ACT Scoring and the Average ACT Score

The ACT (American College Test) is a national college admissions exam that tests knowledge and ability in four major subject areas:

  • Science
  • Reading
  • Mathematics
  • English

The exam format is 215 multiple choice questions, broken into four separate tests, and also a separate thirty minute writing test. ACT test results are accepted by all four year universities and colleges across the United States.

Across the nation, an average of over 43% of high school graduates have taken the ACT before they graduate. The Midwest and Rocky Mountain region have the highest percentage of students taking the ACT test. Nearly all high school students in Michigan, Colorado and Illinois take the test before they graduate.

The ACT test is much less popular in the north Atlantic. In Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine, and Delaware under 20% of high school graduates take the ACT..

Average ACT Scores

ACT scores, grades, and class rank are the main criteria a college uses to determine if an applicant will be accepted. The ACT test scores out of 36 points, with a possible score range from 1 to 36. The nationwide average ACT score is fairly consistent from year to year, and was just over 21.1 in 2009. Nearly 30% of ACT takers score between 19 and 23. Over 55% of all ACT takers score between 17 and 25. While technically it is possible a student can score a 1 on the ACT, over 99% of students earn a 12 or above.

The average ACT score fluctuates from state to state. The states typically having the highest average ACT test scores are Washington (23.1), Connecticut (23.3), Massachusetts (23.6), and New York (23.1).

The states scoring the lowest were Florida (19.8), Washington DC (19.1), and Mississippi (18.9).

The minimum ACT required score for admission will differ for each school. Although there are exceptions, most public colleges require an 18.

Most Ivy League schools only accept applicants whose ACT scores are in the 90th percentile, which in most years equates to a minimum score of 28.

Achieving a 36 on the ACT does not require getting every question correct, but is difficult nonetheless. Only 1 in every 4,000 students earn a 36.

Typically a score over 34 puts a student in the top percentile. A score of 30 is considered to be very good and is only earned by the top 4% of all students.

How the ACT is Scored

The ACT score is calculated by using the average of the scores from all four test sections. All of the sections are scored on a scale of 1 to 36. If the average score is not a whole number, the ACT rounds the score up to the nearest whole number. Like other standardized admissions tests, the ACT has created a “College Readiness Benchmark” for each subject area.

The readiness benchmark is supposed to be an accurate gauge of whether a student is intellectually and academically ready for college. The ACT college readiness minimum benchmark scores are 22 for mathematics, 18 for English, 21 for reading, and 24 for science. The weighted average of all four of the college readiness benchmarks is 21.25, which means a student who gets a 21.1 does not meet the level of readiness that the ACT indicates is required to succeed in college. Surprisingly, the ACT reports that only 23% of all test takers in 2017 exceeded the benchmarks in all of the categories.

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