SAT / ACT Prep Online Guides and Tips

Historical ACT Percentiles for 2016, 2015, 2014, and 2013

Posted by Dora Seigel | May 29, 2017 1:00:00 PM

ACT General Info

 

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For those currently taking the ACT or those who took the ACT in 2013-2016, you may wonder: how does your percentile compare to students with the same score in other years? In this guide, I'll explain what percentiles are, how they work for the ACT, and why they matter. I'll also give you ACT percentile charts for 2013-2016, so you can see how your scores stack up against historical ones.

 

What Is an ACT Percentile Score? 

Before diving in, let's define what an ACT percentile actually is. A percentile score is NOT the same as a percentage score you receive on a test in school (i.e. when you receive 85% on your Biology test, you answered 85% of questions correctly. Rather, an ACT percentile score lets you know how you did in comparison to other test-takers, which makes your score easier to understand since it’s on a rather ambiguous scale (1-36). 

For instance, if you have a 25th percentile score,  you scored higher than 25% of ACT test-takers. If you have a 98th percentile score, you scored higher than 98% of test-takers. The higher your percentile score is, the better you compared to others who've taken ACT.

On an in-class test, you can have a high test score (such as 90%) and have a relatively low percentile score (10%) if the test was very easy for your class (i.e. 90% of your class scored above 90% on that test). However, you can also have a low test score (such as 20%) and have a relatively high percentile score (90%) if the test was very hard for your class (i.e. only 10% of your class scored above 20%).

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?

Generally, for a specific scaled ACT score, the percentile of that score stays the same from year to year, but there can be some very slight changes (typically at most 3% from year to year). NOTE: If you’re unsure how the scaled score (1-36) is determined, learn how to calculate ACT score.

The reason there are only minimal percentile changes for a specific scaled score from year to year is that the ACT is equalized specifically to ensure the same curve every test date. As an example of the slight variation in percentile for a specific score, a score of 31 was the 96th percentile in 2014, but it was the 97th percentile in 2013.

What does it mean for percentiles for each scaled score to stay about the same from year to year? As I mentioned earlier, the ACT tries to keep the score distributions the same from year to year so that the same scaled score means the same across different years. Ideally, a 32 means you scored better than 98% of test-takers in 2013 and 2016 (and any other year).

This means no one test date (or test year) is advantaged over another. All test dates are equalized to ensure similar (if not the same) score distribution.  

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Why Care About Percentiles? Especially Percentiles From Other Years?

Your score percentile is somewhat important because it helps colleges compare your ACT score to those of other applicants. It’s important for colleges to have a sense of how you compare to students across the country because if colleges just looked at your scaled score without any other information, they would not have a good sense of what makes a good score and what makes a bad score.

For example, if you’d received a 33 composite score and a college did not have the percentile, the college admissions officer might judge that as a school test and think you received 33 out of 36 that about 92% that’s an A-, good but not great. However, with the percentiles, the colleges know a 33 is a 99th percentile score, meaning you scored better than 99% of test-takers, which is excellent.

Percentiles allow colleges to get a sense of how test-takers do on the ACT and compare you to the rest of the country.   

You should care about percentiles from other years because you are applying to college with students who took the ACT in other years. For example, although you may have taken the ACT in 2015 as a junior in high school, some of your classmates might have taken the ACT in 2016 as seniors in high school. You’re all still applying to college the same year.

While you and your classmate both scored 33, your percentile score was 99, while his was 98. Your 32 is slightly more impressive than his. You scored better than 99% of test-takers while he scored better than 97% of test-takers.

Comparing percentiles for specific scaled scores across years is useful to know how you stack up against students who took the ACT a different year but are applying to college at the same time as you.

While percentile scores are important, the ACT score range for your target college is the more important consideration. If you’re unfamiliar with the ACT score range, the ACT score range for colleges is the range in which the middle 50% of admitted students’ ACT scores fall. For instance, Yale’s ACT score range is 31-35. 25% of admitted students scored at or below a 31, and 75% scored at or below a 35.

Universities rely primarily on score ranges when making admissions decisions. For this reason, you’ll want your score to be at or above the 75th percentile (for example, 35 for Yale) to give yourself the best chance of being admitted. To find ACT score ranges for your target schools, search “[College Name] ACT Scores Prepscholar.” For a more detailed explanation, including how to calculate your target score, read our other guide

Universities care about the score range over the score percentile because:

  • A college’s score range is often a consideration in college ranking lists, so colleges want to admit students with higher scores so that the college will be ranked higher.
  • Universities publish their score range each year, so the higher the range, the more impressive it seems to the public.

While ACT score percentiles are an important part of the college admissions process, your final ACT composite number is the number that is most significant.

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Okay, maybe not this historical.

 

ACT Percentiles for 2011-2016

Below, I’ve listed the ACT composite score percentiles for each composite scaled score from 2013-2016. I used data provided by the ACT to assemble this chart and the charts below (for the percentiles for individual sections). Remember, the percentile is the percentage of test-takers who scored at or below that scaled score. 

