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.
ACT score percentiles help colleges compare students with one another, rather than just looking at everyone's individual score. Learn more about your ACT score percentile so you can maximize both your study time and admission chances. Then, find out your current score percentile using our detailed charts.
What's an ACT Percentile Ranking?
Your percentile ranking is a comparison of your ACT score with everyone else who took the test. Specifically, your percentile tells you how many people you scored equal to or higher than. The ACT will give you a percentile ranking for your composite score as well as for your four subject-area scores. (For more info on how the ACT is scored and how your composite is calculated, check out our guide.)
Your ACT score percentile is not like a grade out of 100; rather, it's a comparison between you and other students.
For example, if you get in the 70th percentile, this means you scored the same as or higher than 70% of test takers. It doesn't mean you got exactly 70% of the test questions correct. (In fact, the ACT is tricky enough that if you got about 70% of the questions right, your ranking would be closer to the 75th percentile.)
What Are the Current ACT Score Percentiles?
Now that you know about percentile rankings, let's go over what the ACT percentiles actually are, both for composite scores and individual section scores.
You can use the following chart to find percentile rankings for your ACT composite score and for each section (English, Math, Reading, and Science).
To find your percentile, look for 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 93rd percentile ranking, but a Reading section score of 30 has an 86th percentile ranking.
Here's the most recent ACT percentile data from 2020:
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One important thing to note is that there's really no difference in percentiles at the highest and lowest score ranges. At the upper end, anything higher than a 34 composite score is in the 99th-100th percentiles. Similarly, at the lower end, any composite score between 1 and 10 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 from the 35th to the 53rd—or from below average to just above average.
To take another example, a 3-point jump from 26 to 29 takes you from the 82nd percentile to the 90th percentile. Getting into the 90th percentile is fantastic because it puts you in the top 10% of all test takers.
What all of this means is that if you get a lower or middle-range composite score, raising it by just a few points can have a dramatic effect on your percentile ranking and therefore your college admission chances.
In addition, unless you're shooting for the most elite schools, if you get a 34 composite or higher, you probably shouldn't worry about having to retake the ACT.
What About ACT Subscore Percentiles?
ACT subscores give you more detail about your performance on the ACT and what specific areas you can improve on.
However, as of late 2016, ACT, Inc. no longer releases public information about percentile ranks for ACT subscores, so the only place you can get information about your performance on subscores compared with other test takers is your own ACT score report. If you haven't taken the ACT and are curious, you can take a look at this sample score report.
Note that colleges likely will not look too closely (if at all) at your subscores. When it comes to the ACT, your overall composite score is most important. It's the number most colleges use when reporting admitted student score ranges and the score most often used to determine scholarship recipients.
Ultimately, subscores can be used to give more context about your performance, but they're not be-all and end-all numbers.
Does My ACT Percentile Actually Matter?
Percentile rankings are important because they help colleges compare your ACT performance with those of other test takers. But the ACT score ranges for the colleges you're applying to are far more important than your overall percentile ranking.
Colleges have average ACT score ranges for admitted students that usually don't change drastically from year to year, and they rely on these ranges when making admissions decisions. This range is the middle 50%, or the 25th and 75th percentile scores, of admitted applicants.
To find ACT score ranges for a college, search "[School Name] 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 goal score will be equal to the highest 75th percentile score for your schools.
The goal is to get an above-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 (94th percentile) and a 24 on English (75th percentile). Without percentile data, it would be hard to say exactly how much better you did on Math than on English. But with rankings, you can see that your Math score is excellent and your English score, while strong, could be improved—a 3-point jump to 27 could net you an 84th percentile score.
To sum up, percentiles are a very helpful tool, both for college admissions officers looking at your application and 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—this will give you your best shot at getting into your dream school!
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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.