Taking the ACT is stressful—some test you've never seen before will affect where you go to college. As a high school student, I felt anxious taking the ACT because I hadn't done any practice and had no idea whether I'd reach my target score.
One way to mitigate nerves surrounding the ACT is to try to predict your ACT score. If you find out your estimate is close to your target score, you'll feel relieved. If it's low, at least you'll know you need to do more preparation before taking the test.
What is the best ACT score predictor? What should you do with your estimated ACT score? In this guide, I'll walk you through the different ways to predict your ACT score and explain the pros and cons of each. I'll also let you know how to use your estimated score to your advantage.
What's the Best Way to Predict Your ACT Score?
The most accurate ACT score predictor is taking a full-length official ACT practice test under realistic testing conditions. It's the closest thing to the real ACT which means your score estimate will be as accurate as possible.
This process is time-consuming—it'll take about four hours plus additional time to grade the test—but it's worth it. Afterward, you have an ACT score from a real ACT test, which you can use to check your preparedness to take the actual test, but I'll dive into that later.
Where Can You Find an ACT Practice Test?
There are six free official ACT practice test PDFs available online. If you own an official ACT prep book (or get one from the library), you can also use one of the practice tests it includes. The Official ACT Prep Guide 2019-2020 (about $17 on Amazon) contains five official ACT practice tests. For more practice, the 2020-2021 version has four of those same tests plus one new one, but since it's $33 on Amazon you're better off with the older version for now. If you do want an additional practice test, the Official Beginner's Guide for ACT is about $23 dollars on Amazon and has one official ACT practice test and one practice PreACT (more on the PreACT below).
In order to give yourself the most realistic testing experience (and to avoid the distractions on the internet), I'd recommend that you print out a copy of the test. You'll be taking the actual ACT with pencil and paper, and the closer you can get your practice ACT to the real ACT, the more accurate your score estimate will be.
Key Tips for a Realistic Testing Experience
Your goal is to try to accurately predict your ACT score. To do so, you need to mirror the circumstances of the actual ACT.
Clear your desk. You should not have your phone, computer, dictionary or any other outside help. Note: Your phone should be off during the entire practice test. Only put some pencils, an eraser, a pencil sharpener, a calculator and extra batteries on your desk.
Keep time on a watch, and stick to the exact timing for each section. Note: the time permitted is printed at the start of the section. Don't allow yourself extra time; if you allow even an extra minute, you could end up with an inaccurate estimate. Also, you're only allowed to work on one section during the allotted time. Don't work on the next section if you finish early, and don't do work on a previous section.
How Do You Score Your ACT Practice Test?
Each practice test comes with scoring instructions, which are located near the end of the PDFs (typically in the last ten pages).
You'll start by calculating your raw score or the number of questions you answered correctly. Then, you use that raw score and a chart to find your scaled score for each section. You average the four section scores to find your composite score.
Note: This is only a baseline score—you can do dedicated ACT prep and raise your score. Start by creating a study schedule, and if you need a launching off point for your prep, read our free ACT study guides for Reading, Math, English, and Science.
Create a schedule for test prep success!
What Are Other Less Time-Consuming Predictors?
Not everyone wants to spend 4+ hours just to get an ACT score estimate. Fortunately, there are other ways to get a good estimate of how well you'll do on the ACT. For example, did you take the PreACT or SAT? If so, you can use that score to predict your ACT score. These test scores make good estimates because they're taken under the same conditions as an ACT test (in the morning, with other students, etc.). I'll give an overview of the pros and cons of using these tests as ACT score predictors.
Take a PreACT
The PreACT is the next best option to taking an official ACT practice test. The PreACT was created by ACT, Inc., the same company that makes the ACT, to help predict your ACT score. It covers the same content as the ACT. Its difficulty level is similar to the ACT since it uses old ACT questions.
The PreACT is graded on the same 1-36 scale. However, it's much shorter than the actual ACT; it only takes about two hours (compared to almost 4 hours for the ACT plus Writing), so it doesn't require the same level of endurance as the full test. Currently, the only official PreACT practice test is in The Official Beginner's Guide for ACT, which costs about $23 on Amazon.
