How to Get a 36 on the ACT | BestColleges (2023)

Less than 0.5% of test-takers earn a perfect ACT score each year. We compiled the best ACT advice from students who scored a perfect 36.


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(Video) Strategies to Get a 36 on the ACT from a REAL STUDENT (2023)

With advice from Grant Pace and Alex Nelson

Updated November 7, 2022

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How to Get a 36 on the ACT | BestColleges (3)

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  • Less than 6,000 students scored a perfect 36 on the ACT in 2020.
  • Many students at Ivy League and top colleges earn a 33 or higher on the ACT.
  • Be sure to use official ACT prep materials and simulate testing conditions when practicing.
  • Students should also perform an in-depth review of missed questions and common mistakes.

The ACT is a popular college entrance exam and assessment of college readiness. Students can take the test up to 12 times to achieve the highest score possible.

(Video) How I Got A 36 On The ACT Without Being A Genius | ACT Prep 2023

So what is a perfect ACT score? The perfect composite score is 36. This score is an average of your four section scores for English, Math, Reading, and Science. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Ready to Start Your Journey?

While you don't need a perfect score to get into top colleges, earning a full 36 ACT score can help you be a competitive applicant. Scoring 36 is uncommon and will take a lot of preparation. We interviewed two students who achieved a perfect ACT score and compiled their advice for acing the test.

How Many People Get a 36 on the ACT?

Getting a perfect ACT score is a pretty rare feat. The number of students in 2020 who scored a full 36 was 5,579 out of over 1.6 million — or about 0.33% of test-takers.

Average ACT Scores Nationwide
ACT ScorePercentileNumber of Test-Takers (Out of 1,670,497)Percentage

Don't be discouraged by the rarity of a perfect score. Even if you don't earn a 36, coming close is still an excellent result. Scoring in the 90th percentile can help you earn admission to top universities and unlock scholarship opportunities.

The middle 50% of students enrolled in prestigious universities like Cornell, Brown, Princeton, Stanford, and NYU all scored between 31 and 36.

The "middle 50%" is a term that means half the admitted students scored in that range (25% of students scored below that range and 25% scored above). So if the middle 50% at Brown is 33-35, then 75% of students scored a 33 or higher on the ACT.

Here's a brief overview of middle 50% ACT scores for some of the most selective schools in the U.S. All scores are for the class of 2025 except where noted.

ACT Middle 50% Test Scores for Top Schools, Class of 2025
SchoolMiddle 50% ACT Scores
Brown University33-35
Columbia University34-35
Cornell University33-35
Duke University*34-35
Johns Hopkins University34-35
New York University**31-35
Northwestern University*33-35
Princeton University32-35
Stanford University32-35
University of Pennsylvania35-36

How Is a Perfect ACT Score Calculated?

The ACT consists of 215 questions across four sections: English, Math, Reading, and Science. You have two hours and 55 minutes to complete the test.

Each section is given a raw score, which then is converted into a scaled score on a scale of 1-36. Finally, your four scaled scores are averaged together to create your ACT composite score.

What does this mean exactly? Ultimately, a perfect ACT score doesn't equate to a perfect test. You can likely miss a couple of questions and still get a perfect 36.

(Video) How To Get A Perfect 36 on the ACT Reading Test - 5 Tips and Strategies From A Perfect Scorer

The exact conversion between raw and scaled score will depend on your test date and the other students who took it on that date — so the exact number of questions you can miss will vary.

How to Get a Perfect ACT Score: 5 Essential Tips

We spoke with two perfect ACT scorers to learn more about the test-taking strategies that helped them ace the test. Here are their top five.

1. Change Your Mindset

Try not to approach the ACT feeling worried about how your performance will impact your chances of getting into college. And don't consider it a measure of your intelligence, either.

"I like to tell students that it's more like a game — the test makers use certain tricks, and if you learn how to identify and overcome those tricks you can get as many points as possible in the allotted time," said Grant Pace, a tutor with Ivy Tutors Network and perfect ACT scorer.

The ACT essentially measures how well you can take the ACT. If you approach the test with this mindset, it can take off some of the pressure and change the way you prepare.

2. Take Practice Tests and Use Official Study Materials

Using official ACT prep materials and practice tests is key to performing well.

