How to Calculate ACT Scores: Step-by-Step Guide

To earn the highest ACT score, you'll need to take many practice tests. Learn how to calculate your ACT score in just a few easy steps.

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by Thomas Broderick

Published on June 17, 2022

Edited by Hannah Muniz
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How to Calculate ACT Scores: Step-by-Step Guide
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College applicants with the highest ACT score hold an advantage over the competition. A good ACT score emphasizes to admissions officers both your strengths and readiness to tackle college-level coursework. Top scorers may also qualify for merit scholarships.

Learning how ACT scores are calculated can help you determine how many questions you can afford to get wrong on test day and what your biggest strengths and weaknesses are.

Keep reading to learn more about ACT scoring and how raw scores translate into scale scores.

How Is the ACT Scored?

The ACT is scored using a multistep process.

First, you'll get a raw score for each of the four exam sections: English, Math, Reading, and Science. Raw scores are simply the number of questions you answered correctly.

Incorrect answers do not count against your raw scores. As such, try to answer every question on the ACT, even if you have to guess.

Next, your raw scores are converted into scale section scores on a scale of 1-36.

Finally, your scale section scores are averaged to give you a single ACT composite score, also out of 36. This composite score will appear in the top-left corner of your ACT score report.

How raw scores translate into scale scores varies slightly depending on the test. This is why each official practice test comes with its own ACT scoring chart.

What about the essay? The optional ACT Writing section is scored on a scale of 2-12. Graders use a rubric to judge your essay's use of language, organization, analysis, and development. Your Writing section score does not factor into your composite ACT score.

How to Calculate Your ACT Score in 4 Easy Steps

You need only a few minutes to learn how to calculate your ACT score. Before starting, you'll need to find the ACT scoring chart included with your practice exam. This chart will provide the most accurate conversions of raw scores into scale scores.

If you don't have your practice test's ACT score chart handy, you can use the sample score chart below to estimate your scale scores.

Step 1: Find Your Raw Score for Each Section

The first step is to use the answer key that came with your ACT practice exam to calculate your raw score. Award yourself 1 point for each correct answer. Do not deduct any points for incorrect answers.

Take your time grading the English, Math, Reading, and Science sections. Rushing through grading may result in careless mistakes.

Example: After finishing the 2021-22 ACT practice test, Justine takes out that test's answer key. She marks questions she answered incorrectly before totaling her raw scores for each section. She answered 58 questions correctly on English, 53 on Math, 23 on Reading, and 30 on Science.

Step 2: Convert Your Raw Scores Into Scale Scores

Next, you'll need to convert your four raw scores (one for each section) into scale scores out of 36. To do this, you'll need your practice test's ACT score chart.

Find the column on the chart representing the section of the ACT you want to score, and then locate the raw score you earned. Look for the matching scale score (out of 36) in the leftmost or rightmost column.

If your ACT practice test doesn't come with a scoring chart, you can use an official ACT score chart, like the one below, to estimate how your raw scores may translate into scale scores.

Example: Using her practice test's scoring chart, Justine drags her finger across the chart from each raw score to the correct scale score. The chart shows that a 58 raw score on English corresponds to a scale score of 26, a 53 on Math to a 33, a 23 on Reading to a 21, and a 30 on Science to a 26.

Step 3: Average Together Your Scale Scores

The final step involves calculating your ACT composite score. College admissions counselors see this score first when reviewing your official score report.

You can use a calculator to find the average of your four scale scores. To find the average, add together your four scale scores and then divide the sum by 4.

Your result may include a decimal point. According to ACT Inc., round up to the nearest whole number if the decimal is 0.5 or higher, and round down if the decimal is less than 0.5.

Example: Justine uses the calculator on her phone to find the average of her four scale scores, which are 26, 33, 21, and 26. The average comes out to 26.5, which she rounds up to 27. This means her composite ACT score is 27 out of 36.

