What Is a Good ACT Score?

What Is a Good ACT Score?
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By Hannah Muniz

Published on November 20, 2020

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In addition to a stellar personal statement, a high GPA, and strong letters of recommendation, an impressive standardized test score can help you get into a good college.

One of two major college entrance exams in the U.S., the ACT assesses high school students' math, science, and verbal skills. While there's no set passing score, earning a higher score can help you get accepted to the college of your choice.

One of two major college entrance exams in the U.S., the ACT assesses high school students’ math, science, and verbal skills.

Not all colleges require ACT scores for admission, especially since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Be sure to check with your schools ahead of time to see whether they plan to require ACT scores for the year you're applying. If you're unsure whether to sit for the ACT, you can refer to this list of test-optional colleges.

Before you register to take the ACT, you'll need to determine what score to aim for. In other words, what's a good ACT score? And what score will you need to get into your dream college?

What Is a Good ACT Score Overall?

The ACT consists of four sections: English, Mathematics, Reading, and Science. Each subject is scored on a scale of 1-36 in one-point increments. Your composite, or total, ACT score is the average of your four section scores (meaning it also uses a scale of 1-36).

A good ACT score will place you above the majority of test takers. In other words, any score above the median, or 50th percentile, is a good score. Percentiles indicate the percentage of test takers you scored the same as or higher than in a given testing year. For example, if you scored in the 65th percentile, this would mean you did better than 65% of test takers (and worse than 35%).

Median ACT Scores (2020-21)


Median ACT Scores (2020-21)


Median ACT Scores (2020-21)


Median ACT Scores (2020-21)


Median ACT Scores (2020-21)


You'll need to aim for around 20 on each ACT section if you're hoping to hit the median. An ACT composite score above 20 can be considered a good score, as it means you did better than the majority of test takers. The higher your ACT score, the higher your percentile ranking will be.

The table below contains examples of what many colleges consider good ACT scores based on percentiles. Note that certain scores are estimates based on available percentile data.

ACT Percentiles, 2020-21
Composite English Math Reading Science Percentile
36 36 36 36 36 100
35 35 34-35 35-36 35 99
31 33-34 30-31 33-34 31 95
29 30-31 28 31-32 28 90
27 27-28 26 29-30 26 85
25-26 25 25 27 25 80
24 24 24 25 24 75
23 23 23 24 23 70
22 22 22 23 22 65
21 21 21 22 21 60
20 20 19 21 55
19-20 19 18 20 20 50 (median)

Source: ACT Inc.

What Is a Good ACT Score Based on Your Target Colleges?

While percentiles are useful for seeing how your ACT scores compare to those of other students, they don't tell you what specific scores to aim for based on the schools you're applying to.

The reality is that colleges and universities maintain different score expectations. At a highly selective school, for example, an extremely strong ACT score of 33 could position you toward the lower end of applicants, reducing your chances of getting admitted. In contrast, this same score could place you in the top 5% of applicants at a less selective institution.

Simply put, the notion of a good ACT score is relative — it all depends on what your schools are looking for and how competitive their applicants are. A good score for you will be one that's comparable to those of admitted applicants.

The notion of a good ACT score is relative — it all depends on what your schools are looking for and how competitive their applicants are.

So how do you figure out what ACT score to aim for? Simply go online and look for the college's middle 50% of test scores, which is a range that spans the 25th to 75th percentile ACT scores of admitted first-year students. Ideally, you'll get a score close to or higher than the 75th percentile score, but if that's too difficult, you can aim for somewhere closer to the bottom of that range.

To find a school's ACT score range, go to its official website; this data will typically be published on a first-year class profile page or a facts and figures page. Alternatively, you can use a search engine to look for pages related to that college and the keywords "ACT score range."

As an example, say you're thinking of applying to Emory University. You can find ACT score data on the school's class of 2024 profile page. According to this page, the middle 50% for the ACT is 32-35, meaning you should try to get around 35 — a near-perfect ACT score — to give yourself the best shot of securing an acceptance letter.

