When college admissions officers sort through stacks of applications, a good ACT score can be the difference between those getting to the next round of reviews and those getting tossed in the discard pile. When preparing to take this decisive standardized test, it's important to understand what a good ACT score is for you, what standardized test scores you'll need to get into different schools, and how to improve your score report to reach your goals.
Let's say you want to go to Yale University, Brown University, or one of the other top private universities in the world. Do you know the average ACT score of admitted students or the target score for applicants to make it past an admissions officer's first glance? As you prepare to apply to college, these are important questions to consider.
How Important are ACT Scores for College Admission in 2023?
Although a majority of U.S. universities have continued test-optional policies for the Class of 2027, many of the most selective colleges in the nation have decidedly stated that they do not plan to adopt permanent test-optional policies. A good ACT score will still boost your application above the competition and help get you into your dream school. A score in the 75th percentile or ideally in the 99th percentile will provide a way for admissions officers to quickly and objectively compare you to the rest of the applicant pool, so building a good ACT score should be a priority in your college admissions process.
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How is the ACT Scored?
The ACT consists of four sections: English, Mathematics, Reading, and Science. Each section has a scaled score ranges between 1 and 36, which is derived from your raw scores in each section. Your raw score is the number of questions you answered correctly in a given section. The scaled scores, in relation to the raw scores, are illustrated by this ACT score chart taken from the ACT's own Preparing for the ACT guide:
ACT Grading Scale
After your raw scores for each section are converted to scaled scores, the four numbers (ranging between 1 and 36) are averaged to find your composite score. This is the score public universities and private universities in the U.S. consider as a general qualifier of your academic aptitude.
What is considered a good ACT score?
According to data published by ACT, Inc. and based on the scores of 5,368,134 students who took the ACT and graduated in the last three years, the average composite ACT score is 19.8. Roughly 1.3 million students, or 36% of the U.S. high school graduating class of 2022, took the ACT. Scores above these numbers are above-average and considered good ACT scores!
Students who attend elite U.S. universities like Princeton University, Cornell University, Stanford University, and similarly competitive schools typically score well above average. If you’re trying to get into these elite colleges, you need a more granular approach to determining whether your ACT score is good or not. Let’s look at percentiles.
ACT Percentile Score Explained
Percentiles indicate how well you did on your exam compared to everyone else who took the exam. For example, if you’re in the 15th percentile, you did better than 15% of other students who took the ACT. If you’re in the 90th percentile, you did better than 90% of other students, and so on.
If you are in the 15th percentile, you are well below average – 85% of students did better than you. Generally speaking, anything below the 50th percentile is considered ‘bad,’ and anything in the 50th-70th percentile is ‘good.’ If you score in the 90th - 95th percentile, you have a strong score and a higher chance of getting into selective colleges like Duke University, University of Chicago, or Columbia University!
Check out the chart below to see what ACT scores line up with which score percentiles.
ACT Composite Score vs. Percentile Score
|ACT Composite Score||Percentile Score|
|10 or lower||1% or lower|
Percentiles can help you understand how your ACT score stacks up against the millions of other students who take the test each year and help you establish your own score goals based on the specific college or colleges you plan on submitting your applications. Do your research to determine if your scores match the competitive scores of your dream school.
Interested in learning more about the ACT and the U.S. college admissions process? Sign up today for a free consultation with one of our expert Academic Advisors, and start your journey to your dream university!
What is the average ACT score for your dream school?
Although less objective, the best way to truly define whether or not you have a good ACT score is knowing whether or not it aligns with your dream school's standards. Before you fill out your college application, it's important to find out if the average ACT score of that selective college is the same or lower than your personal ACT score. In general, the more highly ranked a school is, the better ACT scores you'll need to be a successful applicant.
To help you understand what ACT scores are required for the top 20 universities in the U.S., we've compiled a list of the average ACT scores of their accepted students.
