If you've taken an ACT practice test, you've probably wondered how the questions you answer on each test section translate to a final score out of 36 points. What is a raw ACT score? What about a scale score? How does one score affect the other?
In this article, we explain what the equating process for the ACT is and give you info on how your raw scores translate to scale scores for each section of the test.
What Is a Raw ACT Score? A Scale ACT Score?
First off, what do we mean by "raw ACT scores" and "scale ACT scores"?
Your raw score is the total number of questions you get right in a section. This goes for English, Math, Reading, and Science (Writing, however, is scored a bit differently). For example, if you got 70 out of 75 English questions right, your raw English score would be 70.
By contrast, a scale score is the final score you get for each section, on a scale of 1-36. Specifically, it's a translation of your raw score via an equating process developed by ACT, Inc. If you've taken ACT practice tests, you probably noticed that your raw scores don't always translate into the same scale scores.
Through this equating process, ACT, Inc., can account for differences and ultimately ensure that scores are consistent across test dates. This means, for example, that a 30 on the April ACT will represent the same level of skill as a 30 on the June ACT will.
Confused? Let's use an example. Say you took the ACT in September and your friend took a different ACT in October. Both of you got 22 out of 40 questions right on the Reading section, but your friend scored a 21 scale Reading score while you only scored a 19. What gives?
Remember that the same scale scores on different ACTs indicate the same ability. Thus, this 2-point difference doesn't mean that your friend simply lucked out—it means that your friend got a harder ACT Reading section than you did. In other words, because your Reading section was easier, you would've needed to score more raw points (i.e., get more questions right) on it to get the same scale score (21) as your friend.
Raw ACT Score to Scale Score Conversion Chart
As you know, equating an ACT raw score to a scale score allows for comparisons between various test versions and all test takers (regardless of what month or year you took the ACT). But how can you know exactly how a raw score will convert into a scale score?
The short answer is, you can't. ACT, Inc., is pretty secretive about its equating process, so there's no way to know for sure how a raw score on one ACT will translate into a scale score.
What's more, since every official ACT test is equated differently, each has its own raw-score-to-scale-score conversion chart. For example, here are the conversion charts for the 2018-19 and 2017-2018 official ACT practice tests (from the "Preparing for the ACT" PDF):
You can see here that raw ACT scores from different tests don't always convert into the same scale scores. As a result, there's no one-size-fits-all chart you can use to predict score conversions.
ACTs are like shoes: one size doesn't fit all of them!
That said, if you want to estimate a raw-score-to-scale-score conversion, you can use any available conversion chart from an official ACT practice test. While it won't be 100 percent accurate, it can give you a good understanding of where you need improvement.
Another (better) option is to use the chart below. This chart shows how raw ACT scores generally translate into scale scores on any ACT. We calculated these raw scores (and score ranges) by taking the averages of the raw scores for each scale score on all six official ACT score charts.
Once again, while this chart won't give you a perfectly accurate conversion (the most accurate ACT score chart will be the one for your specific test), it's as close as we can get to a "one-size-fits-all" ACT score conversion chart.
|Scale Score||English||Math||Reading||Science||Scale Score|
As you can see, your raw ACT scores don't tell you much about how your scores compare with those of other test takers. Since each ACT differs in content and difficulty, you'll need your test's conversion chart in order to get accurate scale scores and be able to compare your scores with other students'.
Scale scores, on the other hand, reflect how well you did in relation to other test takers who took any variation of the ACT. So if a test is relatively easy and more people did better on it than usual, higher raw scores will be needed to get certain scale scores. By contrast, if a test is especially difficult, slightly lower raw scores will net you those same scale scores.
If you took the ACT with Writing, note that your ACT Writing score is not part of your composite score out of 36. While colleges generally look closest at your composite score, a high essay score can definitely raise your chances of admission, so be sure to do your best on it!
