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ACT Test Results: How to Get and Interpret Your Results

feature_ACTScores.jpgIf you took the ACT recently, you’re probably eager to see how you did so you can send your scores to colleges or prepare for the next test date. But how do you get your score report, and what’s the best way to interpret your scores?

In this article, I’ll go through how and when you can get your report, what’s on it, and how to get the most out of the information you’re given.


How Do I Get My ACT Scores?

Your multiple choice scores will be available online in your ACT Web Account about two weeks after you take the ACT. If you took Writing, those scores are available about two weeks after your multiple choice scores (so four weeks, give or take, after the test). The ACT says score reports are usually available 2-8 weeks after the test, which seems like a huge window. They're just trying to account for weird circumstances that sometimes cause scores to take longer, like an irregularity at your test center or answer documents from your test center arriving late.

Barring anything out of the ordinary, you should expect to see your scores online no later than four weeks after the ACT. After this point, you can start sending them to schools. Unfortunately, there is no way to speed up the actual scoring process; you can only use rush reporting to send scores to colleges after your scores are released.

What Will Be on My ACT Score Report?

The first thing you’ll see on your score report is your composite score. This is the large number on the top left in the box labeled “Your ACT Scores”. You’ll also get a set of percentages with your composite score. These percentages give you your score percentile as compared to students in your state (the first bar) and in the US as a whole (the second bar). It's the percentage of students who were at or below your score level on the test.


Next, you’ll see your scores broken down by section.

  • English is split into two categories of questions: Usage/Mechanics and Rhetorical Skills
  • Math is split into three categories of questions: Pre-Algebra/Elementary Algebra, Algebra/Coordinate Geometry, and Plane Geometry/Trigonometry
  • Reading is split into two categories of questions: Social Studies/Sciences and Arts/Literature
  • Science doesn’t have any breakdown of categories. It just lists one score for the whole section.

For English, Math, and Reading, you'll see a score for each section and then scores for the categories beneath the sections (for Science there's only the one complete score). For each test section score and question category score you'll also see a bar that shows you your score percentile.

The question category subscores can range from 1-18, and the test section scores range from 1-36 just like your full composite score. Note that the scores you see for the categories under each test section score don't necessarily add up to the section score.

Your Writing score will be listed below all of these scores if you took the ACT with Writing. This score is reported on a scale of 2-12 (starting with the September 2016 ACT). There are four domain categories below the Writing score, each of which is also scored from 2-12. The ACT averages these scores to arrive at your final score out of 12. Just like with the other sections, you'll see percentile bars next to each of these scores to indicate how you compare to other students.

Below your main scores, you'll see an "ELA score" and a "STEM score." The ELA score is the average of your English, Reading, and Writing (converted to a value out of 36) scores. The STEM score is the average of your Math and Science scores. Both of these are recorded on a scale of 1-36. 

Consult the ACT website to see an example of what a real score report looks like.


What Do I Do With This Information From My ACT Results?

So you have all these numbers, but who cares? How can they help you do better next time? If you know where your weak spots lie, it’s going to be much easier to focus your studying. Here are a couple examples of actions you might take based on what you see on your score report:


Case #1: You Aced Algebra But Missed a Lot of Trigonometry Questions

This indicates that you have a content-based problem with trigonometry. Maybe you didn’t know all the formulas or you're not familiar with the best strategies to solve these types of problems. Review all the formulas you need to know for ACT Math as related to trigonometry.

Also review what’s tested on ACT Math, and make sure you’re familiar with all the material. If you see something you feel shaky on, try some practice questions for that topic. Look into these strategies for improving your math performance as well.


Case #2: You Did Well on English, But your Writing Score Was Low  

The essay can be one of the toughest aspects of the ACT, especially because it comes at the end of the test when you’re tired already. Though the ELA subscore doesn't affect your overall ACT score, many top colleges are still interested in your performance on the essay.

If you had trouble with the essay, take a look at these tips for improving your score. Since you did well on the English section, you probably don’t have a problem with grammar and sentence structure. You might just need to work on organizing your thoughts better overall and providing better examples to support your argument.


Case #3: You Struggled with Science and Reading

If you had issues with these sections, it probably means you need to work on reading passages more efficiently and interpreting them correctly. Check out these strategies for both science passages and reading passages. The Science and Reading sections actually require similar skills, namely skimming over information and making fast-paced judgments about the content.

If you think the time constraints caused you to miss questions, review these strategies for time management on both sections.


Experiment with different strategies for approaching ACT science passages...heh


A Final Word on Score Reports

Your score report is a helpful study tool that will give you more information about areas on the test where you need to make improvements. It might also be a good idea to order Test Information Release for the ACT, which provides a more in-depth look at your scores and the specific questions you missed. Read more about whether or not you should get ACT Tir here.

Compare your score report to your target scores so you can see how much you need to study before the next test!


What's Next?

If you're trying to figure out when you should take the ACT again, use this guide to find out which test date is right for you

Check out these study plans to get an idea of how you might plan out your prep in advance of the next test date. 

Frustrated with your score? Learn how to get a perfect 36 on the ACT, and check out these more detailed guides on doing well on ACT English, Math, Reading, and Science.



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Samantha Lindsay
About the Author

Samantha is a blog content writer for PrepScholar. Her goal is to help students adopt a less stressful view of standardized testing and other academic challenges through her articles. Samantha is also passionate about art and graduated with honors from Dartmouth College as a Studio Art major in 2014. In high school, she earned a 2400 on the SAT, 5's on all seven of her AP tests, and was named a National Merit Scholar.

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