Step 4 (Optional): Estimate Your Writing Score

Estimating your ACT Writing score takes more time and effort than calculating your raw score, scale score, or composite score. You must use the same rubric as official ACT graders and consider how your essay develops ideas, organizes thoughts, and uses language.

The official ACT website provides many sample essays, including those with high scores and those with the lowest ACT score possible. It's a good idea to spend time reviewing these before grading your practice essay.

You might also consider asking a teacher, guidance counselor, parent, or friend to grade your essay for you using the ACT Writing rubric.

How Many Questions Can You Miss on the ACT?

The ACT score chart below can help you estimate how many questions you can afford to miss on the ACT and still meet your target score. This scoring table was taken from the 2021-22 official ACT practice exam.

Remember that the conversions between raw and scale scores can vary slightly depending on the test. To calculate ACT scores with 100% accuracy, you must use the ACT scoring chart that accompanies your specific practice exam.

If your practice test doesn't have an ACT score chart, you can use the table below to estimate your scale scores.

ACT Scoring Chart
Scale Score English Raw Score Math Raw Score Reading Raw Score Science Raw Score
36 72-75 58-60 39-40 38-40
35 70-71 56-57 38 37
34 68-69 54-55 37 36
33 67 53 35-36 35
32 66 51-52 34 34
31 65 49-50 33
30 64 48 33
29 62-63 46-47 32 32
28 61 44-45 31 31
27 60 41-43 30
26 58-59 39-40 29 30
25 56-57 37-38 28 28-29
24 53-55 35-36 27 26-27
23 51-52 33-34 26 25
22 48-50 31-32 24-25 23-24
21 45-47 30 23 22
20 42-44 28-29 21-22 20-21
19 40-41 26-27 20 19
18 38-39 24-25 19 17-18
17 36-37 21-23 17-18 15-16
16 33-35 17-20 16 13-14
15 30-32 13-16 14-15 12
14 27-29 10-12 12-13 11
13 25-26 8-9 11 10
12 23-24 6-7 9-10 9
11 19-22 5 7-8 8
10 16-18 4 6 7
9 13-15 5 6
8 11-12 3 5
7 9-10 4 4
6 7-8 2 3 3
5 6
4 4-5 1 2 2
3 3 1
2 2 1
1 0-1 0 0 0

As you can see, you could miss up to three questions on English, two on Math, one on Reading, and two on Science (eight total) and still get a max ACT score of 36.

Even if you miss a few more questions and earn a 35 on two sections, you'll still wind up getting a 36 composite ACT score since these scores would average out to 35.5 (and thus round up to 36).

Some students are stronger in certain subjects. If this sounds like you, you could try to make up for a lower section score by overperforming in another section.

For example, say your target ACT score is 32 and you're better at reading and English than you are at math and science. In this case, you might aim for the following:

Frequently Asked Questions About ACT Scoring

true Why do ACT score conversions differ for each test?

How raw ACT scores convert to scale scores differs somewhat with each ACT exam due to variations in difficulty among tests. So on an easier test, you'd need to answer more questions correctly to get a higher composite score out of 36.

What does this mean exactly? A harder or easier ACT exam shouldn't impact your ability to earn a certain ACT score, since scale scores all represent the same performance tier regardless of test date or exam difficulty.

true What is a good ACT score?

In general, a good ACT score puts you in or above the 75th percentile. According to official 2022 ACT percentiles, this means you'll need at least a 24 composite score.

That said, you may need higher than a 24 to get into competitive colleges. Creating a score goal for these schools involves researching the scores of the middle 50% of admitted students. This range can give you a target to meet or exceed.

Scholarship eligibility can also affect what constitutes a good ACT score. Some colleges require a specific score for institutional scholarships, for example.

true Where can you find reliable ACT practice tests?

The best place to look for high-quality ACT practice tests and sample questions is the official ACT website. ACT Inc. currently provides one free full-length practice test in addition to many other test prep resources like practice questions, live classes, tutoring, and a self-paced prep course.

Popular test prep companies, like The Princeton Review and Kaplan, also publish high-quality practice tests for free online and in top-rated ACT prep books.

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