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If you just took the ACT or if you took the ACT in 2008-2010, you might be curious as to how your percentile score compares to students with the same scaled score in other years? In this guide, I'll explain what percentiles are, how they work on the ACT, and why they matter (even the older ones). I'll also give you ACT percentile charts for 2011-2014, so you can see how your scores stack up against historical ones.

What Is an ACT Percentile Score?

Before I get started, I need to define what an ACT percentile actually is. An ACT percentile score is NOT the same as a percentage score you receive on school quiz (for example, when you score 91% on your Physics test that means you answered 91% of questions correctly).

Instead, an ACT percentile score tells you how your scaled score compared to that of other test-takers. More specifically, the percentile is an approximation by the ACT of how many recent US high school graduates took the SAT and scored at or below your score. A percentile score makes your scaled score easier to comprehend since it’s on a vague scale (1-36).

As an example, if you have a 30th percentile score, you scored higher than 30% of ACT test-takers. If you have an 84th percentile score, you scored higher than 84% of test-takers. The higher your percentile score is, the better you compared to others who took that ACT.

If you took an in-class test, you could have a high test score (such as 95%) and have a relatively low percentile score (17th) if the test was very easy for your class (83% of the class scored above 95% on that test). On the other hand, you could have a low test score (such as 35%) and have a relatively high percentile score (88%) if the test was very hard for your class (only 12% of the class scored above 35%).

On the ACT, percentile shifts tend not to be as extreme as this example since the ACT is equalized, but I’ll discuss this more in depth later on. Nonetheless, ACT percentiles are helpful for understanding your scaled scores, since percentiles allow you to determine where you fall in comparison to other test-takers.

Do ACT Percentiles Change Over Time?

For a specific scaled ACT score, the score percentile stays about the same from year to year (typically within 2-3%). If you don’t know how your ACT scaled score (1-36) is calculated, learn how to calculate ACT score before reading further.

There are only minuscule percentile changes for a specific scaled score from year to year because the ACT is equalized specifically to ensure the same curve every test date. To show the slight variation in percentile for a specific score, a scaled score of 18 was the 33rd percentile in 2008, but it was the 34th percentile in 2009 and the 35th percentile in 2010. However, a score of 33 had the same percentile for 2008-2010, 99th percentile.

What does it mean for percentiles for each scaled score to remain about the same from year to year? As I said above, the ACT attempts to keep score distributions the same from year to year so that the same scaled score means the same across different years. That way, a 33 means you scored better than 99% of test-takers in 2008-2010 (and any other year).

What this means for you is that no one test date (or test year) is better (or easier) than another. All test dates are equalized to make sure there is a similar score distribution.

Why Care About ACT Score Percentiles? Especially Percentiles From Other Years?

You should care about your ACT score percentile because it helps college admissions officers compare your scaled score to those of other applicants. Admissions officers need percentile scores to have a sense of how you compare to students across the country. If they just saw your scaled score without any other information, they wouldn’t have any sense of what makes a good ACT scaled score and what makes a bad one.

For instance, if you’d received a 33 composite score and an admissions office didn’t know the score percentile, they might judge that as a quiz grade and think if you scored 33 out of 36, then you got a 92% or A-, good but not great. Instead, since they have score percentiles, admissions offices know a 33 is a 99th percentile score, meaning you scored better than 99% of test-takers, which is excellent.

Percentile scores allow college admissions offices to have an understanding of how test-takers do on the ACT and how you stack up to the rest of test-takers.

But why should you care about percentiles from other years? Because you’re submitting your college apps at the same time as students who took the ACT in other years. Although you may have taken the ACT in 2009 as a junior in high school, other students might have waited to take the ACT until 2010 as seniors in high school. This doesn’t change the fact that you’re all still applying to college the same year.

While you and your friend, who took the test in 2010, both received a composite scaled score of 30. Your percentile score was 96 while his was 95. What this means is your 30 is slightly better than his 30. You scored better than 96% of test-takers while he only scored better than 95% of test-takers.

Comparing percentiles for a specific scaled score across different years is a useful tool to understand how you compare to other applicants who took the ACT a different year.

While ACT percentile scores are important, knowing how you fall in the ACT score ranges for your target colleges is much more important. If you don’t know what a college’s ACT score range is, the quick explanation is it’s the range in which the middle 50% of admitted students’ ACT scores fall. I.E., Yale’s ACT score range is 31-35. This means 25% of admitted Yale students scored below a 31, and 75% scored at or below a 35.

Schools mostly use their score ranges when making admissions decisions. As a result, no matter your percentile score, you’ll want your ACT composite scaled score to be at or above the 75th percentile (for example, 35 for Yale) to give yourself the best shot of getting in.

To locate the ACT score ranges for your dream colleges, search “[College Name] ACT Scores Prepscholar” in Google. For an in-depth explanation of score range, including how to calculate your target score, read our guide to good and bad ACT scores.

The reasons schools care about their score range over your score percentile are:

• Their score range is typically a part of the evaluation for college ranking list, so schools want to admit students with higher scaled scores so that the school will be ranked higher.
• Schools publish their scaled score range every year, so the higher the range, the more impressive it seems to the general public.

While ACT score percentiles are important, your overall ACT composite score is the number that is most significant in your college application.

ACT Percentiles for 2008-2010

Here I’ve created a table showing the ACT score percentiles from 2008-2010 for each composite scaled score. I used data provided by the ACT to assemble this chart and the charts below (for the percentiles for individual sections).

