If you’re a student athlete who wants to play in NCAA Division I or Division II sports in college, then this article is for you! We’ll review NCAA’s eligibility criteria for your GPA and ACT score, which NCAA compares using a sliding scale. Most importantly, we’ll give you the tips and strategies you need to achieve the NCAA ACT scores you need to pass the clearinghouse.
First, let’s quickly review how your grade point average, or GPA, is determined.
How Your GPA Is Calculated
NCAA considers the grade point average of your core courses. These include 4 years of English, 3 years of math at Algebra I level or higher, 2 years of natural or physical science (one lab if offered at any high school attended), 1 year of additional English, math or natural/physical science, 2 years of social science, and 4 years of foreign language, philosophy or comparative religion. Check out your own high school to see which of its courses qualify as NCAA core courses.
This means your core course GPA might be a little different than the one reported on your transcript, which is an average of all the courses you have taken at high school. GPAs are calculated on a 4.0 scale. The chart below shows how letter and percentage grades translate to this 4.0 scale.
|Letter Grade||Grade Point||Percentage|
Since NCAA compares your GPA and ACT score, let’s review how the ACT is scored. With this understanding, you’ll be able to determine exactly what ACT scores you need and how to achieve them.
How the ACT Is Scored
For a detailed explanation of how the ACT is scored, check out our article here. The gist is that the ACT has four sections: math, science, English, and reading. Each of these sections is scored on a scale from 1 to 36, and these four section scores are averaged together to get your composite score, also out of 36. However, your composite score doesn’t really matter for NCAA.
Instead, NCAA adds your section scores together into a “sum score.” So your sum score will be at least 4 and at most 144 (36 x 4).
Before you get a scaled score from 1 to 36, each section receives a “raw score.” Your raw score is simply the number of questions you answer correctly in each section. The chart below shows how raw scores are converted into scaled scores.
Why is this important? Because once you know your target score, you can figure out what raw score you need. In other words, you can determine how many correct answers you need and how many questions you can essentially ignore. Note that the ACT does not deduct any points for wrong answers, so you should still fill in answers to those questions you’ve skipped. You might get lucky and add a point or more to your raw score!
How NCAA Considers Your ACT Scores
As you read above, NCAA adds your section scores from math, science, English, and reading into a sum score. For example, if you got a scaled score of 20 in all four sections, then your sum score would be 80 (20 + 20 + 20 + 20 = 80).
If you take the ACT more than once, NCAA will take your best section scores from any dates. NCAA will mix and match your highest section scores so you get your highest possible sum score.
Now let’s move on to the really important part: how NCAA compares your GPA with your ACT score.
NCAA Eligibility - The Sliding Scale
For Division I players, NCAA uses a sliding scale that compares your GPA and ACT scores. If you have a higher GPA, you can meet the eligibility requirements with lower ACT scores. Conversely, if you have a lower GPA, you have to make up the difference with higher ACT scores.
With a 2.8 GPA, for example, you need an NCAA ACT requirements score of 57. If you scored around the same in each section, this might be around 15 (out of 36) in each section. You could score a little higher in some and lower in others.
By contrast, for Division II, up until 2018 you'll need a minimum GPA of 2.000 and a minimum ACT sum score of 68. Again, if you score around the same in each section, that might be around a 17 (out of 36) for each section, or a little higher in some and lower in others. From August 2018 onwards, however, Division II players will be on a sliding scale as well.
These charts show the sliding scale to qualify for Division I and Division II teams. You will need at least a 2.3 GPA to qualify fully for Division I. However, students with a GPA between 2.0 and 2.3 may qualify for “Academic Redshirt” for Division I - they will get athletic aid and practice but cannot compete. Partial qualifying scores are in parentheses for Division I only.
|Division I||Division II (beginning 8/1/2018)
|Core Course GPA||ACT Sum||Core Course GPA||ACT Sum|
|3.550 & above||37||3.300 & above||37|
|2.45||70||2.2||70 & above|
Once you know your GPA and what you need to qualify, how can you get these scores? Read on for our important tips and strategies.
