What Is a Good ACT Score?

We often hear about high schoolers prepping for the SATs, but what about the ACT? The ACT, originally short for American College Testing, is another type of college entrance exam. It's a multiple-choice test that allows admissions boards to decide if a high school student is ready to take on the rigors of college at their particular institution.

This, in conjunction with your high school GPA, transcripts, letters of recommendation, extracurricular activities, and personal essays will help paint a picture of academic prowess. So, what is a good ACT score? We break it down for you.

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What Is a Good ACT Score?

We often hear about high schoolers prepping for the SATs, but what about the ACT? The ACT, originally short for American College Testing, is another type of college entrance exam. It's a multiple-choice test that allows admissions boards to decide if a high school student is ready to take on the rigors of college at their particular institution.

This, in conjunction with your high school GPA, transcripts, letters of recommendation, extracurricular activities, and personal essays will help paint a picture of academic prowess. So, what is a good ACT score? We break it down for you.

What Score Should You Aim For?

The average ACT score is 20.8. This is the composite score, which combines all four sections: English, reading, math, and science. So if you earn a composite score of 21, you're right in the middle of the pack. Generally, a score of 24 or higher is good. This will put you in the 74th percentile, making you more of a standout in ACT score percentiles. In other words, your score of 24 is better than 74 percent of all test takers. That's pretty good.

Ivy League ACT Scores

Even if you score better than three-quarters of the rest of the test takes, it still might not be enough to get you into the college of your choice. A perfect composite score is 36. If you're seeking admission into an Ivy League school, your composite score generally needs to be in the 30s. With a 6% acceptance rate, a university like Princeton wants to see scores in the 32 to 35 range. Columbia, Harvard, MIT, and Yale all look for a similar ACT scores range.

As of 2018, here is a breakdown of the composite ACT scores that would put you in the 25th and 75th percentiles of successful applicants to these schools. Put another way, these scores represent the middle 50 percent of applicants who are accepted into these institutions of higher learning.

University

25th Percentile

75th Percentile

MIT

33

35

Harvard

32

35

Stanford

31

35

Yale

31

35

Cornell

30

34

Being in the 25th percentile means that 25% of students admitted had a score at or below that number. This means a score of 32 would be below average for Harvard, but it would put you in the top 25% for a college like Penn State. So when aiming for a good ACT score, you need to consider what is a good score for your personal goals.

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Non-Ivy League Test Scores

Of course, you can receive a highly-regarded education that'll land you your dream job at plenty of non-Ivy League universities. So here are some universities with lower ACT expectations:

University

25th Percentile

75th Percentile

New York University

29

33

Penn State

25

29

Michigan State University

24

29

Florida A&M University

19

24

Alabama State University

15

19

How Is the ACT Scored?

Although the test is predominantly multiple-choice, there's also an optional 40-minute Writing Test. Aside from the writing component, there are four main sections:

  • English
  • Reading
  • Math
  • Science

The test takes 2 hours and 55 minutes. If you opt to take the Writing Test, that'll add 40 minutes, boosting the total time up to 3 hours and 35 minutes.

Each of the four sections is scored out of 36 points. The scores you receive in each section are then combined into a composite score, which illustrates how you did overall in comparison to the rest of the test takers.

The Writing Test

The Writing Test is scored on a separate scale. It is a 40-minute essay that will gauge how you can formulate your ideas into a coherent piece of writing. You'll be asked to share your perspective on a certain topic.

You can set your stance from the given prompt or choose your own. You won't be graded for your opinion but rather your ability to formulate a clear thesis statement that's backed by supporting details.

When to Take the ACT Exam

The best time to take the ACT is during the spring of your junior year in high school or the fall of your senior year. In truth, you might want to take the plunge in your junior year. This will give you time to retake the test if you'd like to earn a higher score. You can retake the test as many times as you'd like.

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SAT vs. ACT

Which college entrance exam should you take? While the SAT is notoriously difficult and, perhaps, more widely known than the ACT, most colleges and universities will accept scores from either test.

If you want to play your cards right, prepare for and take both exams. What's the harm? You can retake both tests until you achieve a favorable score and submit either or both results to the college or university of your choosing.

Ace Your Dreams

Remember that the ACT (or SAT) isn't the only factor in your college application. You also have your GPA, writing sample, extracurricular activities, and letters of recommendation. Sure, an above-30 ACT score would be wonderful, but don't get too caught up on it, especially if you're not aiming for the Ivy League. Retake the test until you're satisfied and make sure your entire portfolio shines.

Whether you're prepping for the ACT or just want to improve your vocabulary and spelling, take a look at these study habits for spelling tests.

What Is a Good ACT Score?

Begin the prep work with some SAT writing practice. It'll give you a good starting point for your test preparation.