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ACT Score Percentiles and Ranks (High-Precision 2019)

Posted by Dr. Fred Zhang | Dec 31, 2019 7:00:00 PM

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Do you want to know your exact ACT score up to six digits of precision? Every digit can help when you want to know your exact performance. I've used real ACT data, newly-released in 2019, to calculate these ultra-high-precision percentiles.


What Are Percentiles for the ACT? Revisiting the Question

If you'd like to review what ACT percentiles are, check out this excellent article that clearly explains them. Put simply, your ACT percentile ranking lets you know how well you did compared to other test takers. If you got a 55 percentile (sometimes spelled %ile), that means you scored better than 55% of students who took the ACT.

Unlike test scores, your percentile is not a gauge of your performance out of 100. While test scores usually indicate the fraction of questions you answered correctly (for example, if you got a 90% on a test, you got 90% of questions right), a percentile shows the fraction of other test takers you beat.


What Are the ACT Percentile Ranges?

Most charts, including ones developed directly by the ACT, only have two digits of precision when they give percentiles. This means that scores of 35 and 36 both map to 99th percentile, and, while a 34 maps to 98th percentile, you can't be sure whether that means 98.9 or more like 97.5.

For many purposes, two digits just doesn't give you enough precision. For example, if you score a 36 on the ACT, that means only fewer than 4,000 other students did as well as you, while scoring a 35 means nearly 15,000 did as well as you. That's a significant difference; however, both these scores map to the 99th percentile. This means that, if you're scoring close to the top of the ACT range, having access to high precision percentiles is very helpful.

Higher precision can also help students receiving less than near-perfect ACT scores. For instance, if you're trying to get into a competitive college, every percent matters, the same way a fraction of a second can determine who wins a race at sporting competitions.

As an example, say you learn that you improved from the 60th percentile to the 61st percentile for the ACT. This doesn't tell you everything you'd like to know. Your improvement could be a tiny jump from 60.4 to 60.5, or it could be a much more significant improvement from 59.5 to 61.4. Put another way, having higher precision helps you understand your progress and achievements more.

And now, here is the table, based on data released in 2019:


ACT Scores and High Precision 6-Digit Percentiles

ACT Composite Score Percentile
36 99.9023
35 99.4149
34 98.4549
33 97.3041
32 95.6525
31 93.8566
30 91.7422
29 89.3657
28 86.7013
27 83.6151
26 80.0918
25 76.0642
24 71.4539
23 66.3473
22 60.8608
21 55.0569
20 49.0455
19 42.9387
18 36.7155
17 30.3922
16 24.0833
15 17.8278
14 11.7589
13 6.3981
12 2.6669
11 0.8856
10 0.2989
9 0.1209
8 0.0527
7 0.0212
6 0.0087
5 0.0040
4 0.0018
3 0.0008
2 0.0003
1 0.0000


Methodology: How did we come up with these percentiles? To calculate them, we used official data released by the ACT that gives the exact number of students who earned certain scores. Using that information, we summed the exact number of students to get the percentile. Within a single score group (e.g. students scoring exactly a 34), we presume exactly half are above.


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Do Percentiles Change From Year to Year?

The data in the ACT score report covers ACT scores from 2014 through 2018, and during this time percentiles have not changed much at all. Therefore, this data can be used to analyze ACT scores from the past several years. However, you shouldn't use it to analyze scores that are significantly older than that (for example, scores from 2006) because long-term drift does affect the ACT.


What's Next?

Want to start prepping for the ACT but aren't sure where to start? Check out these 5 tips on preparing for the ACT.

Is there a particular ACT section that's giving you more trouble than the rest? We can help! Check out our section-specific guides to ACT Math, Reading, English, and Science.

Aiming for a top score? Read this guide, written by a perfect-scorer, to learn how to get a perfect 36 on the ACT.


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Dr. Fred Zhang
About the Author

Fred is co-founder of PrepScholar. He scored a perfect score on the SAT and is passionate about sharing information with aspiring students. Fred graduated from Harvard University with a Bachelor's in Mathematics and a PhD in Economics.

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