US Top 20 Universities Average ACT Scores
|University||Average Composite ACT Score|
|Massachusetts Institute of Technology||34-36|
|University of Chicago||33-35|
|University of Pennsylvania||33-35|
|California Institute of Technology||35-36|
|Johns Hopkins University||33-35|
|University of Notre Dame||32-35|
|University of California, Los Angeles||29-35|
As you can see, the most competitive universities in the U.S. generally look for ACT scores in at least the 90th percentile. However, there are thousands of public universities, liberal arts colleges, and private colleges in the U.S. Most offer renowned academics, top-notch resources, rich extracurricular activities, esteemed faculty, and impressive alumni networks. Don't be discouraged if your scores don't reach the 90th percentile because a huge percentage of students do not reach these numbers and they still attend top universities in the U.S.
How to Improve Your ACT Score
The first step is to figure out your benchmark scores. You can take the following practice tests to determine your math, reading, science, and writing scores.
- ACT Sample Questions English
- ACT Sample Questions Math
- ACT Sample Questions Reading
- ACT Sample Questions Science
- ACT Sample Questions Writing
Each of these sections requires a different set of knowledge and they each have an allocated time, with a total test length of 2 hours and 55 minutes (or 3 hours and 35 minutes if you add the optional essay).
If you've already sat for practice tests and aren't getting the score you desire, here are some tips from our expert tutors to help you achieve your own goal score.
1. Preparation time is key
The first step is to allow yourself time to improve. Make a schedule and stick to it.
This is not a quick-fix blog post. Reading this won't make you magically get a max score on your ACT (though it will help). Acing your ACT requires prolonged effort and discipline.
No matter how long there is until you sit the test, be it a year, a month, or even a week, make a commitment to study at regular intervals. Even if you only do a couple of practice questions a day, your score will improve with consistency. Those minutes will add up to hours of prep time and a higher score.
2. Sit practice tests under real test conditions
There's no better way to improve than by doing. If you take only one tip from this blog post, this is the one.
Sitting ACT practice tests is the best way to learn about the structure of the test. You'll understand where your strengths and weaknesses lie and improve your chances of acing the test under the pressure of time.
3. Identify your weaknesses
As mentioned above, the ACT is made up of four sections (English, Mathematics, Reading, and Science) with the optional fifth section of writing.
One easy tip to help increase your overall score is to pinpoint the section(s) that are most difficult for you and focus more on them. There's no point in receiving intensive tutoring for writing if you're achieving perfect or near-perfect writing scores with each practice test! Instead, dedicate your time and resources to the sections you're struggling with. This will help improve your chances of a perfect score in that section(s).
4. Prep for the Test by Working Out a Time Strategy
You have an allocated time to each section of the ACT:
English: 75 multiple choice questions in 45 minutes.
Mathematics: 60 multiple choice questions in 60 minutes.
Science: 40 multiple choice questions in 35 minutes.
Reading: 40 multiple choice questions in 35 minutes.
Writing (optional): 1 essay in 40 minutes.
Based on these numbers, here is your allocated time per question:
English: About 40 seconds per question
Mathematics: One minute per question
Science and Reading: Just under a minute per question
For the Science section, the test is structured as six or seven passages with five or six questions each, which equates to roughly six minutes per passage and one minute per question.
For the Reading section, you're looking at eight minutes per passage, to read four passages and answer 10 questions each.
When it comes to sitting the test, it's important to keep these numbers in mind so you don't spend too long on any question. Keep in mind that you do not lose points for wrong answers so if you can't figure out the answer to a question, move on after your allocated time is up and revisit it later if you have time to spare.
This strategy is not only good for time management, but it's also good for your confidence moving forward in the test. Getting bogged down on one difficult question can ruin your strategy moving forward.
5. When sitting the test, read every question carefully and answer every question!
Reading each question carefully is imperative.
Like any test, there are always a few ambiguously phrased questions that make you do a double-take. The incorrect multiple choice answer will often be designed to match the misread question.
Make sure you're reading each question slowly and understand exactly what it's asking before you answer.
