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For those currently taking the ACT or those who took the ACT in 2013-2016, you may wonder: how does your percentile compare to students with the same score in other years? In this guide, I'll explain what percentiles are, how they work for the ACT, and why they matter. I'll also give you ACT percentile charts for 2013-2016, so you can see how your scores stack up against historical ones.

What Is an ACT Percentile Score?

Before diving in, let's define what an ACT percentile actually is. A percentile score is NOT the same as a percentage score you receive on a test in school (i.e. when you receive 85% on your Biology test, you answered 85% of questions correctly. Rather, an ACT percentile score lets you know how you did in comparison to other test-takers, which makes your score easier to understand since it’s on a rather ambiguous scale (1-36).

For instance, if you have a 25th percentile score,  you scored higher than 25% of ACT test-takers. If you have a 98th percentile score, you scored higher than 98% of test-takers. The higher your percentile score is, the better you compared to others who've taken ACT.

On an in-class test, you can have a high test score (such as 90%) and have a relatively low percentile score (10%) if the test was very easy for your class (i.e. 90% of your class scored above 90% on that test). However, you can also have a low test score (such as 20%) and have a relatively high percentile score (90%) if the test was very hard for your class (i.e. only 10% of your class scored above 20%).

On the ACT, percentile shifts tend not to be as extreme as this example since the ACT is equalized, but I’ll discuss this more in depth later on. Nonetheless, ACT percentiles are helpful for understanding your scaled scores, since percentiles allow you to determine where you fall in comparison to other test-takers.

Do ACT Percentiles Change Over Time?

Generally, for a specific scaled ACT score, the percentile of that score stays the same from year to year, but there can be some very slight changes (typically at most 3% from year to year). NOTE: If you’re unsure how the scaled score (1-36) is determined, learn how to calculate ACT score.

The reason there are only minimal percentile changes for a specific scaled score from year to year is that the ACT is equalized specifically to ensure the same curve every test date. As an example of the slight variation in percentile for a specific score, a score of 31 was the 96th percentile in 2014, but it was the 97th percentile in 2013.

What does it mean for percentiles for each scaled score to stay about the same from year to year? As I mentioned earlier, the ACT tries to keep the score distributions the same from year to year so that the same scaled score means the same across different years. Ideally, a 32 means you scored better than 98% of test-takers in 2013 and 2016 (and any other year).

This means no one test date (or test year) is advantaged over another. All test dates are equalized to ensure similar (if not the same) score distribution.

Why Care About Percentiles? Especially Percentiles From Other Years?

Your score percentile is somewhat important because it helps colleges compare your ACT score to those of other applicants. It’s important for colleges to have a sense of how you compare to students across the country because if colleges just looked at your scaled score without any other information, they would not have a good sense of what makes a good score and what makes a bad score.

For example, if you’d received a 33 composite score and a college did not have the percentile, the college admissions officer might judge that as a school test and think you received 33 out of 36 that about 92% that’s an A-, good but not great. However, with the percentiles, the colleges know a 33 is a 99th percentile score, meaning you scored better than 99% of test-takers, which is excellent.

Percentiles allow colleges to get a sense of how test-takers do on the ACT and compare you to the rest of the country.

You should care about percentiles from other years because you are applying to college with students who took the ACT in other years. For example, although you may have taken the ACT in 2015 as a junior in high school, some of your classmates might have taken the ACT in 2016 as seniors in high school. You’re all still applying to college the same year.

While you and your classmate both scored 33, your percentile score was 99, while his was 98. Your 32 is slightly more impressive than his. You scored better than 99% of test-takers while he scored better than 97% of test-takers.

Comparing percentiles for specific scaled scores across years is useful to know how you stack up against students who took the ACT a different year but are applying to college at the same time as you.

While percentile scores are important, the ACT score range for your target college is the more important consideration. If you’re unfamiliar with the ACT score range, the ACT score range for colleges is the range in which the middle 50% of admitted students’ ACT scores fall. For instance, Yale’s ACT score range is 31-35. 25% of admitted students scored at or below a 31, and 75% scored at or below a 35.

