Last Updated: February 01, 2021

What is a good ACT score?

ACT is an assessment test that determines the examinee's preparedness for entering a college/university space and also a great means to avail scholarships. All this can be made possible by attaining a "good ACT score" that changes from test to test and whose estimation is what we will do for you now.

First of all, the highest score attainable in the ACT is 36 which will be an average of marks obtained in individual subjects. The subjects that are dealt with in this exam, as is known, are English, Mathematics, Reading and Science. The average obtained in such a manner is called a composite score. As is evident, comparing this percentile to the general population of examinees in the particular test provides you with a good ACT score.

The good in a "good ACT score" is relative. That statement is putting the truth out too mildly. In other words, the score that an examinee aspires to achieve should be based on the colleges or universities they are applying to. When a score of 23 is considered the national average, it is to be assumed that an aspirant must attain a higher percentile to be admitted to a better college/university.

Comparing ACT scores

The two ways in which ACT scores can be compared is through averages and percentiles.

Average, Below Average and Above Average ACT Scores

The test is set up to follow a normal distribution which implies that the cluster that has received similar percentiles will take up the middle of the scale. Scored between 1 and 36, the average in 2019 was 21. When 21 is considered the average, below average would be anything less than 15. Despite having an extremely low composite score in ACT, one can always apply for college programs with a decent GPA and an exemplary college application. This may imply that the student might have to take up remedial classes but on the whole, any grade would not hinder an aspirant's dreams for higher education. Looking at the table that depicts a percentile variation according to State one can understand that a majority of the population of examinees are not high-end or low-end scorers but promise an average score that can let an aspirant join a college or university.

This percentile varying across states in the year 2019 would be as follows-

Average ACT score (2019) for students by State

StateAvg. ACT Score
Connecticut 25.5
New Hampshire 25
Rhode Island 24.7
New York 24.5
Michigan24.4
An above average grade on the other hand is tailor made to the needs of students depending on the college one wants to go to. An aspirant must find the composite score average that the university/college they are applying for usually demands or at least go through the statistical data available stating the composite score average of students that were admitted into the college/university. Ivy League Universities and Liberal Art Colleges that are mostly sought after have their statistical data as follows-

Average ACT score (2019) for students in high-end colleges and universities

College/University ACT Score
Carnegie Mellon University 33-35
Columbia University 33-35
Williams College32-35
Duke University 33-35
Cornell University 32-34
Yale University31-35
Amherst College31-34
Carleton College31-34
Whitman College27-32

"Good ACT Scores" from 2015 to 2020

While estimating an average "good score" over the years, one may assume that there has been a great difference with time but this hasn't been the case. This implies that the average good ACT score remains nearly consistent with maybe a 1 percent increase or decrease. We can take the example of the subject English and its percentile fluctuations from 2015 to 2019

In English the percentile has been In a similar manner, Mathematics has had a difference from 20.8 to 20.5. Reading has had a decrease from 21.4 to 21.3 along with Science where it decreased from 20.9 to 20.8. Now, considering the composite score, it saw some minor decreases and increases but overall changed only from a 21.0 to 20.8.

From this, it can be inferred that a good ACT score is almost always the same. An aspirant can, to be on the safer side, assume a number slightly higher than the average to get into a decent college/ university. It should be understood that preparing for ACT means preparing for a composite score that your desired college/university mandates necessary.

Strategies to follow If My ACT Score is Low

In case you receive a grade that is way below the 25% percentile, it should be understood that the ACT test is only one form of application that can be provided at a college/ university. There are other examinations that can be taken which might showcase your skills better since English, Mathematics, Reading and Science are not the only subjects of importance.

Putting in extra effort into schoolwork and gaining an exemplary grade in tough subjects along with a display of exceptional extracurricular skills will be an added bonus in getting admission into colleges of good reputation. These performances may be backed up with genuine letters of recommendation and a concisely worded college application which would definitely bypass a lower ACT grade.

The student can choose to retake the test if time permits which is the best possible option. After attempting the test the first time one might have been able to identify the drawbacks and limitations they faced. Sometimes, if observant enough, one would also be able to identify where they went wrong and what form of preparation would aid them in increasing their percentile.

This will include identifying the subject of weakness, finding the right prep book that is suited to your needs and the patience and discipline required to focus on the task ahead. Since the ACT test is based on the school curriculum, reiterating through the syllabus and learning the basics would be a good way to start preparation. Along with understanding key concepts, it should be remembered that a test with a certain time limit requires going through timed practice tests.

The student can also choose to not send the ACT score report to the college/university of choice when the grades are low which would just be considered like the test hasn't been attempted in the first place thereby nullifying the damage a bad percentile can cause.


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