Again, keep in mind that there's no penalty for incorrect answers, so even if you don't know the answer, an educated guess will suffice. Since each question is multiple-choice, picking A, B, C, or D at random still gives you have a 25% chance of choosing the correct answer!
Think you have what it takes to get into a top university? Check out our free college admissions calculator.
What’s Next? A Deeper Dive into Acing your ACT
Standardized testing is designed to not only challenge you but rank you against your peers. Acing the ACT and improving your percentile rank takes time, strategy, effort, efficiency, and practice! Be sure to research each section of the test and the types of questions you'll encounter before you take it.
Before you sit, you should know:
- The score targets and score ranges of your dream universities.
- Your subject area scores (based on your practice tests) and which sectional score is strong and which scores are weaker.
- How much time each question should take and a time strategy for completing the test without skipping any questions.
Now that you know the ins and outs of ACT scores and what admissions boards look for, take a look at some of our related blogs for a deeper dive into acing your ACT.
- The ACT vs. The SAT: Which Should I Take?
- What School Can You Get Into With Your Current SAT or ACT Score? Here's How to Find Out!
Crimson's online tutors and world-class teachers can help you reach your high school and university admissions goals so you can get into your dream college. Now that you have this step-by-step guide and tips for acing your ACT, contact one of our advisors. They can help you become a strong applicant so you can raise the admissions bar and ace the college application process.
Based on the data above, we can conclude that ACT scores of 21 or higher can be considered “good” ACT scores for 2023 as well since ACT score averages stay fairly stable year over year.Do ACT scores matter for class of 2023? ›
SAT and ACT scores are important in the 2022-2023 college admissions cycle when applying to test-required schools. As a matter of fact, especially if they're high, standardized test scores can be beneficial when applying to test-optional institutions. They don't count only when applying to test-blind colleges.What ACT score is needed for top schools? ›
Schools vary considerably in the kinds of ACT scores they look for in applicants. Less selective institutions tend to accept scores closer to the national average (21), whereas more competitive universities often prefer scores in the 32-36 range.What is a good ACT score for scholarships? ›
Generally speaking, it's best to aim for an ACT composite score that's in the 75th percentile or above – this means a score of at least 24. However, a score that's "good" for you may not be the same as for somebody else – your ACT score goal will vary based on your college, scholarship, and career goals for the future.What is the average ACT score to get into college? ›
As a whole, the average ACT scores for the top 20 universities in the US are 34–36 for English, 31–35 for Math, and 33–35 for composite ACT scores. This means that if you hope to apply to the top-tier universities in the US, you should aim for ACT scores in the 30s, ideally in the 34–36 range.Will it be easier to get into college 2023? ›
Admission rates for 2022-2023 have not been announced but are expected to remain just as low. Given this competitive environment, admission experts say students shouldn't assume they'll be a 'shoe-in' at any school.Do colleges care about your ACT score? ›
If the colleges you're applying to require standardized test scores, however, the two main test scores they'll look at are your SAT and your ACT scores.Does ACT predict college success? ›
The study determined that both a student's ACT score and their high school GPA (HSGPA) effectively predicted long-term success during college. Overall, they found that ACT scores were a more accurate predictor, and that ACT benchmarks also provided compelling evidence.What is the lowest score colleges will accept on ACT? ›
Many students who are applying to the most selective colleges and universities aim for a 34 or higher on the ACT, and may retake the test if they get below a 32. However there are many, many other excellent schools that are not as competitive and accept students with lower ACT scores.What is the lowest ACT score to get into Harvard? ›
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 a 27 ACT Score (85th Percentile) Good? A 27 ACT score puts you a good deal about the national average (20.8) and makes you eligible for acceptance at a vast majority of schools. It also makes you competitive at some selective institutions, as well as eligible for merit aid!What ACT score will get a full ride? ›
