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ACT Score Conversion Chart: Score Percentiles

Posted by Dora Seigel | Dec 12, 2015 2:00:00 PM

ACT General Info

 

body_percentsmile.pngIf you took the ACT or are preparing for the ACT, you should understand score percentiles. Colleges use score percentiles as a way to compare students across the country and within each state. In this article, I’ll explain what an ACT Score Percentile is and how to use it in your ACT score planning. 

 

What’s an ACT Score Percentile?

According to ACT, Inc., your ACT score percentiles “are the approximate percentages of recent high school graduates in the U.S. who took the ACT and received scores that are the same as or lower than your scores on the multiple-choice subject area tests and your subscores."

More exactly, your percentile tells you about how many students scored better and worse than you. For instance, if your score percentile is 65, then you scored higher than 65% of test-takers who sat for the ACT the same day as you did. 35% of test-takers scored better than you.

NOTE: Your score percentile is not the percentage of questions answered correctly. Getting a percentile score of 65 does not mean you answered 65% of questions correctly. Your percentile score is only a comparison between you and other test-takers.

 

How Do I Figure Out My Percentile?

The ACT will tell you your percentile ranking for your composite score, for the four individual sections, and for the section subscores on your ACT student score report.

Your four individual section score percentiles and your section subscore percentiles are relatively unimportant. Colleges likely don’t look closely at these numbers. When it comes to the ACT, your composite score is the most important number. It’s the number most colleges use when they report admitted student score ranges (which I’ll talk about more in-depth below). However, this policy varies by school, and you should make sure to look up your target school’s policy. Some schools superscore the ACT, so individual section scores do matter for those schools.

When you receive your ACT score report, you’ll have a lot of other numbers on there, making the percentile score hard to find. Your composite score percentile is the small number listed as “U.S. Rank” directly to the right of your big boxed “Composite Score”:

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Via ACT.org

 

Your U.S. Rank compares you to every other student in the U.S. who sat for the ACTFor this example student, his or her score percentile was 56, so he or she scored better than 56% of US test-takers. Your State Rank percentile (which is directly to the right of the U.S. Rank percentile) compares you to everyone in your state who took the SAT. For this example student, his or her state score percentile was 58, so he or she scored better than 58% of test-takers in his or her state. I’ll go into more depth on why you receive these two different composite percentiles below.

 

ACT Percentile Score Chart

If you haven't yet taken the ACT, you can use this chart to get a sense of how US students tend to score on the ACT. You can see in general what is considered a good or bad score based on the percentile.

This ACT score chart was compiled using the most recent data from ACT.org. The ACT produced this data using all of the ACT scores of ACT-tested US high school graduates from 2013-2015.

NOTE: these numbers do fluctuate slightly from year to year. However, the differences are small. To see the tiny differences, you can compare the chart below to that in our ACT Percentiles article from February 2015 which used the most recent data at the time. The score percentiles fluctuate at most 1-2 percent from year to year.

  

Score

Composite Percentiles

English Percentiles

Math Percentiles

Reading Percentiles

Science Percentiles

36

99

99

99

99

99

35

99

99

99

99

99

34

99

98

99

98

99

33

99

97

98

97

98

32

98

95

97

95

97

31

96

93

96

92

96

30

95

92

95

89

95

29

92

90

93

86

94

28

90

88

91

84

92

27

87

85

88

81

90

26

83

82

84

78

87

25

79

79

78

75

83

24

74

74

73

71

77

23

68

69

67

66

70

22

63

64

62

61

63

21

56

58

57

55

56

20

50

52

53

48

48

19

43

45

49

42

40

18

36

40

43

36

33

17

30

36

37

31

27

16

24

32

27

25

22

15

18

27

15

21

17

14

12

21

6

16

13

13

7

16

2

11

9

12

4

13

1

7

6

11

1

10

1

4

4

10

1

7

1

2

2

9

1

4

1

1

1

8

1

2

1

1

1

7

1

1

1

1

1

6

1

1

1

1

1

5

1

1

1

1

1

4

1

1

1

1

1

3

1

1

1

1

1

2

1

1

1

1

1

1

1

1

1

1

1

Percentile rankings via ACT.org.

 

Do Percentiles Matter?

Your score percentile is somewhat important because it helps colleges compare your ACT score to those of other applicants. It’s important for colleges to have a sense of how you compare to students across the country because if colleges just looked at your scaled score without any other information, they would not have a good sense of what makes a good score and what makes a bad score.

For example, if you’d received a 33 composite score and a college did not have the percentile, the college admissions officer might judge that as a school test and think you received 33 out of 36 that about 92% that’s an A-, good but not great. However, with the percentiles, the colleges know a 33 is a 99th percentile score, meaning you scored better than 99% of test-takers, which is excellent.