Universities rely primarily on score ranges when making admissions decisions. For this reason, you’ll want your score to be at or above the 75th percentile (for example, 35 for Yale) to give yourself the best chance of being admitted. To find ACT score ranges for your target schools, search “[College Name] ACT Scores Prepscholar.” For a more detailed explanation, including how to calculate your target score, read our other guide

Universities care about the score range over the score percentile because:

• A college’s score range is often a consideration in college ranking lists, so colleges want to admit students with higher scores so that the college will be ranked higher.
• Universities publish their score range each year, so the higher the range, the more impressive it seems to the public.

While ACT score percentiles are an important part of the college admissions process, your final ACT composite number is the number that is most significant.

Okay, maybe not this historical

ACT Percentiles for 2011-2016

Below, I’ve listed the ACT composite score percentiles for each composite scaled score from 2013-2016. I used data provided by the ACT to assemble this chart and the charts below (for the percentiles for individual sections). Remember, the percentile is the percentage of test-takers who scored at or below that scaled score.

 ACT Scaled Score 2016 Percentile 2015 Percentile 2014 Percentile 2013 Percentile 2012 Percentile 2011 Percentile 36 99 99 99 99 99 99 35 99 99 99 99 99 99 34 99 99 99 99 99 99 33 98 99 99 99 99 99 32 97 97 98 98 98 98 31 96 96 96 97 97 97 30 95 94 95 95 95 95 29 93 92 92 93 93 93 28 91 89 90 91 90 91 27 88 86 87 87 87 87 26 85 82 83 84 83 83 25 80 78 79 79 79 79 24 75 73 74 75 74 74 23 69 68 68 69 68 68 22 64 63 62 63 62 62 21 58 56 56 56 55 55 20 52 50 50 50 48 48 19 45 43 43 43 41 41 18 38 37 36 36 34 34 17 30 30 30 30 28 28 16 22 24 24 24 21 22 15 16 18 18 18 16 16 14 10 12 12 12 11 11 13 5 7 7 8 6 7 12 2 3 4 4 3 3 11 1 1 1 1 1 1 10 1 1 1 1 1 1 9 1 1 1 1 1 1 8 1 1 1 1 1 1 7 1 1 1 1 1 1 6 1 1 1 1 1 1 5 1 1 1 1 1 1 4 1 1 1 1 1 1 3 1 1 1 1 1 1 2 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1

ACT English Historical Percentiles 2011-2016

Below, I’ve listed the ACT score percentiles for each English scaled score from 2011-2016.

 ACT Scaled Score 2016 Percentile 2015 Percentile 2014 Percentile 2013 Percentile 2012 Percentile 2011 Percentile 36 99 99 99 99 99 99 35 99 99 99 99 99 99 34 98 98 98 99 99 98 33 96 96 97 97 97 97 32 94 95 95 95 96 96 31 93 93 93 94 94 94 30 91 91 92 92 92 92 29 89 89 90 90 90 90 28 88 87 87 88 88 88 27 85 84 85 86 86 85 26 82 82 82 83 82 82 25 79 78 79 79 78 78 24 75 73 74 75 74 73 23 70 69 69 70 68 67 22 65 63 64 64 63 63 21 59 58 58 59 57 56 20 53 52 52 52 50 49 19 47 46 45 45 43 43 18 43 41 40 40 38 38 17 39 36 36 36 33 34 16 35 32 32 32 29 29 15 29 27 27 26 24 24 14 23 21 21 21 18 18 13 17 16 116 16 14 14 12 14 3 13 13 11 12 11 11 10 10 10 9 9 10 7 7 7 7 6 6 9 4 4 4 4 4 4 8 2 2 2 2 2 2 7 1 1 1 1 1 1 6 1 1 1 1 1 1 5 1 1 1 1 1 1 4 1 1 1 1 1 1 3 1 1 1 1 1 1 2 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1

ACT Math Historical Percentiles 2011-2016

Below, I’ve listed the ACT score percentiles for each Math scaled score from 2011-2016.