Overall, my research so far has been surprising in that there are a few schools that will offer full-tuition scholarships starting in the 22 – 25 ACT range, but most full-ride scholarships require a 28 ACT or higher.What is the average ACT score? ›
According to data published by ACT, Inc. and based on the scores of 5,368,134 students who took the ACT and graduated in the last three years, the average composite ACT score is 19.8. Roughly 1.3 million students, or 36% of the U.S. high school graduating class of 2022, took the ACT.What is the highest ACT score ever recorded? ›
What is the Highest ACT Score Possible? The highest ACT score possible is 36 with the national average score being 12. Typically, a good ACT composite test score is considered to be anything over 27.Is the ACT changing in 2023? ›
We've compiled the most important updates for the new 2022-2023 season below! The SAT and ACT will still be compared using the same concordance tables; they have no plans to adjust these moving forward.How can I improve my ACT score? ›
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.Will a 23 ACT get you into college? ›
A 23 ACT score makes you eligible to apply at a good number of colleges and universities, and competitive to apply at many, too. You won't be competitive at selective schools quite yet, but you're certainly in a good place to be accepted at many decent schools.Will a 20 ACT score get you into college? ›
An ACT score of 20 makes you eligible to apply to an okay number of schools, but doesn't quite make you competitive since it falls below the national average of 20.8.Is a 18 ACT score good? ›
Earning an 18 on the ACT puts you at the 38th percentile, meaning that you scored higher than 38% of all test takers.Do colleges take your highest ACT score? ›
Colleges that superscore the ACT will look at your highest individual test scores and calculate a new, composite score across all your test dates. Your ACT Superscore is the average of your highest Math, Science, Reading and English test scores.
Harvard, Stanford and Princeton, unsurprisingly, are America's toughest colleges to get into in 2023, according to Niche's most recent rankings.Which year is the hardest for college students? ›
Although junior year often holds the most challenging classes, it is not always the most difficult. Students are able to take what they have learned from their previous two years of schooling to better prepare themselves for the more strenuous classes.What is the best time to apply for fall 2023? ›
Most applications will open August 1 for students applying for fall 2023 enrollment. College deadlines most often fall between November and February. Early admission means submitting your application sooner, usually by November. Applying regular decision gives you more time to work on application essays and take exams.Do colleges care more about GPA or ACT? ›
When it comes to the GPA and the ACT, students often wonder which one is more important. Although college admissions officers often say that they give much more weight to a student's GPA, even they will admit that your ACT score is of considerable importance.Do colleges care how many times you take the ACT? ›
You can take the ACT up to 12 times, and many students end up taking the test between 2-3 times before applying to college. Most colleges are neutral about multiple scores. Many students, in fact, make score improvements by retaking the ACT.Do colleges prefer ACT or SAT? ›
A common myth is that elite colleges prefer the SAT over the ACT. Or that the ACT is preferred by colleges in your state. In reality, all colleges and universities that require standardized testing accept both the ACT and SAT.Does the ACT boost your GPA? ›
If your GPA is just out of range, your high SAT/ACT score will likely make up for your GPA, especially if the rest of your application is strong. But if your GPA is far below their range, it will be especially important to use your application to explain why your GPA is low.Can you rush ACT scores to colleges? ›
There is no rush scoring option, so you'll want to make sure your child takes the test in plenty of time for the colleges of his or her choice to receive the score report. You can find the online score release dates on our ACT Test Dates page.Do colleges take ACT seriously? ›
College admissions experts encourage almost every student to take the SAT or ACT at least once, barring significant access barriers or text anxiety. Fee waivers for both tests are available for eligible students, and those who qualify may also receive waived application fees at certain colleges.What colleges do not accept ACT? ›
- Pitzer College. ...
- New York University. ...
- Hampshire College. ...
- Cornell College. ...
- University of the People. ...
- George Washington University. ...
- Montana State University. ...
- Colorado College.
