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ACT Score Percentiles and Ranks (High-Precision 2021)

Posted by Dr. Fred Zhang | Nov 5, 2020 7:00:00 PM

ACT General Info

 

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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 2020, 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 2020:

 

ACT Scores and High Precision 6-Digit Percentiles

ACT Composite Score Percentile
36 99.8330
35 99.1853
34 98.1915
33 96.9227
32 95.1322
31 93.3253
30 91.2441
29 88.9278
28 86.3530
27 83.4154
26 80.09790
25 76.3429
24 72.1014
23 67.3987
22 62.2927
21 56.8499
20 51.1284
19 45.2155
18 39.1463
17 32.9462
16 26.6786
15 20.3955
14 14.1981
13 8.4115
12 3.8833
11 1.3589
10 0.4408
9 0.1726
8 0.0763
7 0.0351
6 0.0160
5 0.0073
4 0.0032
3 0.0010
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 2015 through 2020, 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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