"For any student trying to get a perfect score, exposure to test material is a huge factor," said Pace. "The difference between a 35 and a 36 can come down to one question, so it's important to expose yourself to as many questions as possible and learn from any mistakes made so you don't repeat them."

3. Mimic Actual Testing Conditions

The time allotment for the ACT can feel pretty intense. For example, on the ACT English section, you only get about 36 seconds per question. Practicing the test timed will help you feel comfortable with the time pressure on test day.

"Take a practice test under testing conditions and then go through the questions you missed," advised Pace. "From there, assess what questions you think you could quickly learn how to do correctly and which ones you can't — knowing which questions to skip and guess on can save time to study and answer more manageable questions."

4. Analyze the Questions You Miss

Perfect ACT scorers take their studying to the next level by really analyzing the questions they miss on practice tests. Reviewing your mistakes carefully will help you continue to improve.

"For every question you got wrong, write a paragraph detailing what you got wrong, how to prove the correct answer, and a tip for next time," said Alex Nelson, a mentor with Ivy Scholars and perfect ACT and SAT scorer.

(Video) Here's How I Got a 36 on the ACT WITHOUT Studying in 2023

Nelson calls these "mistake journals" and encourages students to use them to notice trends and improvements. This can help you focus your study time on weaker subject matter.

5. Skip the Last-Minute Prep

Cramming the night before and morning of your ACT isn't a strong strategy. Many agree that retaining information last minute is unlikely and it's better not to burn out so close to the test.

"What I always tell my students is truly last-minute, day-before preparation isn't able to help all that much," said Nelson. "Once you reach a week before the test, it's too late to cram your head with new equations and vocab words; instead, focus on material you understand but may have made careless errors on previously."

Last-minute prep should involve energizing yourself for a long test day. Get a good night's rest, stay hydrated, and have a filling breakfast.

With Advice From:

How to Get a 36 on the ACT | BestColleges (4)

Grant Pace

Grant Pace is a tutor at Ivy Tutors Network in New York City. His success in AP courses and on standardized tests — including a perfect 36 on the ACT and a 2300 on the SAT — earned him honors at the White House in 2016 as one of the Department of Education's 161 Presidential Scholars. It also led him to be a sought-after tutor while still in high school. Now graduating from Columbia University, Grant has been accepted to Harvard Law School and will begin his studies in two years. There, he plans to focus on environmental law, a continuation of his major in environmental science at Columbia.

How to Get a 36 on the ACT | BestColleges (5)

(Video) how i ~finessed~ a 36 on the act + tips!

Alex Nelson

Alex Nelson has served as a full-time mentor and tutor for 12 years. After scoring a perfect 1600 on the SAT in high school, he joined The Princeton Review where he worked as a college admissions mentor and tutor for the SAT, ACT, ISEE, GRE, GMAT, and LSAT. Over nine years, he became their highest-level "Premiere" tutor and teacher trainer for all of Houston. Alex joined Ivy Scholars in 2018. He specializes in improving organization and study habits and is a master at helping high-scoring students raise their SAT and ACT scores to the top 1%.

Feature Image: Ridofranz / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images


How to Get a 36 on the ACT | BestColleges? ›

Based on the ACT practice tests, most sections require you to miss 0 questions to receive a score of 36. However, in the Math section, you might be able to miss 1 question and still receive a 36. Receiving a score of 35 most often entails missing 1–3 questions in each section.

How hard is it to get a 36 on the ACT? ›

Getting a perfect ACT score is a pretty rare feat. The number of students in 2020 who scored a full 36 was 5,579 out of over 1.6 million — or about 0.33% of test-takers. Don't be discouraged by the rarity of a perfect score. Even if you don't earn a 36, coming close is still an excellent result.

How many questions can you miss to get a 36 on the ACT? ›

You can miss 1-3 questions on each ACT section and still earn a 36 composite score.

How to get a 36 on the ACT without studying? ›

To do well on the ACT without studying, answer easy questions first and use the process of elimination. Use diagrams and visuals to one's full advantage. Make intelligent guesses to get good ACT scores. There's no penalty for guessing, and there's a 20% chance of getting the right answer each time.

Can you get a 36 on the ACT without writing? ›

It is scored differently.

Further, because the ACT Writing Test is optional, it is scored separately from the other sections and does not affect your ACT composite score (out of 36). This means that if you've been wondering, “Can the ACT Writing hurt your score,” you can rest easy: the answer is no.

