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Average ACT Score for 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, and Earlier Years

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Posted by Anna Aldric | Oct 17, 2020 5:11:00 PM

ACT General Info

 

body_acttesttakers20112020In recent years, more and more students have been taking the ACT than ever before. But what does this change in participation rate mean for the average ACT score?

As you'll learn in this article, while ACT scores have been fairly stable in the last few years, there have been some dips and peaks in scores in the last 30 years. Let's take a look at what's happening.

 

Average ACT Scores for Past Years

Let's look at some charts for average ACT scores over the past couple of decades. These will show us some trends in the ACT world that have led to recent changes in the test.

 

Average ACT Scores 1992-1996

Year # of Test Takers English Math Reading Science Composite
1992-1993 875,603 20.3 20.1 21.2 20.8 20.7
1994 891,714 20.3 20.2 21.2 20.9 20.8
1995 945,369 20.3 20.2 21.3 21 20.8
1996 924,663 20.3 20.2 21.3 21.1 20.9

Source: NCES Average ACT Scores 1970-1998

In the 1992-1996 ACT scores, there was a general increase in Math, Reading, and Science scores.

 

Average ACT Scores 1997-2001

Year # of Test Takers English Math Reading Science Composite
1997 959,301 20.3 20.6 21.3 21.1 21
1998 995,039 20.4 20.8 21.4 21.1 21
1999 1,019,053 20.5 20.7 21.4 21 21
2000 1,065,138 20.5 20.7 21.4 21 21
2001 1,069,772 20.5 20.7 21.3 21 21

Source: NCES Average ACT Scores 1970-2001

In the 1997-2001 ACT scores, there was an increase in English and Math and a decline in Science and Reading. Also, in 1999, the ACT broke the one million test-taker ceiling for the first time.

 

Average ACT Scores 2002-2005

Year # of Test Takers English Math Reading Science Composite
2002 1,116,082 20.2 20.6 21.1 20.8 20.8
2003 1,175,059 20.3 20.6 21.2 20.8 20.8
2004 1,171,460 20.4 20.6 21.3 20.9 20.9
2005 1,186,251 20.4 20.7 21.3 20.9 20.9

Source: NCES Average ACT Scores 1995-2010

From 2002 to 2005, we see a slight but steady rise in all scores across the board.

 

Average ACT Scores 2006-2011

Year # of Test Takers English Math Reading Science Writing Composite
2006 1,206,455 20.6 20.7 21.4 20.9 7.7 21.1
2007 1,300,599 20.7 20.8 21.5 21 7.6 21.2
2008 1,421,941 20.6 21 21.4 20.8 7.3 21.1
2009 1,480,469 20.6 21 21.4 20.9 7.2 21.1
2010 1,568,835 20.5 21 21.3 20.9 7.1 21
2011 1,623,112 20.6 21 21.3 20.9 7.1 21.1

Source: NCES Average ACT Scores 1995-2010, 2011 Profile Report

As you can see, ACT scores kept increasing until 2007, when there was an all-time composite score high of 21.2. After that, however, all subscores except English and Science consistently declined.

 

Average ACT Scores 2012-2020

Year # of Test Takers English Math Reading Science Writing Composite
2012 1,666,017 20.5 21.1 21.3 20.9 7.1 21.1
2013 1,799,243 20.2 20.9 21.1 20.7 7 20.9
2014 1,845,787 20.3 20.9 21.3 20.8 7.1 21.0
2015 1,924,436 20.4 20.8 21.4 20.9 6.9 21.0
2016 2,090,342 20.1 20.6 21.3 20.8 19.3* 20.8

Sources: 2012 Profile Report, 2013 Profile Report, 2014 Profile Report, 2015 Profile Report, 2016 Profile Report
*2016 Writing results are based on ACT Writing from September 2015 to August 2016, when the test was scored on a scale of 1-36.

