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Planning to take the ACT in the 2017-18 school year? In addition to studying for the test, you'll need to know what score to aim for. What is a good ACT score for 2018? What's a good score for each section? Has the definition of a good ACT score changed over time?

We'll start by looking at what are considered good ACT scores for 2018 using the average score and percentiles. After, we'll go over how to set an ACT goal score and then examine historical ACT score data to see whether the definition of good ACT scores has changed in recent years.

What Is a Good ACT Score for 2018 Overall?

First off, what is a good ACT score for 2018, broadly speaking?

We can answer this question by looking at the average ACT score for 2018 and the national ACT score percentiles for 2018. Both averages and percentiles can be used to see how your ACT score stacks up against those of other test takers. This data is important to know since colleges regularly compare applicants' test scores during the admissions process.

So what are percentiles exactly? In short, percentiles tell you what percentage of test takers you scored higher than, either on the test as a whole or a particular section. Thus, the higher your ACT percentile is, the better your ACT performance will be (compared with other test takers).

But before we can answer the question, "What is a good ACT score for 2018?" we need to review how the ACT scoring system actually works.

The ACT uses a scoring scale of 1-36, both overall and for each of its four sections: English, Math, Reading, and Science. (There's also an optional Writing section, whose score—which uses a scale of 2-12—does not factor into your composite ACT score.)

Now, let's look at some data: according to ACT, Inc., the average ACT score for 2018 is 20.9. In general, any score above average can be considered "good," any score below average can be considered "poor," and any score at or right around average can be considered "OK."

The higher your score is above the average, the better your score (and the higher your percentile) will be. Similarly, the lower your score is below the average, the worse your score will look to schools.

Here are the ACT score percentiles for 2018 and what they say about your performance:

 Percentile* English Math Reading Science Composite 90th (excellent) 29-30 28 31 27-28 28 75th (good) 24 24 25 24 24 50th (OK) 20 19 20 20 20 25th (poor) 14-15 16 16 16-17 16 10th (very poor) 11 14 13 13 13

Source: ACT.org

*For percentiles not reported in official data, estimated ACT scores/ranges have been given.

In this chart, we can see that to get a good ACT score for 2018, you'll typically need to aim for at least the 75th percentile, or 24-25, on each section.

If you're aiming for a particularly high ACT score in the top 10 percent, you'll have to get at least 28-30 on each section (coming out to a composite score of 28). Interestingly, this total score is a whole 8 points below 36, a perfect ACT score. In other words, to get an excellent ACT score, you don't even need to break 30!

On the opposite side are the poor scores, which are anything (significantly) below average. For example, a 10th percentile ACT composite score is 13, meaning that any score in the range of 1-13 is a pretty low score. Therefore, you'll definitely want to do better than this on the test before you send ACT scores to schools.

But what does all of this data mean for you specifically? Keep reading to learn how you can use this information to set a personal ACT goal score for 2018.

What Is a Good 2018 ACT Score for You?

While all of these 2018 ACT score percentiles and averages are helpful to know, they don't tell you what a good ACT score for you is in particular.

Ultimately, what's more important than hitting a certain percentile is getting an ACT score that's high enough to get you accepted to your chosen schools.

This “goal” score can vary depending on the schools you're applying to. For example, for someone applying to Caltech, a good ACT score would be something close to a perfect 36. However, for someone applying to Mississippi State, a good ACT score would be a lot lower, around 27.

As you can see, your ACT goal score isn't always going to be the same as someone else's—this is OK! Not everyone applies to the same schools, so there's really no point in comparing your goal score with those of your friends or classmates.

All you need to know is that this score is your ideal score. If you can hit it, you significantly raise your chances of getting accepted to your top schools. But how do you find your ACT goal score?

How to Set an ACT Goal Score for 2018

Setting an ACT goal score is a pretty simple process. Follow the three steps below to get started!

Step 1: Make a Chart

A chart helps you easily visualize what kinds of ACT scores your schools look for in applicants.

Write the names of the schools you're applying to in the leftmost column. Then, write the headings “25th Percentile ACT Score” and “75th Percentile ACT Score” horizontally across the top. (We'll explain more about what these headings mean in the next step.)

Here's an example for reference:

 School 25th Percentile ACT Score 75th Percentile ACT Score Northeastern Boston College NYU Brandeis

Brandeis University (John Phelan/Wikimedia)

Step 2: Find ACT Score Info for Your Schools

Now, it's time to start filling out your chart.

The easiest way to find ACT score info for your schools is to search “[School Name] PrepScholar” on Google. Click the link to your school's “Admission Requirements” page in our database. Once on this page, scroll down until you get to your school's ACT score info.

Here's an example of an Admission Requirements page for Northeastern University:

In the ACT score info section, look for the 25th and 75th percentile ACT scores for your school. These are located directly under the "school competitiveness" graphic. In the screenshot above, you can see that Northeastern's 25th and 75th percentile scores are 31 and 34, respectively.

But why these percentiles? What do they mean? The 25th and 75th percentiles for a school are the middle 50 percent, or average range, of ACT scores for admitted applicants. These percentiles tell you precisely what kinds of scores successful students have had when applying to your school.