What is the rarest ACT score? ›

So if you score 34 or higher, you're in the top 1% of test takers! Unsurprisingly, a full 36 is the rarest score of all—just 0.313% of all test takers earned a perfect ACT score.

Is a 37 on the ACT good? ›

In general, a good ACT score is any score in or above the 75th percentile — at least a 24. Students should aim to hit or exceed the middle 50% of ACT scores at their chosen colleges.

Will a 36 ACT get you into Harvard? ›

The average ACT score for students who get accepted into Harvard is between 32 and 35. This is well above the national average of 21. Considering 36 is the highest you can score, this is a daunting goal. The average ACT score for Harvard University is much higher than that of any other Ivy League in the country.

Is it better to skip or guess on the ACT? ›

There is no penalty for guessing on the ACT. Never, ever, ever, leave any answers blank. You have a 25% chance of getting the question right if you guess. So at the very least, always guess!

What is the lowest ACT score to get into Harvard? ›

Average ACT: 34

The 25th percentile ACT score is 33, and the 75th percentile ACT score is 35. In other words, a 33 places you below average, while a 35 will move you up to above average. There's no absolute ACT requirement at Harvard, but they really want to see at least a 33 to have a chance at being considered.

Has anyone ever gotten a 1 on the ACT? ›

1 ACT Score Standings

Out of the 1.91 million test-takers, 1895661 scored the same or higher than you. You can apply to 0 colleges and have a good shot at getting admitted. You have a very low chance of getting into 1499 schools with this score.

Can you get a scholarship for a 36 ACT? ›

Unsurprisingly, the highest potential comes with ACT scores 30+. With ACT scores in the 30-36 range, it's possible to win $10,000 or more in scholarship prizes. For example, the University of Tennessee-Knoxville grants scholarships up to $32,000 for students with ACT scores in the 34-36 range.

How long should you study to get a 36 on ACT? ›

There are rough guidelines if you want to improve a certain amount of points. With the ACT, improving by 1 point requires about 10 hours of studying. 2-3 points mean 20 hours, 2-4 means 40 hours, 4-6 requires 80, and anything above that means you're looking at 150+ hours of studying to make information stick.

What is the lowest ACT writing score? ›

The ACT Writing Test is scored on a scale of 2 (lowest score) to 12 (highest score). The average ACT Writing score is between a 6 and 7.

Is a 36 ACT easier than a 1600? ›

As mentioned earlier, it's easier for many test-takers to get a 36 on the ACT than a 1600 on the SAT. This is true even if the ACT has more questions and sections, too. That's because ACT scores are rounded up to the whole number closest to them. So, in other words, ACT scores anywhere from 35.5 to 35.9 become 36.

Can the ACT writing hurt your score? ›

Taking the writing test does not affect your subject area scores or your Composite score.

What ACT score is needed for a full ride? ›

Shoot for at least a 28 on the ACT or above 1300 on the SAT. Some scholarships allow for flexibility, so check the particular scholarship, but these numbers generally give you the most options. Encourage your student to also pursue a high GPA or even 4.0, especially their senior year.

What are the best to worst ACT scores? ›

Your Composite score and each test score (English, mathematics, reading, science) range from 1 (low) to 36 (high). The Composite score is the average of your four test scores, rounded to the nearest whole number.

What is a poor score on the ACT? ›

Scores below a 15 on the ACT are considered low at just about any four-year college. You can overcome low scores with a great GPA or an outstanding college application. But even if you're accepted, the school may ask you to take some remedial courses before enrolling.

What is a good ACT score for Ivy League? ›

If you decide to report your scores to an Ivy League school despite test-optional policies, you should strive for an ACT composite score between 32 and 36.

Should I retake the ACT if I got a 33? ›

Should I Retake the ACT with a 33 Score? With a 33 ACT score, there's no need to retake the exam. The only reason to consider retaking the ACT is to increase your competitiveness at the most elite colleges. Because competition for elite schools is fierce, every extra point both on your ACT score and GPA will help.

Is a 33 ACT good enough for Ivy League? ›

The average ACT scores for the entire Ivy League are 31–35 for Math, 34–36 for English, and 33–35 for the composite ACT.

What is the cheapest Ivy League school? ›

Princeton. Princeton is commonly regarded as the “cheapest Ivy” thanks to its extensive financial aid offerings. 62% of admitted students receive financial aid.