Remember, the percentile score is the percentage of test-takers who scored at or below that scaled score. I.E. below, in 2008, if your composite score was a 32, you scored better than 99% of test-takers:

 ACT Scaled Score 2008 Percentile 2009 Percentile 2010 Percentile ACT Scaled Score 36 100 100 100 36 35 100 100 100 35 34 100 100 100 34 33 99 99 99 33 32 99 98 98 32 31 97 97 97 31 30 96 96 95 30 29 94 93 93 29 28 91 91 91 28 27 88 88 88 27 26 84 84 84 26 25 80 79 79 25 24 75 74 74 24 23 69 69 68 23 22 62 62 62 22 21 55 56 55 21 20 48 48 48 20 19 40 41 41 19 18 33 34 35 18 17 26 27 28 17 16 20 21 22 16 15 14 15 16 15 14 9 10 11 14 13 5 5 7 13 12 2 2 3 12 11 1 1 1 11 10 1 1 1 10 9 1 1 1 9 8 1 1 1 8 7 1 1 1 7 6 1 1 1 6 5 1 1 1 5 4 1 1 1 4 3 1 1 1 3 2 1 1 1 2 1 1 1 1 1

ACT English Historical Percentiles for 2008-2010

Here I’ve created a table showing the ACT percentiles from 2008-2010 for each English scaled score.

 ACT Scaled Score 2008 Percentile 2009 Percentile 2010 Percentile ACT Scaled Score 36 100 100 100 36 35 100 100 100 35 34 99 99 99 34 33 97 97 97 33 32 96 96 96 32 31 95 95 95 31 30 93 93 93 30 29 91 91 91 29 28 89 88 88 28 27 86 86 85 27 26 83 83 82 26 25 79 79 78 25 24 74 74 73 24 23 69 69 68 23 22 64 63 63 22 21 58 57 57 21 20 50 50 50 20 19 42 43 43 19 18 37 37 38 18 17 32 33 34 17 16 27 28 29 16 15 22 23 24 15 14 16 17 19 14 13 12 14 15 13 12 9 11 12 12 11 7 8 9 11 10 5 5 6 10 9 3 3 4 9 8 2 2 2 8 7 1 1 1 7 6 1 1 1 6 5 1 1 1 5 4 1 1 1 4 3 1 1 1 3 2 1 1 1 2 1 1 1 1 1

ACT Math Historical Percentiles for 2008-2010

Here I’ve created a table showing the ACT score percentiles from 2008-2010 for each Math scaled score.

 ACT Scaled Score 2008 Percentile 2009 Percentile 2010 Percentile ACT Scaled Score 36 100 100 100 36 35 100 100 100 35 34 99 99 99 34 33 98 98 98 33 32 97 97 97 32 31 96 96 96 31 30 95 94 95 30 29 93 93 93 29 28 91 91 91 28 27 87 88 88 27 26 83 84 84 26 25 79 79 79 25 24 73 74 74 24 23 67 68 68 23 22 62 62 62 22 21 57 58 57 21 20 52 52 52 20 19 47 47 47 19 18 41 41 42 18 17 33 35 35 17 16 24 25 26 16 15 14 14 14 15 14 6 6 6 14 13 2 2 2 13 12 1 1 1 12 11 1 1 1 11 10 1 1 1 10 9 1 1 1 9 8 1 1 1 8 7 1 1 1 7 6 1 1 1 6 5 1 1 1 5 4 1 1 1 4 3 1 1 1 3 2 1 1 1 2 1 1 1 1 1

ACT Reading Historical Percentiles for 2008-2010

Here I’ve created a table showing the ACT score percentiles from 2008-2010 for each Reading scaled score.

 ACT Scaled Score 2008 Percentile 2009 Percentile 2010 Percentile ACT Scaled Score 36 100 100 100 36 35 99 99 99 35 34 98 99 99 34 33 97 97 97 33 32 96 95 95 32 31 94 93 93 31 30 91 90 91 30 29 88 87 88 29 28 85 84 85 28 27 81 81 82 27 26 78 78 78 26 25 74 74 75 25 24 70 71 70 24 23 65 66 66 23 22 58 60 60 22 21 53 55 54 21 20 47 47 48 20 19 41 41 41 19 18 34 35 36 18 17 30 31 31 17 16 24 25 25 16 15 19 19 20 15 14 14 14 15 14 13 9 9 11 13 12 5 6 7 12 11 3 3 4 11 10 1 1 2 10 9 1 1 1 9 8 1 1 1 8 7 1 1 1 7 6 1 1 1 6 5 1 1 1 5 4 1 1 1 4 3 1 1 1 3 2 1 1 1 2 1 1 1 1 1

ACT Science Score Historical Percentiles for 2008-2010

Here I’ve created a table showing the ACT  percentiles from 2008-2010 for each Science scaled score.

 ACT Scaled Score 2008 Percentile 2009 Percentile 2010 Percentile ACT Scaled Score 36 100 100 100 36 35 100 100 100 35 34 99 99 99 34 33 99 99 99 33 32 98 98 98 32 31 97 98 98 31 30 97 96 96 30 29 95 95 95 29 28 94 93 93 28 27 92 91 91 27 26 89 89 87 26 25 85 84 84 25 24 78 77 77 24 23 72 72 71 23 22 65 64 63 22 21 56 57 56 21 20 49 49 47 20 19 39 38 38 19 18 30 30 31 18 17 23 23 24 17 16 18 19 19 16 15 13 14 14 15 14 10 10 11 14 13 7 7 8 13 12 5 5 5 12 11 3 3 3 11 10 1 1 2 10 9 1 1 1 9 8 1 1 1 8 7 1 1 1 7 6 1 1 1 6 5 1 1 1 5 4 1 1 1 4 3 1 1 1 3 2 1 1 1 2 1 1 1 1 1

What’s Next?

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Dora Seigel