After 2007's peak, there was a general decline in scores across the board for nearly a decade. In 2013, ACT, Inc. instituted changes to the ACT to better reflect national curricula, which is possibly reflected in the general stability of composites and subscores from 2013 onwards (with the exception of Math, which has steadily decreased since then).

 

Year # of Test Takers English Math Reading Science Writing Composite
2017 2,030,038 20.3 20.7 21.4 21.0 6.5 21.0
2018 1,914,817 20.2 20.5 21.3 20.8 —* 20.8
2019 1,782,820 20.1 20.4 21.2 20.6 —* 20.7
2020 1,670,497 19.9 20.2 21.2 20.6 —* 20.6

Sources: 2017 Profile Report, 2018 Profile Report, 2020 Profile Report

*As of 2018 ACT seems to have opted to no longer provide information about Writing score averages (except indirectly through ELA scores).

In the last four years, the number of ACT test takers has dropped (in conjunction with the number of SAT test takers rising), which has correlated with a slow decline in scores across the board.

 

Average ACT Score Trends: What Do the Numbers Mean?

As the charts above indicate, there was a moderate and gradual increase in average ACT scores until they peaked in 2007. After, average scores began to decline until 2014 when they increased slightly before settling back down towards the same levels they were at in 2004.

There has been discussion that the downward trend in average ACT scores could be a result of the No Child Left Behind Act and the test-based teaching style in US schools. This slight increase in ACT scores in 2014 could be attributed to the changes ACT, Inc. made to the ACT so that it could better align with high school curricula. Overall, though, average ACT scores have remained relatively stable.

For a long while it was predominantly students in the Midwest that took the ACT, but lately the test has begun to spread to the rest of the US as more and more states are requiring students to take it.

Consequently, more students started taking the ACT each year until 2016, when the new SAT was introduced (since when, the number of ACT test takers has declined back down to 2012 numbers).

Even at the peak of more than 2 million students taking the ACT, however, the data shows that students generally do better on the ACT than they do on the SAT—for which there has been a steady, stronger decline in scores. (The long-term results of the 2016 SAT redesign aren't yet known.)

One thing to note, though, is that just like with the SAT, the ACT shows a disparity in scores based on ethnicity and, very likely, income level. The following chart clarifies these differences between average ACT scores based on ethnicity from 2001 to 2020:

  2001 2005 2009 2013 2017 2018 2019 2020
Black or African American 16.9 17 16.9 17 17.1 16.9 16.8 16.7
American Indian or Alaska Native 18.8 18.7 18.9 18 17.5 17.3 17.0 16.7
White 21.8 21.9 22.2 22.1 22.4 22.2 22.1 22.0
Hispanic or Latinx 18.5 18.4 18.7 18.8 18.9 18.8 18.7 18.5
Asian 21.7* 22.1* 23.2* 23.6 24.3 24.5 24.6 24.9
Pacific Islander 19.4 18.4** 18.2 17.9 17.5
Two or More Races 21.1 21.2 21.1 21.0 20.9
No Responses 20.8 20.3 19.8 19.7 19.7

Sources: NCES Average ACT Scores 1995-2014, 2016 Profile Report, 2017 Profile Report, 2018 Profile Report, 2020 Profile Report

*Averages for Asian and Pacific Islander students were combined until 2011
**Averages for Native Hawaiian students folded into averages for Pacific Islander students starting 2017

Overall, the white, Asian, and two or more races subgroups have the highest ACT score averages, with Asian scores consistently increasing. By contrast, African American and American Indian/Alaska Native subgroups have the lowest ACT averages, likely because they are typically the most disenfranchised groups.

 

What's Next?

Now that you know about the average ACT scores, it's time to figure out what a good ACT score is for you specifically.

If you're definitely decided on the ACT, read our in-depth guides to prepping for the ACT. If you don't have a lot of time left, use our last-minute ACT cramming tips. Got time? Then learn how to come up with your own ACT study schedule.

Not sure whether you should take the ACT or SAT? Take a look at our article on the differences between the ACT and SAT to help you determine which test is right for you.

 

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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Anna Aldric
About the Author

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.



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