What is the lowest GPA Harvard has accepted? ›

You should also have a 4.18 GPA or higher. If your GPA is lower than this, you need to compensate with a higher SAT/ACT score. For a school as selective as Harvard, you'll also need to impress them with the rest of your application.

What is the easiest Ivy League to get into? ›

The Easiest Ivy League schools to get into

Cornell is the easiest and youngest Ivy League school. It was established in 1865 and is situated in Ithaca, New York. Out of 49,114 candidates, Cornell accepted 5,330, for an admission percentage of around 10.9%.

Is C the most common multiple choice answer? ›

Most people (and tutors) tell students that, if they have no idea on a question, to just guess answer choice “C” — the middle answer on most multiple choice tests.

What is the most common letter on the ACT? ›

And computers are very good at being random. This means that the answer choices will have a statistically even distribution of 1 in 4 for each answer choice letter (or 1 in 5 on the math section): there is no most common answer on the ACT.

Is C the most common answer on SAT? ›

Every answer choice on the SAT will have a statistically even distribution of 1 in 4 for each answer choice letter, A, B, C, or D. In other words? There is no most common answer on the SAT. Ultimately, guessing C (or any letter!) will give you the correct answer only a statistical 25% of the time.

Is a 4.7 GPA good for Harvard? ›

Average GPA: 4.18

(Most schools use a weighted GPA out of 4.0, though some report an unweighted GPA. With a GPA of 4.18, Harvard requires you to be at the top of your class. You'll need nearly straight A's in all your classes to compete with other applicants.

What is the lowest ACT accepted to Yale? ›

Yale University is extremely selective with an acceptance rate of 6%. Students that get into Yale University have an SAT score between 1470–1560 or an ACT score of 33–35. Regular applications are due January 2.

What is the hardest school to get into? ›

Harvard, Stanford and Princeton, unsurprisingly, are America's toughest colleges to get into in 2023, according to Niche's most recent rankings.

What is the best letter to guess on the ACT? ›

For those guessing on only a few of the last ten questions, A/F would be the better option. The Safe Bet: Answer choice E/K is the safest choice because it, so far, has always had one correct answer. In fact, E/K has met or exceeded the expected average 82% of the time, making it the most consistent answer choice.

Can you pass the ACT by guessing? ›

First things first: There is no guessing penalty, so you've got nothing to lose by guessing.

What ACT score would you get by guessing? ›

Even if you guessed on every question, you'd get a composite score of around 11-13. Therefore, it is highly unlikely that you will get the lowest possible score—or even a score lower than 11—on the ACT.

Can I get a full ride with a 35 ACT? ›

For example, if you have a 3.5 GPA and a 31-35 ACT score, you could qualify for merit aid from your school. This is a scholarship that you receive in exchange for your academic performance. It does not have to be paid back and can cover up to all of the costs incurred by attending college.

Is the ACT or the SAT harder? ›

The SAT and ACT generally cover the same topics. Both ACT and SAT scores are used for college admissions decisions and awarding merit-based scholarships. Most colleges do not prefer one test over the other. Neither the SAT or ACT is harder than the other.

When did the ACT change from 32 to 36? ›

Starting in 2015, the format of the essay was changed slightly. Students are now given 40 minutes to write, and the Writing section is scored out of 36 rather than out of 12.

What college requires a 36 ACT score? ›

A 36 ACT score makes you an eligible and competitive applicant at every college and university. Among your many options, you can include Stanford University, Yale University, and Georgia Institute of Technology-Main Institution.

How can I improve my ACT score fast? ›

One of the most commonly asked questions of ACT is “how do my students improve their scores?” The simple answer is have them take challenging courses and test prep. Because the ACT tests what students learn in high school, the best way for them to prepare is to take core classes, study, and participate in class.

What is the easiest section in ACT? ›

If you're trying to boost your ACT score, the English section is the easiest to tackle. Here's why: there is only a handful of technical grammar content covered and there are really only a handful of rhetorical skills covered.

Is an 8 on the ACT essay good? ›

As you can see from this table, the mean, or average, score on the ACT Writing section is 6. It's a good idea to aim for at least the 75th percentile, so in this case a good ACT writing score would be an 8 or above. A 9 or above would put you in the 96th percentile, which is great!

