SAT / ACT Prep Online Guides and Tips

ACT Percentiles and Score Rankings

Posted by Halle Edwards | Aug 1, 2017 5:30:00 PM

ACT General Info

 

main_stand_out

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 93rd percentile ranking, but a Reading section score of 30 has an 88th percentile ranking.

Here's the most recent data (from 2017):

Score English Percentiles Math Percentiles Reading Percentiles Science Percentiles Composite Percentiles

36

99

99

99

99

99

35

99

99

99

99

99

34

97

99

97

99

99

33

95

98

95

97

98

32

93

97

93

96

97

31

92

96

90

95

95

30

91

95

88

94

93

29

88

93

85

92

91

28

86

91

82

90

88

27

84

88

79

88

85

26

81

83

77

85

82

25

79

78

74

82

78

24

74

73

70

77

73

23

69

68

65

70

68

22

64

63

60

63

63

21

58

59

53

55

57

20

53

55

48

49

51

19

47

51

42

41

44

18

43

46

37

35

38

17

39

38

30

28

31

16

34

29

26

22

25

15

29

18

21

16

19

14

22

8

16

12

13

13

17

3

12

8

7

12

13

1

7

5

3

11

10

1

5

3

1

10

6

1

2

1

1

9

3

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

 

Did you know an improvement of 4 points on the ACT will revolutionize your chances of getting into your dream school? 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)

 

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 34 and a 36 composite—anything higher than a 34 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 51st, or in other words, from below average to average.

Or to take another example, a 3-point jump from 26 to 29 takes you from the 82nd percentile to the 91st 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 34 composite or higher, you probably shouldn't worry about retaking the ACT.

 

Do My Subscore Percentiles Count?

Subscores are meant to give you more detail about your performance on the ACT and what specific areas you can improve on. However, ACT, Inc. is no longer releasing public information about percentile ranks for the current ACT subscores (except for STEM), so the only places to get information about how you performed on various subscores compared to other students are your own score reports. If you haven't taken the ACT yet and are curious, you can take a look at this sample score report for the 2017-2018 testing year.

For example, say you had Reading subscores of 18/24 on Key Ideas & Details but only 3/5 on Integration of Knowledge & Ideas. That would put you in the 75th percentile for Key Ideas & Details but in the 60th for Integration of Knowledge & Ideas. While you are above-average for both subscores, if you wanted to retake the ACT it would be smart to study Integration of Knowledge & Ideas Reading 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.

 

feature_average

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 84th 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)

Have friends who also need help with test prep? Share this article!
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.



Get Free Guides to Boost Your SAT/ACT
100% Privacy. No spam ever.

You should definitely follow us on social media. You'll get updates on our latest articles right on your feed. Follow us on all 3 of our social networks:

Twitter and Google+



Ask a Question Below

Have any questions about this article or other topics? Ask below and we'll reply!