What’s the Highest ACT Score Possible?
No matter where you are in your standardized test prep—from taking the PreACT to hunkered down studying for the real thing—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 the test is scored, what the scoring scale looks like, and what goes into achieving a perfect ACT score.
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 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 Writing (also known as 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 the 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 that you don’t have to get every problem right in order to get a perfect ACT score. 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.
|Scaled Score||Raw Scores / # of Questions Correctly Answered|
(75 total questions)
(60 total questions)
(40 total questions)
(40 total questions)
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. When calculating your score, the ACT adds up your four section scores (English, Math, Reading, and Science) and divides them by four to find your average. Average scores that don’t equate to whole numbers are rounded to the nearest whole number—those greater than a half a point are rounded up, while averages less than half a point are rounded down. In other words, it’s possible to achieve a perfect ACT score, even if you only ace two sections.
Let’s take a look at a few examples.
Student A receives the following section scores:
This makes an average of 35.5, which then rounds up to a perfect ACT score of 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:
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 ACT 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 more leeway.
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 ACT score. This seems like a minuscule percentage. Of course, it is possible to receive a perfect ACT score; last year 17 students from Walnut Hills High School—a high-achieving six-year public college preparatory school in Cincinnati, OH—earned perfect ACT scores!
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.
Before we dive into our ACT tips, we want to make you aware of a couple major changes to the ACT, which will go into effect in September 2020. The first major change is that students who take the test multiple times will receive a superscore, or a score calculated using a test-taker’s best scores from each section regardless of the date taken. Previously, superscoring only existed at the individual college level; only colleges who had a superscoring policy would superscore. Now, every college will know a student’s ACT superscore; how they choose to use it is still unclear. For more information on which schools officially superscore the ACT, see this post.
Another notable change is that test-takers are now permitted to retake single sections of the ACT, rather than having to retake the entire exam. These changes should make achieving a converted perfect ACT score a little more attainable. For a more in-depth look at the recent changes to the ACT, check out our blog post ACT Will Allow Students to Retake Specific Sections.
3 Tips for Preparing for the ACT
1. Take the PreACT
The PreACT is a fantastic way for students planning on taking the ACT to familiarize themselves with the exam, as it simulates the ACT testing experience and covers the four primary ACT sections: English, Math, Reading, and Science.
According to the ACT, taking the PreACT leads to an increase of 0.23 points on the ACT. Across the board, taking the PreACT resulted in a 0.38-point improvement in the English section, 0.17-point improvement in the Math section, 0.20-point improvement in the Reading section, and a 0.26-point improvement in the Science section.
Because the PreACT is structured and scored similarly to the ACT, it can provide insight into how you’ll perform on the ACT, along with spotlight weaknesses while allowing time to address them before taking the ACT.
2. Take a Practice Test
Students who take the ACT more than once score 2.9 points higher on average than those who take the test only one time—the takeaway being the more acquainted with the test you are, the better you’ll score. The ACT makes a free practice test available every year, and we’ve rounded up every official ACT practice test in this post, plus other free resources.
3. Target your weaknesses
After taking a practice test, take a look at your section subscores, or “reporting categories.” These categories will give you a better idea of which specific skills and types of questions to target. Blindly taking practice tests and hoping to improve is not an effective study strategy; it’s important to evaluate your mistakes after each test, and practice the skills that need improvement.
|English||Production of Writing (29-32%)
Knowledge of Language (13-19%)
Conventions of Standard English (51-56%)
|Math||Preparing for higher math (57-60%)
Integrating essential skills (40-43%)
|Reading||Interpretation of data (45-55%)
Scientific investigation (20-30%)
Evaluation of Models, inferences, and experimental results (25-35%)
|Science||Interpretation of data (45-55%)
Scientific investigation (20-30%)
Evaluation of Models, inferences, and experimental results (25-35%)
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 Reading 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:
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:
When to Take the ACT
We recommend that students wait until the fall of their junior year to take the ACT. Since the ACT was founded on the principle of testing what a student has learned in high school, this time frame allows the student an ample amount of classroom time (in addition to time for taking the PreACT and other ACT prep), while also leaving enough time to retake the test in the spring of their junior year. If needed, students can take the ACT again over the summer before heading into their senior year, and avoid retesting during the stressful fall of senior year when they’re working on college applications.
The Cost of the ACT
According to the ACT, students who take the test multiple times generally improve their scores—in 2015, 57% of those who retook the test boosted their composite score. In the ACT’s words, “students who retested multiple times tended to do better.” With that said, if you’re hopeful of achieving a perfect ACT score, plan on taking the test multiple times.
It costs $52 to take the ACT without the optional Writing section ($68 with the Writing section) per sitting. This fee includes reports for you, your high school, and up to four colleges. Reports for additional colleges cost $13 apiece. If you register late for the ACT—which generally extends roughly two weeks past the standard registration period—an additional $30 late registration fee is tacked on.
Fee waivers are also available for economically disadvantaged students. Fee waivers cover the basic registration fee (and late fee if applicable) of the ACT, and includes test scores for up to 6 colleges. After registration, students who qualify for a fee waiver can request up to 20 additional score reports for free. To qualify for a fee waiver, you must meet some requirements:
- Currently enrolled in high school in the 11th or 12th grade
- Be testing in the U.S., U.S. territories, or Puerto Rico
- Meet one or more indicators of economic need listed on the ACT Fee Waiver form
- Enrolled in a federal free or reduced-price lunch program at school
- Enrolled in a program for the economically disadvantaged (for example, a federally funded program such as GEAR UP or Upward Bound)
- Resides in a foster home, is a ward of the state, or is homeless
- Your family receives low-income public assistance or lives in federally subsidized public housing
- Your family’s total annual income is at or below USDA levels for free or reduced-price lunches
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