What Is a Good ACT Score A Bad ACT Score An Excellent ACT Score

If you’ve taken the ACT and received your ACT results, you’re probably curious about how you fared. Alternatively, you may be preparing for the ACT and want to know what ACT composite score to aim for.

So, what constitutes a good ACT score?

This article will look at what constitutes a good ACT composite score. We also provide a step-by-step guide to determining a good ACT score for you based on the colleges you intend to apply to. We’ll also go over ACT score ranges for 38 popular schools and what you can do if you don’t meet your target score.

Aside: Are you searching for SAT requirements instead? If so, take a look at our SAT good score guidelines.

What Is an Appropriate ACT Score?

The ACT scale runs from 1 to 36. As you might expect, the higher your score, the better your performance. Is there, however, a specific cutoff that defines a “good” ACT score?

You must first understand how ACT scores are calculated to answer this question. Your composite score, which ranges from 1 to 36, corresponds to a percentile that compares your performance to the overall population of ACT test-takers. A higher percentile indicates that you outperformed that percentage of students. (A 55th percentile score means you outperformed 55% of other students.)

Easily download a free step-by-step guide to determining your ACT score target. After completing these steps, you’ll know exactly what ACT score you should aim for.

The ACT scores are designed to have a normal distribution. This implies that student performance tends to cluster near the middle of the scale, with the majority of test-takers scoring somewhere between a little below and a little above the average. Far fewer test-takers score near the top and bottom of the scale.

The national average ACT score is 20.6. If you received a score of 21, you outperformed 50% of test-takers. Depending on your point of view, that’s pretty good. A 24 places you in the 74th percentile, which is better than 34 percent of test-takers.

Here’s a quick chart with ACT score percentiles for students in the classes of 2018, 2019, and 2020 to help you determine out where your scores place you in relation to the general student test-taker population:

 

Score

 

ACT English Percentile

 

ACT Math Percentile

 

ACT Reading Percentile

 

ACT Science Percentile

 

Composite Percentile

 

1

1 1 1 1 1
 

5

1 1 1 1 1
 

10

7 1 3 3 1
 

13

19 4 14 10 10
 

16

37 33 29 26 28
 

18

45 49 39 39 41
 

20

55 58 50 51 53
 

22

65 65 61 64 64
 

24

75 74 71 77 74
 

26

82 84 77 85 82
 

28

86 91 82 90 88
 

30

89 94 83 93 93
 

34

96 99 96 98 99
 

36

99 99 99 99 99

In aspects of ACT score percentiles, a score of 16 places you in the 28th percentile, which means you outperformed roughly one-quarter of test-takers. This isn’t an awe-inspiring score.

We’ve already established that a 20.8 is a typical ACT score at the 50th percentile. A score of 24 indicates that you outperformed approximately 74% of students. A 28 means you exceeded 88 percent of students, and a 30 means you outperformed 93 percent of them! Anything 35 or higher is in the 99th percentile, which is a genuinely exceptional score.

You can also see that there aren’t many people scoring near the bottom and top of the scale, as there is such a small percentile difference between scores here. Composite scores ranging from 1 to 8 are all in the first percentile, while composite scores ranging from 35 to 36 are all in the 99th percentile.

Conversely, around the middle of the scale at 20, where most test-takers are grouped, a few points make a significant difference: going from 18 to 22 moves you from the 41st to the 64th percentile, a grand total of 23 percentile points. However, a 4-point increase from 24 to 28 only moves you from the 74th to the 88th percentile. That’s only a 14-percentile increase. And the jump from 30 to 34 is only a 6-percentile jump.

You may realize that the section percentiles vary slightly from the composite scale. The overall score distribution, however, remains the same.

 

To summarize, when compared to all test-takers:

  • ACT score < 16 = bottom 25%
  • ACT score of 21 = right in the middle! (average score)
  • ACT score of 24+ = top 25%
  • ACT score of 29+ = top 10%
  • ACT of 31+ = top 5%
  • ACT score of 35+ = top 1% of test-takers

What Is an Appropriate ACT Score for You?

We’ve talked about how your ACT score relates to everyone else’s. More important is determining what constitutes a good ACT score for you, depending on the schools you’re interested in. A 29 puts you in the top 10% of test takers, and it’s a good score for schools such as Texas A&M, Penn State, Virginia Tech, and Baylor. However, a 29 is a very low score for highly selective institutions such as the Ivies, Duke, MIT, Stanford, and the University of Chicago.

