Understanding Your ACT Test Scores

ACT test scores can affect so many things, and a 36 would be a perfect score

Flickr user Stephan Mosel

You probably felt quite a bit of relief once you bubbled in your final answer of your final test section for the ACT. All that prep work, that studying, the long test itself—finally done. Of course, then you had to wait about ten days before getting the results back. Since ACT test scores can affect anything from acceptance odds to financial aid, many students are eager to see their results.

So let’s break those results down so you can better understand your score.

Composite Score

The composite score is the compiled score of all the different test categories—English, Mathematics, Reading, and Science. Each section has a total possible score of 36, and your composite score (also out of 36) is the rounded average of the four tests. So, for example, if you got a 28 on the English, 27 on the Math, 31 on the Reading, and 29 on Science, your composite score would be 29. (Technically the average would be 28.75, but the ACT rounds to the nearest whole number).

The national average scores for the composite ACT is 20.8 (or 21). If you want to know how your score stacks up against the averages of admitted students at a certain school, check out their College Raptor page for a direct comparison! (If you have a free College Raptor account, it’ll even show you how your ACT score can affect your acceptance odds!)

Section ACT Test Scores

As we said earlier, each of the four tests is scored out of 36 possible points. Points are not deducted from your score for getting a wrong answer (something the SAT had done in the past) but you will not be awarded points either. So taking a guess isn’t a bad strategy when you’ve exhausted all other logical options.

Revamped ACT Student Report

For the 2016/17 testing cycle, ACT revamped their score reports given back to students. The new format is not only easier to read, but chock full of useful information as well. The report will, of course, give you your composite and section scores, but it will also show your scores in relation to the readiness benchmarks set by the ACT, as well as state and national average scores.

The report will also give a more in-depth look at the scoring of the subject tests. Each test has subcategories, for example:


  • Preparing for Higher Math
  • Number & Quantity
  • Algebra
  • Functions
  • Geometry
  • Statistics and Probability
  • Integrating Essential Skills
  • Modeling

Each of these subcategories will have total number of questions asked, and how many you got correct. It will also show you where you fall within the readiness benchmark of each subcategory.

Ever take a career aptitude test? Well, the ACT has a neat little section of the student report that gives you some insight into potential career paths as well, depending on where your academic strengths lie. It can plot you on a chart between the categories: Working with Data, Working with Things, Working with Ideas, and Working with People.

In addition to that, the ACT will also measure your fit to your intended major—with high, medium, and low fit ratings.

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