nearly 4,000 students who received a score of 36. Will you be one of them this year? Keep reading for our top ACT tips.

 

3 Tips for Getting a Perfect ACT Score

 

1. Account for Both Speed and Accuracy

 

The ACT is a notoriously fast-paced test. In fact, we often recommend that students who have trouble with time constraints consider the SAT instead.

 

On the English section, you have around 35 seconds per question, while on the Math section you have 60 seconds per question. On the Science and English sections you have just over 50 seconds per question.  

 

If you want to ace the ACT, you’ll need to hit your targets for both time and accuracy. This means getting every question right in the time allowed. Practice your pacing on every section and know exactly how much time you have for each. Don’t get bogged down in overthinking. Instead, learn strategies to narrow your options and choose the best possible answer.

 

 

2. Know Your Content

 

Knowing exactly what kind of content to expect on each section of the ACT is a prerequisite if you want a shot at a perfect score. You will need to begin studying well ahead of time and carefully review exactly what type of knowledge and questions you’ll find in each section.

 

For a more detailed breakdown of each section, don’t miss our guides:

 

A Guide to the Math Section of the ACT

A Guide to the Science Section of the ACT

A Guide to the Reading Section of the ACT

A Guide to the English Section of the ACT

 

 

3. Eliminate Careless Mistakes

 

For some students, the hardest part of achieving a perfect score is eliminating every single possible careless error. This means that every multiple choice bubble is filled in correctly, that you don’t misread a single question, and that you don’t fall for any of the common tricks that test writers plant to make you stumble.

 

This means that you should be aware of the most common mistakes you make. Try taking a practice test early on in your studies. Use it to identify areas of weakness. Track your mistakes and identify patterns in them. Are you making many errors on the same kind of question? Are your errors clustered towards the end of each section? You might need to brush up on content knowledge or work on pacing yourself.

 

For more tips about avoiding common ACT pitfalls, check out these posts:

 

Four Common Mistakes to Avoid on Your English ACT

Five ACT Math Mistakes to Avoid

Common ACT Mistakes

 

For more help preparing for your standardized tests and optimizing your shot at a perfect score, consider enlisting the help of CollegeVine’s SAT Tutoring Program, where the brightest and most qualified tutors in the industry guide students to an average score increase of 250 points and account for 3% of the world’s perfect SAT scores.

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Kate Sundquist
Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Short bio
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.