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ACT Score Percentiles and Ranks (High-Precision 2016)

Posted by Dr. Fred Zhang | Apr 29, 2016 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 2016, 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 score 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 you're the top test taker out of 300 students while scoring a 35 means you're the best in a group of 100 students. 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 2016:


ACT Scores and High Precision 6-Digit Percentiles

ACT Composite Score Percentile
36 99.9585
35 99.6962
34 99.0642
33 98.0761
32 96.7558
31 95.1067
30 93.0592
29 90.6171
28 87.7440
27 84.3200
26 80.3561
25 75.8399
24 70.7371
23 65.1384
22 59.1688
21 52.8696
20 46.3758
19 39.8415
18 33.2960
17 26.8432
16 20.6258
15 14.7890
14 9.5555
13 5.2653
12 2.3433
11 0.8449
10 0.2846
9 0.1084
8 0.0451
7 0.0180
6 0.0068
5 0.0025
4 0.0007
3 0.0003
2 0.0001
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?

Within the last three years of the ACT, from roughly January 2013 to January 2016 inclusive, the percentiles have not changed much at all. Therefore, this data can be used for 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016 scores. However, you shouldn't use scores much earlier than this (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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