- The PreACT was created by the same company as the ACT.
- It covers the same content as the ACT.
- The difficulty level is on par with the ACT.
- It is specifically intended to predict your ACT score.
- Because it's significantly shorter than the ACT, it won't cover all the topics the ACT does, so you won't get as accurate a score estimate.
- Its shorter length also won't show you how testing for four hours affects your concentration and ability to remain focused on the exam.
Use an SAT Score
There are easy-to-use conversion tables that will convert your 400-1600 SAT score to a 1-36 score, but this isn't as reliable as using a PreACT score. While the SAT is similar to the ACT and PreACT, the SAT was made by the College Board, not ACT, Inc.
Though there is some matching content on the SAT and ACT, the material is not the same. For instance, while the ACT has a science section, the SAT doesn't, and while the SAT has a no-calculator math section, the ACT doesn't.
If you use an SAT score to estimate your ACT score, the prediction could be off by up to 4 points. As an example, I got a 1420 on my SAT. Using this score and the conversion table, I found out my ACT score prediction would be 31, but I got a 34, 3 points more than the estimate. Some people do better on the ACT than the SAT (and vice versa).
- Like the ACT, the SAT is designed to show college preparedness.
- Like the ACT, the SAT covers Math, Reading, and Writing topics.
- If you've already taken the SAT, you won't need to take another test to get your ACT score estimate.
- The SAT was not created by ACT, Inc.
- The SAT doesn't cover all of the material on the ACT.
- Some students simply perform better on the ACT than SAT (and vice versa).
Now that you know the good predictors let's examine the bad:
What Won't Be Good ACT Score Predictors?
I'd recommend avoiding any estimation method not mentioned above. However, here are some of the more commonly used ACT score predictors that I wouldn't recommend.
Non-Official ACT Practice Tests
Online you might find some non-official ACT practice tests (ones not created by ACT, Inc.). These will not give you a reliable ACT score prediction because they're too dissimilar to the ACT. They don't cover the same topics and don't accurately copy the test format.
While some students end up with scores close to the non-official prediction, the majority end up with scores 5-10 points higher or lower than the estimate.
Some students assume ACT scores correlate to GPA. If you have straight A's, then you'll get a 36; if you have a low GPA, then you'll get a low ACT score. However, that's not necessarily true.
Some test-takers with low GPAs can get high ACT scores while others with high GPAs can end up with low scores. Don't rely on your GPA to estimate your ACT score.
AP/IB Test Scores
Other students think that AP and IB exam scores will be good ACT predictors since they cover college-level material.
However, these tests cover very specific, high-level subject matter such as Biology, Calculus, Economics, and History. These tests surpass the level of content covered by the ACT. Excelling or failing AP and IB exams has no correlation with ACT success.
Use your predictor to see if you meet your target score.
What Should You Do With Your ACT Score Prediction?
Are you unhappy with your predicted score? If so, you need to create an ACT prep schedule to help raise your score. Here is a rough estimate of how many hours you need to study to achieve certain score improvements:
- 0-1 ACT Composite Point Improvement: 10 hours
- 1-2 Point Improvement: 20 hours
- 2-4 Point Improvement: 40 hours
- 4-6 Point Improvement: 80 hours
- 6-9 Point Improvement: 150 hours+
Are you happy with your estimated score? If so, you should still do a little ACT prep. Study for at least 10 hours. Take two practice tests with in-depth review. This way you'll get more comfortable with the ACT test format, and you'll be able to double check that your practice test scores match the original prediction.
The ACT plus Writing has five sections: English, Math, Reading, Science, and Writing—they always appear in that order. Below is a breakdown of the timing and number of questions per section:
- English—45 minutes—75 questions
- Math—60 minutes—60 questions
- Reading—35 minutes—40 questions
- Science—35 minutes—40 questions
- Writing—40 minutes—1 essay
Disclaimer: Remember that no estimate is 100% accurate, not even taking an official ACT practice test. Therefore, you should plan to take the real ACT more than once. That way, if you don't reach your target score the first time, you have another chance.
Now that you've found your estimated ACT score, how does it compare to your target score?
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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.