The table below lists the middle 50% ACT score ranges of first-year students admitted in fall 2020 at 20 popular institutions across the U.S.

Class of 2024 ACT Scores for Admitted Students at 20 Popular Schools
School 25th Percentile ACT Score 75th Percentile ACT Score
Boston College 33 35
Columbia University 34 35
Hamilton College 32 34
Indiana University Bloomington 25 32
Miami University 25 31
The Pennsylvania State University 27 33
Tufts University 33 35
University of California, Berkeley 29 35
University of California, Davis 28 34
University of Georgia 30 34
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign 28 34
University of Maryland, College Park 30 34
University of Michigan 32 35
University of Minnesota Twin Cities 26 32
University of Pennsylvania 34 36
University of Southern California 32 35
University of Texas at Austin 26 34
University of Washington 27 33
Villanova University 31 34
Wesleyan University 33 35

What Is a Good ACT Writing Score?

In addition to the four sections that make up your composite score, the ACT offers an optional Writing section. In this section, you must compose an essay that describes your perspective on an issue.

You only need to complete this section if at least one of the colleges you're applying to requires the essay for admission purposes. Be aware that the ACT with Writing ($70) costs more than the ACT without Writing ($55).

Unlike the English, Math, Reading, and Science sections, the ACT Writing section is scored on a scale of 2-12. This score does not count toward your composite score — it is reported separately. Two readers each assign your essay a grade on a scale of 1-6 in four domains:

Ideas and Analysis Development and Support Organization Language Use and Conventions

These domain scores are combined and then averaged to give you a composite Writing score between 2 and 12.

Like the other four ACT sections, the strength of your essay score depends on what percentile you place in. Again, any score above the median means you've done better than the majority of test takers. The higher your score above the 50th percentile, the stronger and more impressive your ACT Writing performance will be to colleges.

The following table gives an overview of good ACT essay scores based on national percentiles:

ACT Writing (Essay) Percentiles, 2020-21
ACT Writing Score Percentile
12 100
11 99
10 99
9 96
8 90
7 66
6 51 (median)

Source: ACT Inc.

As the chart shows, an ACT Writing score above 6 can be considered strong, especially if you score an 8, which puts you in the top 10% of all test takers.

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How to Get a Good Score on the ACT

You can't expect to do well on the ACT if you don't give yourself ample time to prep for test day. Try to set aside at least a month — ideally several months — to review key exam topics, take practice tests, and figure out your biggest weaknesses.

Coming up with a daily or weekly routine can help you stay consistent with your studying. You can also use a planner to keep track of your progress and remind yourself when and what to review.

The best resources you can use to prepare for the ACT are those created by the test administrators themselves. The official website offers an array of free test-prep materials, including a personalized program called ACT Academy, a full study guide, and online practice questions for each exam section. You can also buy "The Official ACT Prep Guide" or section-specific guides.

A prep book can bolster your ACT knowledge by guiding you through the different exam topics and offering critical test-taking strategies not found in official materials. Aside from "The Official ACT Prep Guide," helpful ACT prep books include those created by well-known test-prep companies, such as Barron's and Kaplan. You can buy or rent books from Amazon or borrow a copy from your local library.

Full-length ACT practice tests help prepare you for exam content and the timing of the test. Remember that the ACT is a three-hour test with few breaks — you'll want to make sure you develop the mental and physical stamina needed to get through it. Use practice tests to track your progress toward reaching your target score and to identify any weak points in your test-taking strategy and content knowledge.

One mistake many students make is spending too much time reviewing exam topics and material they're already comfortable with. The key to doing well on the ACT is to address your weaknesses in your prep. Use practice tests and questions to look for patterns and to determine what you should spend the bulk of your study time on.

Not everyone has the time or money to retake the ACT, but if you can, do it. Most students take the ACT two or three times — some even more — in an effort to do better on the exam. Research shows that students tend to earn higher scores on a second attempt. ACT Inc. found that 57% of 2015 high school graduates who retook the test raised their composite ACT scores on their second attempt.

Feature Image: Phil Boorman / Cultura / Getty Images

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