How is the ACT Scored?

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The ACT is scored differently from most tests that you take at school. Your ACT score on a test section is not reported as the total number of questions you answered correctly, nor does it directly represent the percentage of questions you answered correctly. Instead, the test makers add up all of your correct answers in a section to get what's called your raw score. They then use a conversion chart, or scale, that matches up a particular raw score with what's called a scaled score. The scaled score is the number that gets reported as your score for that ACT subject test. For each version of the ACT administered, the test maker uses a unique conversion chart that equates a particular raw score with a particular scaled score.

ACT scaled scores range from 1 to 36. Nearly half of all test takers score within a much narrower range: 17–23. Tests and scores on different dates vary slightly, but the data below is based on a recent administration of the test and can be considered typical.

ACT Approximate Percentile Rank*    Scaled (or Composite) Score    Percentage of Questions Correct

99%          33          90%

90%          28          75%

74%          24          63%

49%          20          53%

28%          17          43%

Notice that to earn a score of 20 (the national average), you need to answer only about 53 percent of the questions correctly. On most tests, getting only a bit more than half the questions right would not be a passing grade, nor the average. Not so on the ACT. A score of 20 puts you in the middle range of test takers.

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Just a few questions right or wrong on the ACT can make a big difference. Answering only five extra questions correctly on each subject test can move you from the bottom of the applicant pool into the middle or from the middle up to the top.

The score table includes two very strong scores: 28 and 33. Either score would impress almost any college admissions officer. A 28 would put you in the top 10 percent of the students who take the exam, and a 33 would put you in the top 1 percent. Even a 33 requires getting only about 90 percent of the questions right! So the best-scoring students will probably get at least a dozen questions wrong, but will still get the scores they need to get into college.

If you earn a score of 24, you'll be in about the 74th percentile. That means that you did as well as or better than 74 percent of the test takers—in other words, you're in the top quarter of people who took the ACT. That's a strong score, but notice that to earn this score, you need only about 63 percent of the questions correct. On most tests, a score of 63 percent is probably a D or lower. But on the ACT, it's about a B+.

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