SAT / ACT Prep Online Guides and Tips

How to Calculate Your ACT Composite Score, plus 5 Strategies

Posted by Allen Cheng | Dec 9, 2014 6:07:00 PM

ACT General Info, ACT Strategies


feature_calculatorIn college admissions, the ACT Composite Score is by far the most important score. In this guide, we show you how exactly to calculate your ACT Composite Score from each of your section scores. More importantly, we give you custom strategies on how to use your composite score to adapt your ACT prep. Read on...


Calculating Your ACT Composite Score

The ACT has 4 core sections (English, Math, Reading, and Science), with 1 optional section (Writing). Each of the 4 sections has a score that ranges from 1 (lowest) to 36 (highest). The Writing score is a separate score, ranging from 2 (lowest) to 12 (highest).

Your Composite Score is an average (the arithmetic mean) of your 4 core section scores, with these important points:

  • The Composite is rounded to the nearest whole number.
  • 0.5 is rounded UP to the nearest whole number.

Here are a few examples:

Test English Math Reading Science Average Final Composite
Test 1 21 23 24 19 21.75 22
Test 2 23 23 22 25 23.25 23
Test 3 24 24 23 23 23.5 24


Get the hang of it?

The ACT also uses a combined English/Reading/Writing score, called an ELA score. Honestly, this isn't used that often and isn't that important for college admissions, so I would suggest not worrying about it.

The math is pretty simple to calculate ACT scores. You should know your target ACT composite score, which is largely based on the tests that you'll be taking.

The more important part is knowing what this means for your study strategy.


5 Strategies for Raising Your Composite Score

Your goal on the ACT is to score the highest Composite Score possible. This is by far the most important score used in college admissions, beyond any individual section score. Colleges will use this score at a glance to compare you to the thousands of other applicants to that school. This means raising your Composite Score can have a disproportionate effect on your admissions chances.

We all know that raising your score overall by getting better at the test is the obvious way to improve your score. But let's dig into more specific strategies:

  1. Even just 1 extra point on a single section can increase your composite score. For example, in the Test 2 example above, if the student re-took the test but improved his English from a 23 to a 24, his average would increase from a 23.25 to a 23.5 and his final composite would increase from 23 to 24. You can bet this increase makes a difference in Therefore, if you've taken the ACT just once or twice, definitely retake the test because your composite score is likely to improve.

  2. Focus your initial prep on your weakest section - usually this gives you the most room to grow. For example, if you scored a 16 on Science but a 24 on all the other sections, your Science section is clearly dragging your composite score down. If you improve your Science section by 4 points, your composite will go up by 1.

  3. Writing is less important than the 4 core sections. If you have limited time to study, concentrate that time on raising your composite score. 

  4. Your target schools may emphasize either English/Reading or Math/Science. Given the same composite score, engineering schools will favor a higher Math/Science score over English/Reading. If you plan to major in the humanities, the opposite is true. Focus your time on the sections that are more important for your college goals.

  5. Some schools use the 'highest combined composite score', aka the 'superscore.' This basically means that the school will take your best section score across all your tests, then combine them into your best possible composite score. We'll publish an upcoming guide to which schools use the superscore method. If you're applying mainly to schools that use the superscore, you can focus on improving one section at a time, then combining all your tests together into your maximum composite score.

Now that you know the importance of the ACT composite score and understand targeted strategies to improve it, read more to get deeper into our philosophy of how to improve your ACT scores.


Keep Reading for Study Strategies

I highly recommend this free guide to picking up some extra points on the ACT:

Free eBook: 5 Tips to 4+ Points on the ACT


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Allen Cheng
About the Author

As co-founder and head of product design at PrepScholar, Allen has guided thousands of students to success in SAT/ACT prep and college admissions. He's committed to providing the highest quality resources to help you succeed. Allen graduated from Harvard University summa cum laude and earned two perfect scores on the SAT (1600 in 2004, and 2400 in 2014) and a perfect score on the ACT.

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