Percentiles allow colleges to get a sense of how test-takers do on the ACT and compare you to the rest of the country.   

However, the ACT score ranges for your target colleges are more important than your percentile ranking. The ACT score range for colleges is the range in which the middle 50% of admitted students’ ACT scores fall. For example, Yale’s ACT score range is 31-35. This means 25% of admitted students scored below a 31, and 75% scored below a 35.

Colleges rely heavily on their score ranges when making admissions decisions for the future class. You’ll want your score to be at or above the 75th percentile (for example, 35 for Yale) to give yourself the best chance of admission. To find ACT score ranges for your target schools, search “[College Name] ACT Scores Prepscholar.” For more information on this, including how to calculate your target score, read our other guide.

Aiming for a score in the 75th percentile for your target schools is much more important than aiming for a score in the 99th percentile in the country. There are a few reasons colleges care about the score range over the score percentile:

  1. A college’s score range is often a consideration in rankings, so colleges want to admit students with higher scores.
  2. Colleges need to publish their score range every year, so they may want a higher range to seem more impressive to the public.

While percentiles should bear more weight in college admissions, your final ACT composite number is the one that is most significant. However, if you're applying to an elite college such as the Ivies, you still should pay attention to your score percentile — especially your State Rank.

 

body_questionhuh.jpg

 

The Difference Between U.S. Rank and State Rank in Score Percentiles: An Important Note for Ivy League Hopefuls

As I said before, your U.S. Rank compares you to every other student in the U.S. Your State Rank percentile compares you to everyone in your state. This distinction may not seem important, but some colleges pay more attention to your state rank than your national one.

Why? Because, according to a colleague who worked in college admissions, many top colleges, like the Ivies and Stanford, care about how many students they admit from each state. If you’ve taken a college campus tour at one of these schools, I’m sure you’ve heard the guide brag about their school representing all 50 states. (This does not hold true for all colleges; small colleges and public universities generally don't care about enrolling students from all 50 states.)

Because these schools want to ensure that they have at least one student from each state, gaining admission to a top college will be slightly easier for students in states where the average ACT score is below than the national average.

Let's discus what this would mean for the example student above: her score percentile was 56 and her state score percentile was 58. The example student’s score was better than 56% of test-takers in the US and was better than 58% of test-takers in their state. This means the students in the example student’s state scored worse on average than those in the rest of the country. If the example student is compared to only the other students in their state, she will have a better shot of admission than if she is compared to the students throughout the US.

However, let’s imagine another example student who’s from New York. New York is a state where the average ACT score is consistently above the national average. According to 2014 data from the ACT, the average ACT score for students from New York was 2.1 points better than the national average ACT score. This new student from New York has an ACT score of 34, a U.S. Rank of 99, and a State Rank of 98.

If this new student applied to Yale, where he would technically fall in the score range of 31-35, he may have a worse shot of being admitted than if he was applying as a student from Alaska (where his score would likely have a State Rank of 99). 

Keep in mind, however, that the advantage of students from small states with lower average ACT scores is not huge. A student from Alaska with a 29 will most likely not be admitted to Yale, just as a student from New York with a 29 will most likely not be admitted to Yale. However, a student from Alaska with a 33 will have a better shot of being admitted to Yale than a student from New York with a 33.

If you're from a competitive state and applying to an Ivy League school, consider aiming for a percentile score of 99 in your state to make you a top applicant from your state. 

Overall, don't stress too much about your percentile. Whether you're from Alaska or New York or another state, you should try to get your ACT score into the 25th/75th percentile for your school of choice. To have the best shot of admission, aim for a score at or above the 75th percentile in the ACT score range for your target school.

 

Summary: What Do ACT Percentiles Mean For You? 

You ACT score percentile compares your scores to the rest of your state (State Rank) and the rest of the country (U.S. Rank). Only the composite score percentile really matters for colleges, as they don’t typically use the section and subscores. However, check your target college's policy. Plan your ACT score target score using your target school’s ACT score range, not using the score percentile.

For students striving for the Ivy League, you may want to consider your State Rank if you’re in an especially competitive state (where the average ACT score is above the national average). If you fall into this category, consider retesting to strive for a percentile score of 99 in your state to make you a top applicant from your state.

 

What’s Next?

Learn more about the ACT and ACT preparation:

 

Want to improve your ACT score by 4+ points? Download our free guide to the top 5 strategies you need in your prep to improve your ACT score dramatically.

Raise Your ACT Score by 4 Points (Free Download)

 

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Dora Seigel
About the Author

As an SAT/ACT tutor, Dora has guided many students to test prep success. She loves watching students succeed and is committed to helping you get there. Dora received a full-tuition merit based scholarship to University of Southern California. She graduated magna cum laude and scored in the 99th percentile on the ACT. She is also passionate about acting, writing, and photography.



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