If you can't find your school in our database, search online for “[School Name] 25th 75th percentile ACT” or “[School Name] average ACT score.” Try to look for links to your school's official website so you can verify that the info you find is accurate.

Let's take a look at our sample chart again, now with each school's ACT scores filled out:

 School 25th Percentile ACT Score 75th Percentile ACT Score Northeastern 31 34 Boston College 30 33 NYU 28 32 Brandeis 29 33

Step 3: Find Your Goal Score

Now that you've got all of the info you need, it's time to use your chart to find your ACT goal score.

Look for the highest 75th percentile score in your chart. In our example, the highest score is 34 (for Northeastern). This score will be your goal score, as it's the one most likely to get you accepted to all of the schools in your chart.

Since your composite ACT score is the average of your four section scores, you can use your goal score to estimate what score to aim for on each section. For example, if your goal score is 28, you'll know to roughly aim for 28 on the four sections, too (so that the average of them, or your composite score, comes out to 28).

That being said, if you're stronger at certain sections or topics, you might want to aim for higher scores on those sections and lower scores on the others. For instance, if your goal score is 30 and you're really good at math but not so great at reading, you could aim for something like 32 on Math and 28 on Reading (instead of 30 on both sections). In this case, you'll still be able to hit your goal score—you're just using a different combination of section scores to get there.

How Have Good ACT Scores Changed Over Time?

We now know what a good ACT score for 2018 is, both overall and for you specifically. But how has the definition of a good ACT score changed over the years? Has it changed dramatically, or has it generally stayed the same?

To answer these questions, let's look at some data. The following table shows the average ACT scores for the past decade:

Average ACT Scores 2007-2017

 Year English Math Reading Science Composite 2007 20.7 21.0 21.5 21.0 21.2 2008 20.6 21.0 21.4 20.8 21.1 2009 20.6 21.0 21.4 20.9 21.1 2010 20.5 21.0 21.3 20.9 21.0 2011 20.6 21.1 21.3 20.9 21.1 2012 20.5 21.1 21.3 20.9 21.1 2013 20.2 20.9 21.1 20.7 20.9 2014 20.3 20.9 21.3 20.8 21.0 2015 20.4 20.8 21.4 20.9 21.0 2016 20.1 20.6 21.3 20.8 20.8 2017 20.3 20.7 21.4 21.0 21.0

Sources: ACT 2017 National Profile Report, ACT 2012 National Profile Report, ACT 2011 National Profile Report

As this chart indicates, average ACT scores clearly haven't shifted much over time. The biggest change in points in any column is just 0.6 points, which isn't a huge difference in the grand scheme of ACT scoring. Thus, we can say that ACT averages have stayed fairly consistent over time and are likely to continue to do so based on these trends.

What about percentiles, though? Above, we used percentiles to show what good, OK, and poor ACT scores look like. But have the scores associated with these percentiles changed over time?

Below are ACT composite scores and their corresponding 25th, 50th, and 75th percentiles for the past decade:

ACT Score Percentiles 2007-2017

 Year 75th Percentile 50th Percentile 25th Percentile 2007 25 21 17 2008 25 21 17 2009 25 21 17 2010 25 21 17 2011 25 21 17 2012 25 21 17 2013 25 21 17 2014 25 21 17 2015 25 21 17 2016 25 20 16 2017 25 20 17

Like the first chart, we can see that changes over the years are extremely minimal. The 75th percentile score stays at 25 the entire decade, while the 50th and 25th percentile scores exhibit only a nominal change of 1 point starting in 2016.

It's safe to say, then, that the definition of a “good” (or an “OK” or “poor”) ACT score has stayed relatively stable over the past decade.

The fact that ACT scores and their percentiles don't change much is helpful to know if you want to compare a more recent ACT score with an older one. For example, if you wanted to compare your 2017 ACT score with your older sister's 2012 ACT score, you can easily do this using percentiles—without having to take into account test years or dates.

Recap: So What's a Good ACT Score for 2018?

There are a couple of ways to determine what good ACT scores for 2018 are.

One way is to look at averages and percentiles. According to the most recent data, the average composite ACT score is 20.9. In general, any score at or around average is OK, any score higher than average (75th percentile) is good, and any score lower than average (25th percentile) is poor.

Because the definition of a good ACT score hasn't changed much in the past decade, you can easily compare scores across the years without having to adjust for test dates or testing years.

In the end, though, a good 2018 ACT score for you depends not on averages or percentiles but on the schools you wish to attend. This ideal score is your ACT goal score, and it's the one most likely to get you into all of the schools you're applying to. Hit this score and you'll give yourself your best chance at getting into the college of your dreams!

What's Next?

Still got questions about what constitutes a good ACT score? Check out our in-depth guide to good, excellent, and poor ACT scores.

Need help getting started on your ACT prep? Follow our guide to developing a foolproof ACT study plan, and get expert tips on the best ACT test dates.

Looking for ACT tips to improve your score and help you hit your goal? Our guide offers a compilation of the best ACT tricks and advice out there!

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