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What's a Good ACT Score for 2020?

Posted by Hannah Muniz | Dec 6, 2019 12:00:00 PM

SAT/ACT Score Target

 

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No matter what time of year it is, there's always an ACT test date right around the corner. What's a good ACT score for 2020? And how can you determine what score you should aim for on test day?

In this comprehensive guide, we introduce three possible ways you can define good ACT scores for 2020. We also take a look at how the definition of good ACT scores has changed in recent years.

 

What Is a Good ACT Score for 2020 Overall?

First off, a good ACT score for you will always be one that's high enough to get you into the colleges you're applying to. But if we want to figure out what a good ACT score for 2020 is overall, then we'll need to consider how high a score is compared with those of other test takers. In other words, the more test takers you scored higher than, the more impressive your ACT score will be.

The two most common ways people compare their ACT scores with those of others is by looking at averages and percentiles.

Let's start with the average. The basic rule is that as long as you scored in the top half of all test takers, your ACT score will be considered good. The higher above average you score, the better. Similarly, a score that places you in the bottom half of test takers can be considered not good. The further below average your ACT score is, the worse you did on the exam relative to other students.

According to data released by ACT, Inc., the average composite ACT score is 20.8 (out of 36). The average for each individual ACT section is as follows:

  • English: 20.2
  • Math: 20.5
  • Reading: 21.3
  • Science: 20.8

This means that any ACT score above 21 (20.8 rounded up) can be considered a good score.

But what about percentiles? Percentiles tell you what percentage of students you scored the same as or higher than on the ACT. For instance, if you earned a score in the 62nd percentile, this would mean that you did the same as or better than 62% of test takers.

The following chart shows how ACT percentiles translate to performance on the test based on how well you did relative to other students:

Percentile English Math Reading Science Composite
99th (Best) 35-36 34-36 35-36 35-36 34-36
90th (Excellent) 30 28* 31 28 29*
75th (Good) 24 24* 25* 24* 24*
50th (Average) 19* 18-19 20* 20 20*
25th (Poor) 14* 15-16 16* 16* 16*
10th (Very Poor) 11* 14 12* 13* 13*
1st (Poorest) 1-8 1-12 1-9 1-9 1-11

Source: National Norms for ACT Test Scores 2019-2020 Reporting Year

*Estimated score based on available percentile data

As you can see, you only need to get a 29 out of 36 composite score on the ACT to break into the top 10% of test takers. In other words, you can get an excellent ACT score without having to break your back for a perfect 36.

On the flip side, a score at 13 or below would place you in the bottom 10% of test takers. This naturally doesn't look particularly impressive on college applications. Even if you were able to raise your score by 3 points, you'd still be in the bottom 25% of test takers, with the vast majority having scored better than you. Therefore, we can say that any ACT score at or below the 25th percentile is not (objectively) good.

But percentiles aren't the only factors that can help us determine what a good ACT score is. What's most important is whether your score is good enough to get you into the college of your dreams.

 

What Is a Good 2020 ACT Score for You?

Although averages and percentiles can show you how well you did on the ACT compared to other test takers, what's most important is that you achieve a score high enough to get you accepted to all the colleges to which you're applying. At PrepScholar, we call this your ACT goal score. It's the score that's most likely to get you admitted to your dream college(s).

How high your own ACT goal score is will depend on the specific schools you're applying to. This means that everyone has their own unique goal score for the exam. In other words, what's a very good ACT score for one person might be a not-that-great score for somebody else.

For example, if you were applying to Harvard or other ultra-competitive Ivy League schools, then a good ACT score for you would be something close to a perfect 36. If you were applying to other, less competitive schools, however, such as Texas A&M, then you'd aim for a score closer to 27.

Setting an ACT target score means finding the score expectations for each school you're applying to. Read on for our step-by-step guide on how to do this!

 

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How to Set an ACT Goal Score for 2020, Step by Step

To set your own ACT target score for 2020, follow these three simple steps.

 

Step 1: Make a Chart

Start by making a chart in which you'll list all the colleges you're applying to (you can exclude any safety schools). Feel free to make the chart yourself or download ours by clicking the thumbnail below:

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Here's a sample chart with some schools filled in:

School Name 25th Percentile ACT Score 75th Percentile ACT Score
New York University    
Stony Brook University    
Barnard College    
Pace University    

 

 

Step 2: Find ACT Score Information for Your Schools

Next, it's time to do heavy digging and find ACT score info for the schools in your chart. Specifically, you'll want to find the middle 50% (or average range) of ACT scores for each school; this range consists of the 25th and 75th percentile scores of admitted students.

