ACT percentiles are percentages that show you how well you did compared to other students who also took the exam. Looking at your ACT percentile is a better way to compare your ACT score.
Answering the question, “What is a good ACT score?” can be challenging as there is no real answer. The consensus is a 24 is the minimum for a good ACT score, but that number won’t get you into some of the more competitive colleges. Checking ACT score percentiles will give you a more realistic overview of your competition.
Here’s a look at what ACT scores mean and how ACT percentiles come into play, and how your score and ACT percentile can affect your education.
First, How is the ACT Scored?
The ACT covers four different categories: English, math, reading, and science. Your score on each of these sections will range between 1 and 36. Your ACT Composite is the average of scores in all four section. The higher your ACT score composite, the better you’ve performed. 36 is the highest you can achieve.
So, What is a “Good” Score?
As we said earlier, it is not easy to answer this question. The best answer to what is a good score is ‘it depends’. While a 24 is a great number to shoot for, it may not be enough to get into your reach schools or maybe even your dream school.
A “good” score depends entirely on you, your goals, and the school you wish to apply to. For example, if you’re struggling with this test, getting an ACT score of 20 can be considered good. However, with this score, you may only qualify for less competitive schools. If you’re aiming to apply to competitive colleges, you’re going to have to shoot a bit higher than 20.
To determine what score you need to aim for, you should in fact be looking at ACT percentiles and researching the test scores schools are looking for in their students.
What are ACT Percentiles?
ACT percentiles are percentages that demonstrate and compare your performance with other students who also took the exam. If your composite score was a 31, for instance, you would be in the 95th percentile. This means you did better on the entire ACT than 95% of the other students.
This table and breakdown of ACT percentiles and scores for the 2022-2023 reporting year can help you visualize how you stack up against other students:
Using the table, you can also see how many students scored the same as you. If you had a composite score of 20, you’d be in the 55th ACT percentile. To figure out how many other students scored a 20, you take the next highest ACT percentile and then subtract 55, so 60 – 55 = 5. 5%. That means the percentage of students who earned a 20 composite score was 5.5%.
The 50th percentile would represent the median ACT score, which can be used to estimate an “average” score—so approximately 19-20 on the composite and for each of the section’s scores.
The distribution of ACT percentiles will change from year to year, but not by much. You can always find an updated table on the ACT website.
How Can You Find Your ACT Percentile?
Since ACT percentiles are only out for the previous year, you may be wondering how you actually find out your ACT percentile now. After all, once you’ve started college the following year, you likely won’t care as much about any of your test scores.
Well, your test results will actually tell you! Next to your score there will also be additional information about your ACT percentile and how you stacked up against other students.
You can also calculate it from the chart above. For example, if you scored a 34, you’ll be in the 99th percentile. That means only 1 in 100 test takers has managed to get a score of 34. With a score of 34, you’ll be part of an elite group of students who have a good chance of getting into all colleges, including the most competitive.
An ACT score of 25 is at the higher end and puts you ahead of about 85% of other students who took the test.
With a score of 19, you’ll be on par with 50% of other students who took the test.
The chart above acts as a handy reference for calculating your percentile when you know your score.
ACT Percentiles and Scores for College Applications
Very few colleges have published ACT score requirements or “minimums” for their applicants. However, it does help to find out the average ACT percentiles of the students who are accepted so you know what schools are looking for. Fortunately, there are ways to get this information.
Almost every college on College Raptor, for instance, has information about the ACT scores for accepted students.
Here’s an example from the University of California — Davis admissions page from College Raptor:
This chart shows that most students that were accepted to the University of California – Davis had an ACT Composite score of 24 to 32, an ACT Math score of 24 to 32, and an ACT English score of 23 to 30.
It also shows the 25th and 75th percentiles. This means that 25% of accepted students actually scored below a 24 on their ACT composite and 25% of students scored above a 32. If you scored a 32, you’re above the 75th percentile. If your score falls directly in between 24 and 32, you are in the 50th ACT percentile.
Scoring above the 75th percentile doesn’t automatically mean you’ll get accepted. There are several other factors that play into your applications including your intended major, GPA, recommendation letters, extracurricular activities, and more. All of these can impact your acceptance odds. The good news is having a lower-than-average ACT score doesn’t necessarily rule you out either!
Can Your ACT Percentile and Score Affect Financial Aid?
Yes, they do. ACT percentiles affect more than just your admission chances – they can impact your ability to win financial aid based on merit. Some grants and scholarships are awarded based on the student’s academic profile. If you’re in a higher ACT percentile bracket or scored higher than average compared to other students or scholarship applicants, it could boost your chances of winning thousands of dollars in scholarships.
Colleges and universities often have information about their merit-based grants and scholarships right on their website under financial aid. If the necessary information isn’t published, you can always reach out to the school and ask about test scores and financial assistance.
Can You Improve Your ACT Percentile?
You can absolutely improve your ACT percentile, but it will take work! Fitting in extra hours of study is essential to scoring well on the ACT (and SAT). If you want to score better than the other students, you’re going to have to put in the hours. This means taking practice tests, acknowledging your weaker areas, and using study methods to improve them.
You can always take the ACT more than once especially if you didn’t score as well as you would have liked the first time around. There are no penalties for sitting for the exam more than once. If your ACT percentile was a bit lower than you’d like, we wholly recommend retaking it until you’re happy.
It’s important to keep in mind that your ACT score is just one factor that is used in college admissions decisions. Many times, students are able to make up for less-than-great ACT scores by having an exceptional application in other ways that don’t involve their GPA and test scores. This can include community service, internships, extracurriculars, and more. So even if you find yourself in the lower ACT percentile bracket, don’t give up on receiving an acceptance letter just yet! You can take the test more than once and use this second opportunity to work harder to improve your score.
Have you taken the ACT already? It’s possible to learn more about your admission chances to a particular school by knowing your ACT scores. College Raptor’s College Match tool is FREE and helps you determine your admission chances based on your ACT percentile and results, GPA, extracurriculars, and more!