ACT scores are an important part of a student’s college application. While they are not the sole determinant of admission, one of their important functions is to verify that a student has actually acquired the knowledge that has helped them earn their grades in school.
Counterintuitively, test scores hold considerable importance even at test optional colleges.
With this in mind, there are 3 simple questions you can answer to determine whether your ACT score is strong enough to achieve your goals.
Before we get to our questions, though, here’s a quick review of how the ACT is scored.
Question #1: Based on your academic strengths and weaknesses, what ACT score can you reasonably expect to achieve?
There are general patterns that most admissions officers expect to see based on your GPA or grades, so you can use your ACT to give them confidence in your academic performance. Here is how you calculate what they might be looking for:
How is the ACT scored?
The ACT is composed of four main multiple-choice sections:
These four multiple-choice sections are scored on a scale of 1-36. These four scores are then averaged to calculate your ACT composite score which falls between 1 and 36.
In the event that your ACT composite score is a decimal, it will be rounded to the nearest whole number.
What's the average ACT composite score?
The lowest possible ACT score is a zero. The highest possible ACT composite score is a 36.
Using the percentiles from this ACT percentile chart, we can see that the average section scores are as follows:
- English: 20
- Math: 19
- Reading: 20
- Science: 20
Therefore, the average ACT composite score is 20.
Anticipated ACT Score Using GPA
Based on a student’s GPA, I would expect his or her score to fall within the following ACT composite score range after ACT prep.
- Over 4.0: 30 - 36
- 3.5 - 4.0: 26 - 30
- 3.0 - 3.5: 22 - 26
- 2.5 - 3.0: 18 - 22
Anticipated ACT Score Using Grades
Using a student’s English class performance as a guide, here’s what I would expect from the English and Reading sections...
- Strong (A’s and high B’s) Honors/AP Students + Strong Readers: 28 - 36
- Strong (A’s and high B’s) Students in Regular English/B-Level Honors/AP Students: 26 - 32
- B Students in Regular English/C-Level Honors/AP Students: 22 - 26
- All Others: 18 - 22
On the Math and Science side, once a student has taken Algebra 2, I would expect the scores to come out as follows...
- Strong (A’s and high B’s) Honors/AP Students: 28 - 36
- Strong (A’s and high B’s) Students in Regular Level Math /B-Level Honors/AP Students: 26 - 32
- B Students in Regular Level Math/C-Level Honors/AP Students: 22 - 26
- All Others: 18 - 22
Some students outpace these estimates even without prep. Others come in well under the mark on their first testing efforts.
Question #2: What are the average ACT scores for accepted students at 3-6 of your favorite prospective colleges?
Once you’ve considered the scores listed above, you should check in with prospective colleges regarding their average ACT scores for admission.
You can use tools like BigFuture.com or your prospective colleges' admissions pages to uncover this information. (I highly recommend creating a spreadsheet to keep track of the data.)
Most colleges list the middle 50% of the range of accepted scores, eliminating the very high and very low score outliers from the accepted applicants the previous year. In order to be considered a strong applicant in the following year, you'll want to target the upper half of this range.
If your ACT scores fall in this upper half or above, you can breathe easy and continue to hone the other aspects of your application to make yourself an even more competitive applicant.
However, even if you are at or slightly above the average score, it is in your best interest to submit your scores, even at test optional schools. Your test scores help confirm or improve your academic level and give admissions officers confidence in their decision.
Question #3: What are the score requirements for merit aid at your favorite colleges?
The time to research paying for college is the same time that you are selecting the colleges you're going to apply to because, if you know where to look, you can find colleges that will pay you to attend, even with 50th or 60th percentile ACT scores.
You don't have to be a 99th percentile scoring, 4.7 GPA earning student to earn 4- and 5-figure scholarships to a great college. You just have to know where to look to find the money.
So, at the same time that you are researching admissions averages, you should also look into the score requirements for merit aid which is sometimes referred to as academic scholarships on college websites.
While getting in to a college is important, many families overlook the financial aid impact of their ACT scores.
One ACT point can make the difference between earning nothing and having thousands of dollars in free tuition money in your pocket. Without doing scholarship research early, you run the risk of walking away from testing when you are incredibly close to earning seriously impactful tuition awards.
Here's what one of my online ACT prep clients had to say...
Our daughter went through your ACT prep a few years ago and we could not have been happier! She is now a rising sophomore having earned close to $100,000 in scholarships thanks in large part to her high ACT score. (Thx again!)
Your Next Steps....
Once you’ve done the research and determined the difference between your current ACT score and the ACT score you need to be a strong applicant and contender for scholarships, you're either going to find that you are:
- within or above a competitive ACT score range and are done with testing, or
- falling a bit short of your desired score range and in need of some ACT prep.
If you still want to boost yours core, you can get started right now by accessing some of our favorite ACT prep resources here or download our free eBook, The Insider's Guide to the ACT & SAT, in which I share 35 of my top strategies for success on the college admissions exams.