The most convenient way to do this is to use our PrepScholar college database. Search online for "[School Name] PrepScholar" or "[School Name] PrepScholar ACT." Then, click the link for that college's admission requirements or ACT/GPA page:

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After you click the link to that school's page in one of our databases, scroll down to find info on the average ACT scores and 25th/75th percentiles. Here's what this section looks like on our admission requirements page for NYU:

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Write down the 25th and 75th percentile scores for that college in your chart. Repeat this process for every school you're applying to.

If you're having any trouble finding your school in our databases, try browsing the school's official website and looking for information on ACT scores, admissions, student profiles, facts and figures, etc. You could also search for "[School Name] average ACT scores" or "[School Name] ACT scores" to find direct links to relevant pages on the school's official website.

Once you've finished researching, your chart should look something like this:

School Name 25th Percentile ACT Score 75th Percentile ACT Score
New York University 29 33
Stony Brook University 26 31
Barnard College 30 33
Pace University 22 27

 

 

Step 3: Determine Your ACT Goal Score

The final step is to figure out what your ACT goal score is. To do this, simply look for the highest 75th percentile score in your chart; this will be your target score, as it's the one most likely to get you admitted to all the schools you're applying to.

In our example above, the highest 75th percentile score is 33 (for both NYU and Barnard). So your goal score for the ACT would be 33—that's a very high score in the 98th percentile!

If your goal score feels like a huge reach for you, you can lower it slightly by aiming instead for the second-highest 75th percentile score in your chart or a score in-between your highest and second-highest 75th percentiles.

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Have Good ACT Scores Changed? 2020 vs Past Years

So far we've looked at a few different ways we can define good ACT scores for 2020. But how has the definition of good ACT scores changed over the years?

The truth is, it hasn't really. Even though average ACT scores and percentiles tend to shift a bit from year to year, it's usually not by much. So what's considered a good ACT score will stay fairly consistent over time.

This chart shows how average section and composite ACT scores have changed over the years:

Year English Math Reading Science Composite
2019 20.2 20.5 21.3 20.8 20.8
2018 20.2 20.5 21.3 20.7 20.8
2017 20.3 20.7 21.4 21.0 21.0
2016 20.1 20.6 21.3 20.8 20.8
2015 20.4 20.8 21.4 20.9 21.0

Sources: National Norms for ACT Test Scores 2019-2020 Reporting Year, ACT National Profile Report 2018

As you can see, average ACT scores have barely changed in the past five years. The biggest shift was just 0.3 points, which is very nominal. The Reading section has the most consistent averages, varying just 0.1 points some years.

Now, let's look at percentiles. Remember that percentiles show you what percentage of test takers you scored the same as or higher than on the ACT.

This chart shows past and present ACT score percentiles from 2015 to 2019:

Year 90th %ile 75th %ile 50th %ile 25th %ile 10th %ile
2019 29* 24* 20* 16* 13*
2018 29* 24* 20* 16* 13*
2017 29* 24* 20* 16 13-14
2016 28* 24* 20* 16* 13*
2015 28* 24* 20 16* 14*

*Estimated score based on available percentile data

Like the averages, ACT percentiles really haven't changed much over the past five years. In fact, most percentile scores stayed pretty much the same, with only a 1-point shift at most. We can thus say with confidence that the definition of good ACT scores (using percentiles) hasn't changed much since 2015—and very likely won't for a while!

 

Recap: So What's a Good ACT Score for 2020?

There are three primary ways you can define good ACT scores for 2020.

The first is to look at the national average. Currently, the average composite ACT score is 20.8. Any score above this average, or in the top half of test takers, can be said to be a good score, since it means you did better than the majority of test takers.

The next way to define good 2020 ACT scores is to consider ACT percentiles, which compare your performance with those of other students. The higher your percentile, the better you did. Typically, ACT scores in the 50th percentile (20) are considered average, while scores in the 75th percentile (24) and 90th percentile (29) are considered good and excellent, respectively.

The final way you can determine good ACT scores is to figure out what kinds of scores you need based on the colleges you're applying to. In other words, what's your ACT goal score? To answer this question, you'll need to research the ACT score expectations of all the colleges you're applying to. The highest 75th percentile for your schools will be your goal score, that is, a good score for you and you only.

Once you know your target score, you can get started with your own ACT study plan!

 

What's Next?

Aiming for a high ACT score? Get help using our expert guides to getting a perfect 36 (written by our resident full scorer) and the best ACT prep books. Our ultimate ACT prep guide can also teach you everything there is to know about the exam, from topics to strategies.

What's a bad ACT score, nationally and by collegeLearn all about the types of ACT scores you should avoid getting.

Having trouble understanding what your ACT score means? Then read our explanation of the ACT scoring system and see how raw scores convert to scaled scores out of 36 points.

 

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Hannah Muniz
About the Author

Hannah received her MA in Japanese Studies from the University of Michigan and holds a bachelor's degree from the University of Southern California. From 2013 to 2015, she taught English in Japan via the JET Program. She is passionate about education, writing, and travel.



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