Work harder on raising your GPA. In most colleges, a high GPA may compensate for low ACT/SAT scores. Put extra time into writing an exceptional admission essay that will impress the judges and sway their decision in your favor, regardless of your test scores.How long should you study for the ACT test? ›
With just one month to study for the ACT, you'll want to be as organized as possible to make the most of your time. It's ideal to spread your ACT prep over two or three months, but one month is still enough to see score gains.What is the lowest ACT score for Ivy League? ›
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 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 lowest score ever on the ACT? ›
What's the Lowest ACT Score You Can Get? The ACT is scored on a scale of 1-36, meaning that the absolute minimum ACT score you could get is 1. This composite score is calculated by taking the average of all four section scores (English, Math, Reading, and Science) and rounding (so anything ending with a .What is a good ACT score for an 11th grader? ›
The largest grade- level group, eleventh grade, had an average Composite score of 21. More research is necessary to learn more about the reasons for lower test scores in eleventh and twelfth grades when compared with average test scores in eighth, ninth, and tenth grades.Should I take the ACT as a junior or senior? ›
It's a good idea to take it for the first time in the fall or early spring of your junior year. Doing this will show you where you are doing well and uncover areas where you can improve. There are many advantages to taking the ACT your junior year, plus some very encouraging news about why retesting is so important!How do you go from 27 to 30 on the ACT? ›
To get a 30, you must score highly on all four sections of the exam (excluding Writing). Specifically, you'll need to get at least a 30 on two sections and a composite score of 29.5 (which rounds to 30) or higher. This means you can only miss a handful of questions on each section.What is the average SAT score for class of 2023? ›
The average score for the Evidence-Based Writing (ERW) section is 529, and the average score for the Math section is 521. A good SAT Score for 2023 will likely be close to 1050 as well.Is a 25 a good first time ACT score? ›
Is 25 a good ACT score? A “good” ACT is one that makes you eligible to apply to a vast majority of colleges and makes you competitive, which a 25 ACT score definitely does. Make sure the rest of your college application is up to par with your great ACT score!
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.Is a 33 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%.Does the class of 2023 need the SAT and ACT? ›
But for now, the short answer is that most colleges are not requiring SAT or ACT test scores for the class of 2023.Is the SAT changing in 2023? ›
The SAT is set to switch from a paper and pencil format to a digital format in 2023 and 2024.How many SATs in 2023? ›
In 2023, the KS2 SATs will take place between Tuesday 9th May 2023 – Friday 12th May 2023. Over this period, pupils will sit 6 different tests, with English normally taking place at the beginning of the week and maths at the end.Can I get into Harvard with a 25 ACT? ›
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.
At a minimum, an ACT score of 25 should qualify you for lower-level scholarship money. However, as the amount increases, scholarships become more competitive and the score ranges increase. Again, the barest minimum to shoot for is the 20-25 score range.Can I get into an Ivy League with a 25 ACT? ›
Admission to any of the eight Ivy League schools is highly selective, and ACT scores are an important piece of the admissions equation. Generally applicants will need a composite score of 30 or higher to be competitive although some applicants are admitted with lower scores.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 is the lowest ACT score for Harvard? ›
Harvard College is extremely selective with an acceptance rate of 4%. Students that get into Harvard College have an ACT score of 34–36. Regular applications are due January 1.
Any lower than 3.5, however, you'll have to either have an impressive, relevant achievement or pray for a miracle to get an offer. Therefore, it is best to aspire for the maximum 4.0 to play it safe. But as long as you have at least a 3.7 GPA, you can still get a serious chance at consideration for an offer.Do Ivy Leagues prefer ACT or SAT? ›
A common myth is that prestigious schools, like the Ivy League (Yale University, Princeton University, Cornell University, Harvard University, Columbia University, Brown University, Dartmouth College, University of Pennsylvania) prefer the SAT. This is not true, though. Schools have no preference in regards to ACT vs.What is the easiest Ivy League school to get into? ›
Cornell is considered the "easiest" Ivy League to get into because it has the highest Ivy League acceptance rate. While it's easier, statistically speaking, to get into Cornell, it's still challenging. It's also important to remember that students apply directly to one of Cornell's eight undergraduate colleges.What GPA do Ivy Leagues like? ›
If you're aiming for a top university such as one in the Ivy League, Stanford, MIT, or others of the same caliber, a 4.0 GPA — or close to it — is expected.