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What’s the difference between a good ACT score and a great ACT score? One way colleges make that distinction is by looking at ACT score percentiles.

The ACT score percentiles help colleges compare students to one another, rather than just looking at everyone’s individual score. Learn more about your ACT score’s percentile so you can maximize both your study time and your admission chances. Then find out your current score percentile using our detailed charts.

What’s a Percentile Ranking?

Your percentile ranking is a comparison of your ACT score with everyone else who took the test. Your percentile tells you how you did compared to everyone else on the ACT – or more specifically, how many people you scored higher than. The ACT will give you a percentile ranking for your composite score, as well as your four subject area scores. (For more on how the ACT is scored and how your composite is calculated, check out our guide!)

Your percentile is not like a grade out of one hundred; it’s only a comparison between you and other students.

As an example, if you get a percentile ranking of 70, it means you scored higher than 70 percent of test-takers. It doesn’t mean you got exactly 70 percent of the test questions correct. (In fact, the ACT is tricky enough that if you got about 70 percent of the questions right, your percentile ranking would be closer to 75 percent.)

What Are ACT Score Percentiles?

Now that you know about percentile rankings, it’s helpful to know what the ACT’s percentiles are, both for composite scores and individual subject area scores.

You can use the following score chart to find percentile rankings for your overall ACT composite score and for each section (English, Math, Reading, and Science).

To find your percentile, first find your score between 1 and 36 on the left-hand side, and then slide over to the correct subject area or composite to see your percentile ranking. For example, a composite score of 30 has a 94th percentile ranking, but a Reading section score of 30 has an 89th percentile ranking.

Here's the most recent data (from 2016):

 Score English Percentiles Math Percentiles Reading Percentiles Science Percentiles Composite Percentiles 36 100 100 100 100 100 35 99 99 99 99 99 34 98 99 98 99 99 33 96 98 96 98 99 32 95 97 94 97 97 31 93 96 91 96 96 30 91 95 89 94 94 29 89 93 86 93 92 28 87 91 83 92 89 27 85 88 81 89 86 26 82 84 77 86 83 25 79 78 74 83 79 24 74 74 71 76 74 23 69 68 66 70 69 22 64 62 60 63 63 21 58 58 55 56 57 20 52 54 48 49 50 19 46 50 42 41 44 18 41 45 36 33 37 17 37 38 31 27 31 16 33 28 26 22 24 15 28 16 21 17 18 14 21 7 16 13 13 13 17 3 11 9 8 12 13 1 7 6 4 11 10 1 4 4 1 10 7 1 2 2 1 9 4 1 1 1 1 8 2 1 1 1 1 7 1 1 1 1 1 6 1 1 1 1 1 5 1 1 1 1 1 4 1 1 1 1 1 3 1 1 1 1 1 2 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1

Percentile rankings via ACT.org

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Focus on the Middle

One important thing to note about these percentiles is that they change fastest with middle range scores. For example, in terms of your percentile ranking, there is no difference between a 33 and a 36 composite – anything higher than a 33 is in the 99th percentile. This is true on the very low end of scores too: any composite between 1 and 11 is in the 1st percentile.

However, things change quickly in the middle. For example, a 3-point jump from 17 to 20 raises your percentile ranking from 31st to 50th, or in other words, from below average to average.

Or to take another example, a 3-point jump from 26 to 28 takes you from the 83rd percentile to the 92nd percentile. Getting into the 90th percentile is fantastic because that puts you in the top 10 percent of all students.

This means that if you get a low or middle-range score, raising your composite by just a few points can have a dramatic effect on your percentile ranking, and thus your college admission chances. This also means, unless you are shooting for the most elite schools, if you get a 33 composite or higher, you probably shouldn't worry about retaking the ACT.

Do My Subscore Percentiles Count?

In case you’re curious, you can also take a look at more detailed percentile rankings for the ACT’s subscores over at the ACT website. This data (from school year 2015-2016) can give you more detail about your performance on the ACT.

For example, say you had English subscores of 18 on Usage/Mechanics but only 12 on Rhetorical Skills. That would put you in the 99th percentile for Usage/Mechanics but in the 71st for Rhetorical Skills. While you are well above-average for both subscores, if you wanted to retake the ACT it would be smart to study rhetorical skills English questions.

However, colleges likely will not look too closely at your subscores or subscore percentile rankings. When it comes to the ACT, your overall composite score is most important – that is the number most colleges use when they report admitted student score ranges, and it is also the score most often used in scholarship calculations.

Your overall subject area scores are important, as well – particularly in English, Reading, and Math, since they correspond to Writing, Critical Reading, and Math on the SAT. The subscores will be used to get more context about your performance; they are not be-all, end-all numbers.

Does My ACT Percentile Actually Matter?

Percentile rankings are important because they help colleges compare your performance on the ACT to other students. But the ACT score ranges for the colleges you are applying to are more important than your percentile ranking.

Colleges have ACT score ranges for admitted students that usually don’t change drastically from year to year, and they will rely on those ranges when making admissions decisions. To find ACT score ranges for any college, search “[Name of College/University] ACT Scores Prepscholar.” By doing this for all of the colleges you want to apply to, you can come up with a target ACT score. Your target score should be near the top of that school's ranges, by the way, not right in the middle.

For more on this process, including tools to come up with your personal target score, check out our detailed guide.

The goal is to get a higher-than-average ACT score for your dream college.

Though your target score is most important, ACT percentiles can help you interpret your own scores better. For example, say you got a 30 on Math (95th percentile) and a 24 on English (74th percentile). Without the percentile data, it would be hard to say exactly how much better you did on Math than English. With the data, you know that your math score is excellent and your English score, while strong, could be easily improved – a 3-point jump to 27 could net you an 85th percentile score.

To sum up, percentiles are a very helpful tool – both for college admissions officers looking at your application, but also for you in your own studying. But rather than obsessing over your ranking, aim for a score that is competitive for the colleges you want to go to.

What’s Next?

Dreaming big? Find out what ACT scores you need to get into the Ivy League. And if you’re aiming for perfection, check out our guide to a perfect 36 by our resident full scorer.

Want to improve your ACT score by 4+ points? Download our free guide to the top 5 strategies you need in your prep to improve your ACT score dramatically.

Halle Edwards

Halle Edwards graduated from Stanford University with honors. In high school, she earned 99th percentile ACT scores as well as 99th percentile scores on SAT subject tests. She also took nine AP classes, earning a perfect score of 5 on seven AP tests. As a graduate of a large public high school who tackled the college admission process largely on her own, she is passionate about helping high school students from different backgrounds get the knowledge they need to be successful in the college admissions process.

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