 ACT Scaled Score 2016 Percentile 2015 Percentile 2014 Percentile 2013 Percentile 2012 Percentile 2011 Percentile 36 99 99 99 99 99 99 35 99 99 99 99 99 99 34 99 99 99 99 99 99 33 98 98 98 98 98 98 32 97 97 97 97 97 97 31 96 96 96 96 96 96 30 95 95 95 95 95 94 29 94 93 93 94 93 93 28 91 91 91 92 91 91 27 88 88 88 88 88 88 26 84 83 84 84 84 84 25 79 78 78 79 78 79 24 75 73 73 73 73 73 23 69 68 67 67 66 67 22 64 62 61 61 60 60 21 59 58 57 56 54 55 20 56 54 53 52 51 51 19 52 49 49 48 46 46 18 47 43 44 42 40 41 17 40 37 37 36 34 434 16 30 27 28 27 25 26 15 18 16 15 15 14 14 14 8 7 6 6 5 5 13 4 3 2 2 2 2 12 1 1 1 1 1 1 11 1 1 1 1 1 1 10 1 1 1 1 1 1 9 1 1 1 1 1 1 8 1 1 1 1 1 1 7 1 1 1 1 1 1 6 1 1 1 1 1 1 5 1 1 1 1 1 1 4 1 1 1 1 1 1 3 1 1 1 1 1 1 2 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1

Below, I’ve listed the ACT percentiles for each Reading scaled score from 2011-2016.

 ACT Scaled Score 2016 Percentile 2015 Percentile 2014 Percentile 2013 Percentile 2012 Percentile 2011 Percentile 36 99 99 99 99 99 99 35 99 99 99 99 99 99 34 98 98 98 99 98 99 33 96 97 97 97 97 97 32 94 94 95 95 95 95 31 91 92 92 93 93 93 30 89 89 89 90 90 90 29 86 86 86 87 87 87 28 83 83 84 84 85 85 27 81 80 81 82 82 82 26 78 77 78 79 78 79 25 74 74 74 76 75 75 24 71 71 71 72 71 71 23 66 66 66 66 66 66 22 60 60 61 62 60 61 21 56 54 56 56 55 55 20 48 48 48 49 48 48 19 43 42 42 43 42 42 18 37 36 35 37 36 36 17 31 30 31 31 29 30 16 26 25 25 26 24 25 15 22 20 20 21 20 20 14 16 15 16 16 15 15 13 12 11 11 12 10 10 12 7 7 7 8 7 7 11 4 3 4 4 3 3 10 2 2 2 2 2 2 9 1 1 1 1 1 1 8 1 1 1 1 1 1 7 1 1 1 1 1 1 6 1 1 1 1 1 1 5 1 1 1 1 1 1 4 1 1 1 1 1 1 3 1 1 1 1 1 1 2 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1

ACT Science Historical Percentiles 2011-2016

Below, I’ve listed the ACT score percentiles for each Science scaled score from 2011-2016.

 ACT Scaled Score 2016 Percentile 2015 Percentile 2014 Percentile 2013 Percentile 2012 Percentile 2011 Percentile 36 99 99 99 99 99 99 35 99 99 99 99 99 99 34 99 99 99 99 99 99 33 98 98 98 99 99 99 32 97 97 97 98 98 98 31 96 95 96 97 97 97 30 94 94 95 96 96 96 29 92 93 93 94 95 95 28 89 92 92 92 93 93 27 86 89 90 90 91 90 26 83 87 86 87 87 87 25 79 82 83 84 83 83 24 74 76 77 77 77 77 23 69 69 70 70 69 70 22 64 62 63 64 62 62 21 58 55 55 57 55 56 20 51 48 48 48 47 47 19 45 40 41 40 38 38 18 39 33 32 33 31 31 17 32 27 27 26 24 24 16 26 22 21 22 19 20 15 19 16 16 17 15 15 14 14 12 13 13 12 11 13 8 9 9 10 8 8 12 4 6 6 7 6 6 11 2 3 4 4 4 4 10 1 2 2 2 2 2 9 1 1 1 1 1 1 8 1 1 1 1 1 1 7 1 1 1 1 1 1 6 1 1 1 1 1 1 5 1 1 1 1 1 1 4 1 1 1 1 1 1 3 1 1 1 1 1 1 2 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1

What’s Next?

Or, if you already have a goal, try out our 15 top tips for taking the ACT or our 20-hour prep guide.

Finally, make sure you're studying the right way with our guide to reviewing your mistakes.

Disappointed with your ACT scores? 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.

Dora Seigel

As an SAT/ACT tutor, Dora has guided many students to test prep success. She loves watching students succeed and is committed to helping you get there. Dora received a full-tuition merit based scholarship to University of Southern California. She graduated magna cum laude and scored in the 99th percentile on the ACT. She is also passionate about acting, writing, and photography.

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