How to Get a 36 on the ACT: Advice From Perfect Scorers

Less than 0.5% of test-takers earn a perfect ACT score each year. We compiled the best ACT advice from students who scored a perfect 36.

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by Danika Miller

Updated August 15, 2022

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How to Get a 36 on the ACT: Advice From Perfect Scorers


The ACT is a popular college entrance exam and assessment of college readiness. Students can take the test up to 12 times to achieve the highest score possible.

So what is a perfect ACT score? The perfect composite score is 36. This score is an average of your four section scores for English, Math, Reading, and Science.

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While you don't need a perfect score to get into top colleges, earning a full 36 ACT score can help you be a competitive applicant. Scoring 36 is uncommon and will take a lot of preparation. We interviewed two students who achieved a perfect ACT score and compiled their advice for acing the test.

How Many People Get a 36 on the ACT?

Getting a perfect ACT score is a pretty rare feat. The number of students in 2020 who scored a full 36 was 5,579 out of over 1.6 million — or about 0.33% of test-takers.

Average ACT Scores Nationwide
ACT Score Percentile Number of Test-Takers (Out of 1,670,497) Percentage
36 100 5,579 0.33%
35 99 16,061 0.96%
34 99 20,900 1.25%
33 97 24,657 1.48%
32 96 28,240 1.69%
31 94 32,128 1.92%
30 92 37,405 2.24%
29 90 39,982 2.39%

Don't be discouraged by the rarity of a perfect score. Even if you don't earn a 36, coming close is still an excellent result. Scoring in the 90th percentile can help you earn admission to top universities and unlock scholarship opportunities.

The middle 50% of students enrolled in prestigious universities like Cornell, Brown, Princeton, Stanford, and NYU all scored between 31 and 36.

The "middle 50%" is a term that means half the admitted students scored in that range (25% of students scored below that range and 25% scored above). So if the middle 50% at Brown is 33-35, then 75% of students scored a 33 or higher on the ACT.

Here's a brief overview of middle 50% ACT scores for some of the most selective schools in the U.S. All scores are for the class of 2025 except where noted.

ACT Middle 50% Test Scores for Top Schools, Class of 2025
School Middle 50% ACT Scores
Brown University 33-35
Columbia University 34-35
Cornell University 33-35
Duke University* 34-35
Johns Hopkins University 34-35
New York University** 31-35
Northwestern University* 33-35
Princeton University 32-35
Stanford University 32-35
University of Pennsylvania 35-36
* Class of 2024.
** Graduating class not specified.

How Is a Perfect ACT Score Calculated?

The ACT consists of 215 questions across four sections: English, Math, Reading, and Science. You have two hours and 55 minutes to complete the test.

Each section is given a raw score, which then is converted into a scaled score on a scale of 1-36. Finally, your four scaled scores are averaged together to create your ACT composite score.

What does this mean exactly? Ultimately, a perfect ACT score doesn't equate to a perfect test. You can likely miss a couple of questions and still get a perfect 36.

The exact conversion between raw and scaled score will depend on your test date and the other students who took it on that date — so the exact number of questions you can miss will vary.

How to Get a Perfect ACT Score: 5 Essential Tips

We spoke with two perfect ACT scorers to learn more about the test-taking strategies that helped them ace the test. Here are their top five.

1. Change Your Mindset

Try not to approach the ACT feeling worried about how your performance will impact your chances of getting into college. And don't consider it a measure of your intelligence, either.

"I like to tell students that it's more like a game — the test makers use certain tricks, and if you learn how to identify and overcome those tricks you can get as many points as possible in the allotted time," said Grant Pace, a tutor with Ivy Tutors Network and perfect ACT scorer.

The ACT essentially measures how well you can take the ACT. If you approach the test with this mindset, it can take off some of the pressure and change the way you prepare.

2. Take Practice Tests and Use Official Study Materials

Using official ACT prep materials and practice tests is key to performing well.

"For any student trying to get a perfect score, exposure to test material is a huge factor," said Pace. "The difference between a 35 and a 36 can come down to one question, so it's important to expose yourself to as many questions as possible and learn from any mistakes made so you don't repeat them."

3. Mimic Actual Testing Conditions

The time allotment for the ACT can feel pretty intense. For example, on the ACT English section, you only get about 36 seconds per question. Practicing the test timed will help you feel comfortable with the time pressure on test day.

"Take a practice test under testing conditions and then go through the questions you missed," advised Pace. "From there, assess what questions you think you could quickly learn how to do correctly and which ones you can't — knowing which questions to skip and guess on can save time to study and answer more manageable questions."

4. Analyze the Questions You Miss

Perfect ACT scorers take their studying to the next level by really analyzing the questions they miss on practice tests. Reviewing your mistakes carefully will help you continue to improve.

"For every question you got wrong, write a paragraph detailing what you got wrong, how to prove the correct answer, and a tip for next time," said Alex Nelson, a mentor with Ivy Scholars and perfect ACT and SAT scorer.

Nelson calls these "mistake journals" and encourages students to use them to notice trends and improvements. This can help you focus your study time on weaker subject matter.

5. Skip the Last-Minute Prep

Cramming the night before and morning of your ACT isn't a strong strategy. Many agree that retaining information last minute is unlikely and it's better not to burn out so close to the test.

"What I always tell my students is truly last-minute, day-before preparation isn't able to help all that much," said Nelson. "Once you reach a week before the test, it's too late to cram your head with new equations and vocab words; instead, focus on material you understand but may have made careless errors on previously."

Last-minute prep should involve energizing yourself for a long test day. Get a good night's rest, stay hydrated, and have a filling breakfast.


With Advice From:

Portrait of Grant Pace

Grant Pace

Grant Pace is a tutor at Ivy Tutors Network in New York City. His success in AP courses and on standardized tests — including a perfect 36 on the ACT and a 2300 on the SAT — earned him honors at the White House in 2016 as one of the Department of Education's 161 Presidential Scholars. It also led him to be a sought-after tutor while still in high school. Now graduating from Columbia University, Grant has been accepted to Harvard Law School and will begin his studies in two years. There, he plans to focus on environmental law, a continuation of his major in environmental science at Columbia.

Portrait of Alex Nelson

Alex Nelson

Alex Nelson has served as a full-time mentor and tutor for 12 years. After scoring a perfect 1600 on the SAT in high school, he joined The Princeton Review where he worked as a college admissions mentor and tutor for the SAT, ACT, ISEE, GRE, GMAT, and LSAT. Over nine years, he became their highest-level "Premiere" tutor and teacher trainer for all of Houston. Alex joined Ivy Scholars in 2018. He specializes in improving organization and study habits and is a master at helping high-scoring students raise their SAT and ACT scores to the top 1%.


Feature Image: Ridofranz / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images

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