A 29 would be an extremely high score for less selective schools such as CSU Long Beach (mean ACT score 23), CSU Northridge (average ACT score 19), and the University of Southern Indiana (average ACT score 22). If those were your target scores, you wouldn’t need a 29; aiming for a slightly higher-than-average score (in the 21-23 range) would suffice.

So, what constitutes a good ACT score for you is entirely subjective, and is primarily determined by the college to which you are applying.

Of course, the higher your sat scores, the more likely it is that you will be offered grants and scholarships. In this guide, we’ll focus mainly on determining the score required for admission, but it’s something to keep in mind.

Another factor to consider is that a higher ACT or SAT score can help you if your GPA is lower than what a school requires. (However, this won’t help you much at highly selective institutions, where they’ll expect applicants to have very high averages across the board.)

How to Determine Your Goal Score?

So, how do you figure out what constitutes good ACT scores for the colleges you’re interested in? In this segment, we’ll walk you through a five-step process for determining your best goal score.

Step 1: Get This Worksheet

To complete the following steps, we’ll fill out a worksheet for each school you intend to apply to. To download it, click here or on the image below. I recommend printing it out so you can write on it and keep it near your work area.

Step 2: On the left, fill in the schools you want to attend

Fill in the leftmost column with all of the schools you’re certain you want to implement to. If you haven’t decided on a school yet, feel free to use ones that have been recommended to you or schools that your friends are interested in.

However, I suggest that you research schools first so that you have a realistic target score. Because your goal score should be specific to the universities you want to apply to, the more precise your concept of the schools you want to implement to, the more accurate your goal score will be.

Step 3: Search for “[Name of School] PrepScholar ACT” for each school

For instance, if I want to learn more about U Alabama, I’ll conduct the following search: Scroll down to get the 25th and 75th percentile composite ACT scores for enrolled students by clicking on the ACT and GPA post (or the Admission Qualifications post, as both will have the information).

 

The 25th percentile score for the University of Alabama is 23. To refresh your memory, the 25th percentile implies that 25% of admissions have a score at or below that number. So a 23 would be a below-average admissions score for U Alabama.

University of Alabama has a 75th percentile score of 31. That means that students with that composite score outperformed 75% of all other admitted students. So a score of that level or higher places you in the top quarter of admits—a very competitive score. In brief, the 25th/75th percentile range denotes the scores of the middle 50% of all students admitted to a specific school.

If you score in the top 75 percentile for any school, you have a good chance of admission (assuming your other details are appropriate for the school). If you’re in the 25th percentile, you’ll need a relatively impressive application to increase your chances of admission.

Search for the PrepScholar ACT score details for each school on your list and note down the 25th and 75th percentile scores in the correct row on your goal score sheet.

Step 4: Determine Your ACT Target Score

Examine the 75th percentile column to determine your target ACT goal score. Locate the column with the highest score. That is your target composite score. If you score in the 75th percentile for the most competitive school on your list, you will be viable for test scores at all of your schools.

Another benefit of selecting a high goal score is that if you end up falling short by 1-2 points, it’s not a big deal because you will remain competitive for the majority of your schools.

You might be wondering, “Wait a minute! Why did I bother filling out the entire sheet if I was only going to choose the highest 75th percentile score? The benefit of filling out all of that information is that you now have it as a reference. As soon as you have your ACT score, you will be able to compare it to all of your schools of concern!

Step 5: Share Your Goal Score

As a final step, we recommend that you do the following with your score target:

#1: Tell your parents about it.

 

This will be a beneficial discussion about your personal goals and how you intend to achieve your desired ACT score. Furthermore, they can assist in holding you accountable throughout the preparation process!

#2: Tape it to your wall.

 

This will help you stay focused on your goal and motivated to prepare.

Good ACT Scores for Prominent Institutions

This is an ACT score graph with the 25th-75th percentile composite ACT test scores for 2020 for 35 popular schools to help you determine your goal score. I’ve also included the acceptance rate and current U.S. News ranking to give you more context on how selective the school is.

 

School

 

25th Percentile ACT

 

75th Percentile ACT

 

 

US News

 

Ranking (National Universities)

 

2020

 

 

Acceptance Rate

Princeton University

 

32 35 1 6%
Harvard University

 

33 35 2 5%
Yale University

 

33 35 4 6%
Columbia University

 

33 35 3 6%
MIT

 

34 36 4 7%
University of Chicago

 

33 35 6 6%
Stanford University

 

32 35 6 4%
University of Pennsylvania

 

32 35 8 8%
Northwestern University

 

33 35 9 9%
Duke University

 

33 35 12 8%
Johns Hopkins University

 

32 35 9 7%
Dartmouth College

 

32 35 13 10%
Brown University

 