How To Hit Your Target ACT Scores
Once you've figured out your target scores, what steps can you take to achieve them? Read on for five tips to help you prep for the ACT.
Play To Your Strengths
Since NCAA adds together all your section scores, all sections of the ACT are important and require test prep. However, since there is no minimum per section, you can achieve your target sum score with any combination of section scores. Put it another way, you can play to your strengths. What subjects are you stronger in? Which subjects are not your forte? If you love English but feel like math messes with your head, to give one example, you can aim for a higher target score in the English and reading sections than in the math sections.
While you definitely need to prep for all sections, you can define different target scores for English, reading, math, and science depending on your strengths and what you can realistically achieve with the time you have to prep.
Devise a Strategy
Once you have your target scores defined, take a look at the raw score chart we presented above. How many questions do you need to get right? If you need an 18 in English, for example, you need to answer 17 - 19 questions correct (aim for at least 19). This is less than ⅓ of all the English questions!
As you’re taking the test, don’t waste time on the really hard questions. Seek out questions you can confidently answer. At the same time, don’t leave any questions blank. As we mentioned above, there is no point penalty for wrong answers, so you might as well guess. If you skip any questions, leave a little time at the end of each section to fill in the rest on your bubble sheet.
You may also be able to improve your scores by taking the ACT more than once. Check out the ACT test dates here - start early to make sure you have enough test dates.
As with the rigorous hours you put in for your sport, you need to step up to some serious training for the ACT. Doing well on the ACT is not about just showing up and being smart - it’s all about how prepared you are. Studying will help you get better, just as practices allow you to improve as an athlete. This isn’t a metaphor - it’s how any skill is developed. And believing that you can grow and get better is a big part of clearing the way for growth to happen. As you know during exhausting practices and games, a huge part of performing is winning this mental game.
These values of dedication, effort, discipline, and internal motivation will help you on the ACT and carry you through your career as a student-athlete in college. Figure out your strengths, drill your weaknesses, and keep up your drive and hunger to achieve your goals.
Finding time for test prep is easier said than done, especially with your packed schedule of school, homework, practices, games, and social life. Create a schedule and set aside specific time for ACT studying to ensure that you make time.
As you take practice tests, time yourself the way the real test will be timed. This will help you get used to the pacing of the questions in a short amount of time, as well as understand your own stamina and what you need to do to keep up your focus and energy levels.
Use the Right Materials
You wouldn’t train for baseball with a wiffle ball, just as you shouldn’t train for the ACT with sub-par materials. High quality test prep questions are a must for preparing you for the test and breaking down the skills and content you need to master within each section. Check out our free E-Book for important tips about the ACT.
ACT Questions of the Day are also an easy and convenient way to add some extra test prep to your day. They can be accessed online or on your phone. By starting months ahead of your test, ACT QOTD will get you familiar with a variety of questions and help you figure out which kinds of question need extra attention.
To Sum Up...
By being aware of NCAA ACT and GPA requirements well ahead of your application deadlines, you will have enough time to train for the ACT, take the test several times, and ensure that you meet the NCAA eligibility criteria.
As an athlete, you know well that training and practice makes all the difference. By applying those same skills of self-discipline and internal motivation to your ACT prep, you will be able to take your career as a student-athlete to the next level at the college of your choice!
Ready to start prepping for the ACT? Check out these free ACT practice test pdfs and learn strategies to make the most of your test prep.
Be strategic on the ACT, but make sure you’re going about it the right way. Check out the top mistakes students make when guessing on the ACT.
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Rebecca graduated with her Master's in Adolescent Counseling from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She has years of teaching and college counseling experience and is passionate about helping students achieve their goals and improve their well-being. She graduated magna cum laude from Tufts University and scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT.