ACT Percentiles and Rankings: What’s a “Good” ACT Score?

The bad news is that there’s no specific or straight answer I can give regarding what is a good ACT score. The good news, though, is that I can help you figure out what can be considered a good and bad ACT score. This article will try to dig deep; to answer what’s regarded as a good ACT and explore other areas to understand better what ACT is. 

ACT Percentiles and Rankings

What is a Good ACT Score? 

Let’s start with the nitty-gritty – what is a good ACT score? This is where many students get stuck. They have their scores but can’t figure out whether it is good or bad. Students can aim for a 30, 25, or even 20, but the question remains the same – what’s considered a good ACT. 

There is no specific answer to what’s a good ACT score – it depends. 

And while we also look at the ACT scores, it is essential that you also note that colleges look at many other factors when selecting students. For example, apart from ACT scores, colleges also look at students’ GPAs, recommendation letters, writing samples, etc. 

Plus, it is essential that you also note that different colleges have different ACT scores they are targeting. In other words, the scores accepted by colleges will vary depending on the colleges you are applying to. 

What is ACT Percentile Ranking? 

An ACT percentile ranking compares your ACT score with other students who also took the same test. In other words, an ACT percentile will point out how many students scored equal to what you achieved or those who you scored more than. Even though your percentile score will give your ranking in the 4-subject areas, it will provide a composite score, too. 

ACT scores are designed to stick to a standard distribution. This means that most students tend to find themselves in the middle; most students either score slightly below or slightly higher. 

The average ACT score expected for every student is 20.6, which means that a student who scores 21 is considered to have scored 50 percent higher than other students. Likewise, a score of 24 will mean you are at the 74th percentile; that’s three-quarters more than other students.

Your ACT percentile is not a grade that ranges somewhere between 0 and 100, but a comparison between what you score and what other students score. 

For instance, if you find yourself at the 70th percentile, what this means is that you scored the same as or slightly higher than 70 percent of other students who took the test. Take note that a 70th percentile doesn’t mean you scored 70 percent of the questions right.

Here’s the most recent ACT percentile data from 2020:

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Score English Math Reading Science Composite
36 100 100 100 100 100
35 99 99 98 99 99
34 96 99 96 98 99
33 94 98 94 97 98
32 92 97 91 96 96
31 91 96 89 95 95
30 89 94 86 93 93
29 88 93 84 92 90
28 86 91 82 90 88
27 84 88 80 88 85
26 82 84 77 85 82
25 79 79 74 82 78
24 75 74 71 77 74
23 71 70 66 71 70
22 65 65 61 64 64
21 60 61 55 58 59
20 55 58 50 51 53
19 49 54 44 45 47
18 45 49 39 39 41
17 41 42 34 32 35
16 37 33 29 26 28
15 32 21 24 19 22
14 25 11 19 14 16
13 19 4 14 10 10
12 15 1 10 7 5
11 11 1 5 4 2
10 7 1 3 3 1
9 3 1 1 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

Again an ACT score of 16 will secure your place at the 28th percentile, which means that you scored equal or better than 28 percent of other students who also took the ACT. And the truth is that falling at the 28th percentile isn’t very good. 

A score of 24 means that you score better than the other 74 percent of those who took the test. Likewise, an ACT score of 28 indicates that you have scored better than eighty-eight of other students who sat the same test. A 30 ACT score would be a result to be proud of because you will have beaten ninety-three percent of the other students. 

From the above examples and table, it is apparent that most students end up in the near top or near the bottom. Scores between 1 and 8 fall in the first percentile, and scores between 35 and 36 range fall in the 99th percentile, which is excellent.

ACT Score Requirements

Many universities do not publish or avail their ACT minimum to the public, which makes it challenging to know each college’s requirements. However, you can find ACT score requirements using sites like College Raptor. College Raptor will enable you to see the ACT scores of admitted students to give you a rough idea of what the specific college is looking for.