Do colleges care about ACT writing? ›

If a school accepts ACT Writing, that means they'll review your essay score if you take and send it. However, it's not something they're hugely interested in, and it may not have much or any impact on your application, even if your score is particularly high or low.

How rare is a 12 on the ACT writing? ›

Average Scores on the Current 12-Point Writing Exam
ACT Writing Score Percentiles
12100 (top 1%)
1199 (top 1%)
1099 (top 1%)
996 (top 4%)
8 more rows
Mar 29, 2020

How many questions can you miss and still get a 36 on the ACT? ›

Use your practice test's ACT scoring chart to see how your raw scores translate into scale scores. You can miss 1-3 questions on each ACT section and still earn a 36 composite score.

How many ACT test takers get a 36? ›

How Many People Get a 36 on the ACT?
ACT ScorePercentileNumber of Test-Takers (Out of 1,670,497)
4 more rows

What are the odds of getting a 36 on the ACT? ›

Put differently, approximately one in every 735 students who took the ACT got a 36. The odds are roughly equivalent to guessing correctly two letters of the alphabet one after the other.

Do colleges really care about ACT scores? ›

Scores May Determine Placement in College Classes

So some colleges use scores to place students in classes that are at the right level for them. SAT and ACT scores can also be used to identify students who may benefit from specific advisors or academic support in college.

Do colleges really look at ACT scores? ›

For example: If you took both the September and October ACT administrations, and decided to send colleges your September scores, colleges will see what you got on all the tests in the September ACT (English, Math, Reading, and Science—and, if you took the ACT Plus Writing, they would see your Writing Test scores, too).

Does reading improve ACT score? ›

In short, improving your ACT Reading score will bump up your average composite score. And improving your ACT composite score, even by just 5 points, can make a huge difference in your chances of getting into your target colleges.

Will a 36 ACT get me into Harvard? ›

The 25th percentile ACT score is 33, and the 75th percentile ACT score is 35. In other words, a 33 places you below average, while a 35 will move you up to above average. There's no absolute ACT requirement at Harvard, but they really want to see at least a 33 to have a chance at being considered.

Is it harder to get a 36 or a 1600? ›

Getting a 1600 on the SAT is harder than getting a 36 on the ACT. To get a perfect 1600 on the SAT, one has to get a perfect 800 on each of the two SAT sections. To get a perfect 36 on the ACT, in contrast, one has to get a score that can be rounded up to 36. For instance, 35.5 is equivalent to 36.

What is the lowest ACT in Harvard? ›

ACT Requirements for Harvard

ACT scores range from 33 to 35, with 35 representing the 75th percentile. Even though Harvard probably states that there is no minimum ACT requirement, if you apply with a 33 or lower, you will likely struggle to get in unless you have other extremely strong application materials.

What ACT score do Ivy Leagues want? ›

Generally speaking, you need a minimum ACT score of 31 to get into an Ivy League School. The minimum score is 32 at a few of these schools, including Harvard and Yale. The minimum SAT score to get into an Ivy League school ranges from 690 to 730 for the reading section and from 700 to 730 for the math section.

What's the lowest ACT score Harvard has accepted? ›

The average ACT score of Harvard-accepted students is 33. Although Harvard claims there is no minimum ACT score, if you apply with a 29 or lower, you'll have difficulty getting in. So, to get into Harvard, it is important to note the different Harvard University requirements for test scores.

What score on ACT for scholarships? ›

The minimum requirements to receive a scholarship are a rank in the top 50% of your class, a GPA of 3.5 or over, and an SAT score of 1100 or an ACT score of 22.

Is a 35 ACT good enough for Ivy League? ›

An SAT score of 1555 (out of 1600) or ACT score of 35 (out of 36) will place you right in the top 25% for most Ivy League schools, whereas an SAT score of 1455 or ACT score of 33 would put you at the boundary of the bottom 25%.

Did Mark Zuckerberg get a 1600? ›

Mark Zuckerberg.

The founder of Facebook scored the perfect 1600 on the SAT and attended Harvard University. There's no surprise there on the score or prestigious university!

What did Elon Musk get on the SAT? ›

Elon Musk reacts to GPT-4 scoring 93% on SAT exams.

Did Will Smith get a 1600 on the SAT? ›

Will Smith SAT score was a perfect 1600. A rare score few people have earned. Despite this incredible score, Will chose not to attend college, did not even enroll, and decided to pursue his career in music.


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