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ACT Percentiles and Score Rankings

Posted by Halle Edwards | Feb 8, 2015 5:30:00 PM

ACT General Info

 

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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.

 

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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?

Now that you know about the importance of percentiles, learn more about the average ACT score and come up with your own personal target score.

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.

Raise Your ACT Score by 4 Points (Free Download)

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Halle Edwards
About the Author

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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