From there, it is easier to gauge whether you will meet the minimum requirements and whether or not you stand a chance. 

Merit Aid and ACT Scores 

Another way to determine if you have a good or bad ACT score is to determine if you qualify for any merit aid. Students with good ACT scores usually qualify for big academic sponsorships – which could be thousands of dollars. 

If you want to join a specific university, it would be best to check their website and see if they offer any merit aid and the requirements students must meet to qualify for those merit aids. Qualifying means that you have a good ACT score.  

How Do You Score ACT? 

ACT is an entry exam that’s used by colleges or universities to make their admission decisions. There’s the writing component, and there are also other sections, namely: 

  • English
  • Reading
  • Math
  • Science

The ACT takes 2 hours and 55 minutes, but the time will go up to 3 hours 35 minutes if you do the writing test. The scores of each section you do – English, Reading, Math, and Science will be determined out of 36 points. From the scores, your composite will be determined to reflect the overall ACT score.

The Writing Test

The writing part is meant to test your ability to put up ideas into a precise and straightforward piece of writing. In the writing test, you will be asked to give your perspective regarding a specific topic. 

Writing Test

The grading won’t be based on your opinions you put down on paper, but it will be based on how best you can put up a clear and concise piece. The idea behind this is to determine if you can present your thoughts in a coherent piece.

When Should I Take the ACT Exam? 

Most experts recommend that students take their ACT exams in the spring of their high school third year. However, the spring might not favor everyone. For example, some students will be taking their sports during the spring, and it’s not a good idea to combine sports and exams.

Usually, it would be ideal for any student to consider the following questions in determining when they should sit for their ACT exams: 

  • What level of Math are you taking? 
  • What do you have in your schedules? 
  • What class are you taking currently?

How Do I Improve My ACT Scores? 

Students who will be taking their ACT exams will want to improve their ACT scores, and this is a question I usually get asked – how do I improve my ACT scores? 

If you sit your ACT exam in April, June, or December, you can always sign up for Test Information Release (TIR). The TIR will provide you with copies of the questions, the answers, and the answer key when the results are finally out. 

You can register for this service from the ACT registration page immediately after signing up for the test or five days later. If you prefer ordering by email, you have up to 6 months after you sit your test. 

You will have to pay for the TIR, but it is worth it because it will provide you with a ton of information. Take note that ACT results are released after 3-8 weeks, so it is essential to ensure that there are ample dates in which you can resit the test before you can use the scores to apply for your college admission. 

Does My ACT Percentile Actually Matter?

Yes, the ACT percentile matters a lot to colleges because they use it to compare your ACT score to other students who also sat the exam. However, knowing the ACT score ranges for the colleges you are interested in joining will be more significant than your percentile. 

Different colleges usually have different ACT score ranges that don’t change quite often. The colleges heavily rely on these ACT score averages to admit new students. In most colleges, the ACT ranges between 25-75th percentile. 

Finding out the ACT score ranges for different colleges is quite simple. All you have to do is search on Google the terms “College Name ACT scores PrepScholar.” Do this for all the colleges you are targeting. Also, you need to ensure that your score equals the 75th percentile, which is the highest score. 

That said, percentiles are very helpful, both to you and the college admissions board, to determine which students they will admit. Ensure that your score is high enough so that your overall percentile is favorable compared to other students who sat the exam. 

Bottom Line 

And that’s everything you need to know about ACT. Adequate preparation is essential, especially when you are preparing to join college. Sitting for your ACT is one of those preparations, and it’s good that you now have an idea of what it takes to pass your ACT exams successfully and the various factors involved to admit students into colleges.

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Sonia Kukreja

Written by Sonia Kukreja

I am a mother of a lovely kid, and an avid fan technology, computing and management related topics. I hold a degree in MBA from well known management college in India. After completing my post graduation I thought to start a website where I can share management related concepts with rest of the people.

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