32 35 14 7%
University of Notre Dame

 

33 35 19 17%
Vanderbilt University

 

33 35 14 11%
Cornell University

 

32 35 18 11%
University of California, Los Angeles

 

27 34 20 18%
University of California, Berkeley

 

28 34 22 18%
University of Southern California

 

30 34 24 13%
Georgetown University

 

31 34 23 16%
Carnegie Mellon University

 

33 35 26 22%
University of Michigan

 

31 34 24  

28%

Wake Forest University

 

29 33 28 28%
University of Virginia

 

30 34 26 27%
New York University

 

30 34 30 19%
University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill

 

27 33 28 22%
Boston College

 

31 34 35 27%
Boston University

 

29 32 42 22%
Villanova University

 

31 34 53 29%
University of Georgia

 

27 32 57 48%
Ohio State University

 

28 32 53 48%
Penn State University

 

25 30 63 51%
Clemson University

 

27 32 74 47%
Texas A&M University

 

26 31 66 61%

What if I get a low score?

What should you do if you take the exam and get a score lower than your target? Don’t be alarmed; you have a few options. We’ll go over them here and help you determine when you should think about them.

Strategy 1: Retake the Exam

If you have the time to study for the test and retake it, this is probably your best approach if you are serious about attending all of your preferred schools. (Unless you were only one or two points short, in which case retaking the test may be a waste of time; see strategy.)

You should also ensure that you prepare for enough hours to make a significant difference in your score. Here are our best guesses for how many hours of preparation you’ll need to improve your composite score by a certain amount:

  • 0-1 ACT Composite Point Improvement: 10 hours
  • 1-2 ACT Point Improvement: 20 hours
  • 2-4 ACT Point Improvement: 40 hours
  • 4-6 ACT Point Improvement: 80 hours
  • 6-9 ACT Point Improvement: 150 hours+

Strategy 2: Don’t Hesitate About It

If you only missed your goal score by 1-2 points, you may not need to do anything, based on the schools you’re applying to. Assume you were aiming for a 35 and instead received a 34. You could retake the test, but you are not required to do so. If your 34 still places you near the top of the 25th-75th percentile range for your schools, it may make more sense to focus your time and energy on other aspects of your application rather than preparing for and retaking the test.

Nevertheless, if you were more than two points short of your target score, contemplate strategies 1 or 3. And if you’re applying to highly selective schools, even two points may be worth a retake.

Strategy 3: Make Changes to Your School List

If you are 3 or more points short of your target score and don’t have time to retake the test, your best option is to revise your list of schools. While you can (and should) continue to apply to your dream schools as reach schools, you must also ensure that you have enough strong match and safety schools for your scores.

Assume you were aiming for a 32 but received a 28. Boston University (middle 50 percent 29-32) was a possible match, but it’s now more of a stretch. And you might have considered Hofstra University (middle 50 percent 24-29) as a safety school, but it’s now closer to a match. So, for your score, include some safety schools like SUNY Albany (middle 50 percent 22-26) and Pace University (middle 50 percent 22-27). More information on selecting appropriate safety, match, and reach schools can be found here.

Review: What Is an Appropriate ACT Score?

So, what constitutes a good ACT score? Your composite ACT score corresponds to a percentile ranking, which tells you how you performed in comparison to all other test-takers. A score of 20 represents the 50th percentile, or the average. Moreover, it is more important to consider what constitutes a good ACT score for you. And a good score is one that qualifies you for the programs in which you are interested!

We went over a five-step procedure for calculating a goal score. In addition, we provided ACT score ranges for 38 well-known schools.

Finally, we discussed what to do if you fall short of your goal score. You can prepare for and retake the test, do nothing (if you were close to your goal), or change your school list.

Keep in mind, the most important thing is to determine what are good ACT scores for you! You may not need the same grades as some of your friends and peers.

What’s Next?

Do you have ACT questions? We have answers! See our ACT Frequently Asked Questions. We can also help you determine how difficult the ACT will be for you and why you might need to take it.

We can advise you on the significance of the ACT in the college admissions process. And what is the required ACT score for college admission?

 

Do you wish to raise your ACT score?

 

Review our best guides:

  • ACT Preparation Guide: Practice Test, Critical Information, and Section Information
  • A 36-Scorer Explains How to Get a Perfect ACT Score
  • How to Get a 36 on the ACT Reading, Math, and English Exams?

Take a look at our online ACT prep program.

 

We offer a 4-point improvement assurance, which means that if you don’t improve your score by 4 points, you’ll get your money back. You also offer a 5-day free trial, so if you don’t think it’s working for you, you can cancel at any time.