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How to Calculate Your Scale ACT Score: 4 Easy Steps
Now that you've seen how official ACT score charts work, how can you use them to estimate your own scale scores based on your raw scores from an ACT practice test? Follow the four simple steps below to get started.
Step 1: Find the ACT Score Chart for Your Test
If you've taken an official ACT practice test, your score chart will come near the end of the test PDF. For example, if you took the newest 2018-2019 ACT test, you'll use the score chart that comes at the end of that test (shown in the first table above).
Don't use a chart from a different practice test. Each test is equated differently, so you'll get the most accurate scale score when you use the chart for your specific test.
What if you took an unofficial ACT practice test, though? In this case, it's best to use the average ACT score chart given above. While this won't be 100 percent accurate, it'll give you the closest idea you can get as to how your raw scores will likely translate into scale scores.
Step 2: Calculate Your Raw Score for Each Section
Now that you've got a score chart, it's time to calculate your raw scores for each section.
To do this, simply use your test's answer key to add up all the correct answers you got on each ACT section. For example, if you answered 60 out of 75 English questions correctly, your raw English score would be 60.
I recommend writing down your raw scores on a piece of paper so you don't forget them.
Step 3: Convert Your Raw Section Scores to Scale Scores
Now, it's time to use your raw scores and score chart to find your ACT scale scores.
Using a chart is simple: all you do is locate your raw score for each section and then look across to see which scale score it corresponds to.
For example, if you took the 2017-18 practice test and got a raw English score of 60, your scale English score would come out to 26:
Do this for every raw section score until you have four scale scores (each out of 36).
Step 4: Figure Out Your Composite Scale Score
Once you have your four scale scores (one each for English, Math, Reading, and Science), you can calculate your scale composite score, which uses a scale of 1-36 and is equivalent to the average of the four section (scale) scores.
For example, let's say these were the scale scores I got on my practice ACT:
- English: 26
- Math: 30
- Reading: 28
- Science: 27
To get a composite score, all I need to do is add up the four section scores and then divide their sum by four. In our example, this would look like this: 26 + 30 + 28 + 27 = 111.
Now, I just need to divide this sum by 4: 111 / 4 = 27.75. If you get a decimal as I did, you'll need to round your score to the nearest whole number. Here, 27.75 would round up to give me a final composite ACT score of 28.
Final Words: The Importance of Raw and Scale ACT Scores
There are two types of scores on the ACT: raw and scale scores. Raw scores are equal to the number of questions you answer correctly, whereas scale scores are final scaled versions of raw scores.
How raw scores translate into scale scores can vary depending on the ACT or ACT practice test you take. ACT, Inc., uses this equating process so that the difficulty of different ACTs doesn't affect test takers' final scores. This process also allows scores to be compared across all test dates (in other words, a 30 will always represent the same skill level, regardless of when you take the ACT).
To convert your raw ACT scores to scale scores, you'll need to find the score chart for your specific test. All official ACT practice tests have their own individual score charts (remember, these charts, and thus their raw-score-to-scale-score conversions, will differ with each test!).
If you don't have a chart for your practice test, you can instead use the average conversions in our chart above. This won't give you perfect conversions, but they should be close enough to give you a rough idea of what your scale scores are.
Calculating your scale scores is a super helpful tool for test prep—you'll not only see where you're currently scoring, but also how much you need to improve by in order to hit your ACT goal score!
Not sure what ACT score to aim for? Then definitely take a look at our in-depth guide to good and bad ACT scores to get tips on how to find your goal score. And if you're aiming for a perfect 36, read our expert guide written by a real full scorer!
Need help interpreting your ACT results? We've got you covered! With our guide, you'll learn how to read your ACT score report as well as how to address your biggest content weaknesses.
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Anna graduated from MIT where she honed her research interests in Earth Science and Social/Political Science. She has years of tutoring experience, loves watching students learn and grow, and strongly believes that education is the cornerstone of our society. She is passionate about science, books, and non-profit work.