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Average ACT Score for 2018, 2017, 2016, and Earlier Years

Posted by Anna Aldric | Nov 4, 2018 9:00:00 PM

ACT General Info

 

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In 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 25 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 2012-2018

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

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

Sources: 2012 Profile Report, 2013 Profile Report, 2014 Profile Report, 2015 Profile Report, 2016 Profile Report2017 Profile Report, 2018 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.

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

After 2007's peak, there is 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).

 

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 to the same level they are at as of 2018.

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 have been taking the ACT each year over the past decade. Even with more 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. (However, 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 1997 to 2018:

  1997 2001 2005 2009 2013 2016 2017 2018
Black or African American 17.9 16.9 17 16.9 17 17 17.1 16.9
American Indian or Alaska Native 20.4 18.8 18.7 18.9 18 17.7 17.5 17.3
White 22.8 21.8 21.9 22.2 22.1 22.2 22.4 22.2
Hispanic or Latinx 19.9 18.5 18.4 18.7 18.8 18.7 18.9 18.8
Asian 22.5* 21.7 22.1 23.2 23.6 24 24.3 24.5
Pacific Islander 19.4 18.6 18.4** 18.2
Two or More Races 21.1 21 21.2 21.1
No Responses 20.8 20.1 20.3 19.8

Sources: NCES Average ACT Scores 1995-2014, 2016 Profile Report,  2017 Profile Report, 2018 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 Native American 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.

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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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