How To Calculate / Read An ACT Score

Most students are familiar with the SAT scoring system, but because the ACT test isn’t as popular, many students (and parents) don’t understand how the score is calculated. However, as colleges become more competitive, it is clear that taking the ACT test can help students get into better colleges. If you get your first ACT scores back and they aren’t to your liking, understand how to read them so you can learn from your results and do better if you choose to take the test again on one of the national testing dates.

There are fours parts of the ACT test – English, Mathematics, Reading, Science. In total, the test has 215 questions: 75 English, 60 Math, and 40 each of Reading and Science. The test grader counts the number of questions you got correct on each section to find a raw score for each of the four sections. Keep in mind that incorrect answers don’t count against you, as they do on your SAT score, so it is beneficial to answer every single question on the test, even if you have no idea which answer is correct. The test grader only counts the right answers for the raw score.

Your raw scores for each section are then converted into “scaled scores.” The ACT test score scale ranges from 1 (low) to 36 (high). Each raw score is converted to this scale and rounded up to the nearest whole number. These scaled scores are then averaged into a single “composite” score, which falls between 1 and 36. The four sections are all weighed equally when the composite score is calculated, though it is important to note that because there are a different number of questions in each section, some questions are essentially worth more than others.

Although most colleges are only interested in your composite score and your scaled scores from each section, the test grader breaks down the questions farther to help students learn from their mistakes. Each section is broken into the kinds of questions you’re asked, and you’re given a scaled 1 to 18 score for each of these question types. Here’s the breakdown:

  • English: Usage/Mechanics (40 questions) and Rhetorical Skills (35 questions)
  • Math: Pre-Algebra/Elementary Algebra (24 questions), Intermediate Algebra/Coordinate Geometry (18 questions), and Plane Geometry/Trigonometry based (18 questions)
  • Reading: Social Studies/Natural Sciences reading skills (20 questions) and Arts/Literature reading skills (20 questions)
  • Science: all one category

Again, colleges usually don’t want to know these scores, but they can help you if you intend to take the test again. Look at the sections that were your weakest, so that when you start studying again, you can focus on those areas. Remember, though, you should study for the entire test so that your skills stay sharp for all sections.

What ACT test scores should you get to be accepted into a good college? One way of setting goals is to look at the national rankings to see how you compare to other students. Strive to be in the top 50% (currently, that means a score of 20-21 or higher), and if possible, try to be in the top 25% (currently, that means a score of 24 or higher). Colleges don’t always put a huge emphasis on ACT scores, but all of your standardized test scores could potentially make a good impact on your application if you do well.


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