ACT Scaled Score

2016 Percentile

2015 Percentile

2014 Percentile

2013 Percentile

2012 Percentile

2011 Percentile

36

99

99

99

99

99

99

35

99

99

99

99

99

99

34

99

99

99

99

99

99

33

98

99

99

99

99

99

32

97

97

98

98

98

98

31

96

96

96

97

97

97

30

95

94

95

95

95

95

29

93

92

92

93

93

93

28

91

89

90

91

90

91

27

88

86

87

87

87

87

26

85

82

83

84

83

83

25

80

78

79

79

79

79

24

75

73

74

75

74

74

23

69

68

68

69

68

68

22

64

63

62

63

62

62

21

58

56

56

56

55

55

20

52

50

50

50

48

48

19

45

43

43

43

41

41

18

38

37

36

36

34

34

17

30

30

30

30

28

28

16

22

24

24

24

21

22

15

16

18

18

18

16

16

14

10

12

12

12

11

11

13

5

7

7

8

6

7

12

2

3

4

4

3

3

11

1

1

1

1

1

1

10

1

1

1

1

1

1

9

1

1

1

1

1

1

8

1

1

1

1

1

1

7

1

1

1

1

1

1

6

1

1

1

1

1

1

5

1

1

1

1

1

1

4

1

1

1

1

1

1

3

1

1

1

1

1

1

2

1

1

1

1

1

1

1

1

1

1

1

1

1

  

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ACT English Historical Percentiles 2011-2016

Below, I’ve listed the ACT score percentiles for each English scaled score from 2011-2016. 

ACT Scaled Score

2016 Percentile

2015 Percentile

2014 Percentile

2013 Percentile

2012 Percentile

2011 Percentile

36

99

99

99

99

99

99

35

99

99

99

99

99

99

34

98

98

98

99

99

98

33

96

96

97

97

97

97

32

94

95

95

95

96

96

31

93

93

93

94

94

94

30

91

91

92

92

92

92

29

89

89

90

90

90

90

28

88

87

87

88

88

88

27

85

84

85

86

86

85

26

82

82

82

83

82

82

25

79

78

79

79

78

78

24

75

73

74

75

74

73

23

70

69

69

70

68

67

22

65

63

64

64

63

63

21

59

58

58

59

57

56

20

53

52

52

52

50

49

19

47

46

45

45

43

43

18

43

41

40

40

38

38

17

39

36

36

36

33

34

16

35

32

32

32

29

29

15

29

27

27

26

24

24

14

23

21

21

21

18

18

13

17

16

116

16

14

14

12

14

3

13

13

11

12

11

11

10

10

10

9

9

10

7

7

7

7

6

6

9

4

4

4

4

4

4

8

2

2

2

2

2

2

7

1

1

1

1

1

1

6

1

1

1

1

1

1

5

1

1

1

1

1

1

4

1

1

1

1

1

1

3

1

1

1

1

1

1

2

1

1

1

1

1

1

1

1

1

1

1

1

1

 

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ACT Math Historical Percentiles 2011-2016

Below, I’ve listed the ACT score percentiles for each Math scaled score from 2011-2016.

ACT Scaled Score

2016 Percentile

2015 Percentile

2014 Percentile

2013 Percentile

2012 Percentile

2011 Percentile

36

99

99

99

99

99

99

35

99

99

99

99

99

99

34

99

99

99

99

99

99

33

98

98

98

98

98

98

32

97

97

97

97

97

97

31

96

96

96

96

96

96

30

95

95

95

95

95

94

29

94

93

93

94

93

93

28

91

91

91

92

91

91

27

88

88

88

88

88

88

26

84

83

84

84

84

84

25

79

78

78

79

78

79

24

75

73

73

73

73

73

23

69

68

67

67

66

67

22

64

62

61

61

60

60

21

59

58

57

56

54

55

20

56

54

53

52

51

51

19

52

49

49

48

46

46

18

47

43

44

42

40

41

17

40

37

37

36

34

434

16

30

27

28

27

25

26

15

18

16

15

15

14

14

14

8

7

6

6

5

5

13

4

3

2

2

2

2

12

1

1

1

1

1

1

11

1

1

1

1

1

1

10

1

1

1

1

1

1

9

1

1

1

1

1

1

8

1

1

1

1

1

1

7

1

1

1

1

1

1

6

1

1

1

1

1

1

5

1

1

1

1

1

1

4

1

1

1

1

1

1

3

1

1

1

1

1

1

2

1

1

1

1

1

1

1

1

1

1

1

1

1

 

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ACT Reading Historical Percentiles 2011-2016

Below, I’ve listed the ACT percentiles for each Reading scaled score from 2011-2016.

ACT Scaled Score

2016 Percentile

2015 Percentile

2014 Percentile

2013 Percentile

2012 Percentile

2011 Percentile

36

99

99

99

99

99

99

35

99

99

99

99

99

99

34

98

98

98

99

98

99

33

96

97

97

97

97

97

32

94

94

95

95

95

95

31

91

92

92

93

93

93

30

89

89

89

90

90

90

29

86

86

86

87

87

87

28

83

83

84

84

85

85

27

81

80

81

82

82

82

26

78

77

78

79

78

79

25

74

74

74

76

75

75

24

71

71

71

72

71

71

23

66

66

66

66

66

66

22

60

60

61

62

60

61

21

56

54

56

56

55

55

20

48

48

48

49

48

48

19

43

42

42

43

42

42

18

37

36

35

37

36

36

17

31

30

31

31

29

30

16

26

25

25

26

24

25

15

22

20

20

21

20

20

14

16

15

16

16

15

15

13

12

11

11

12

10

10

12

7

7

7

8

7

7

11

4

3

4

4

3

3

10

2

2

2

2

2

2

9

1

1

1

1

1

1

8

1

1

1

1

1

1

7

1

1

1

1

1

1

6

1

1

1

1

1

1

5

1

1

1

1

1

1

4

1

1

1

1

1

1

3

1

1

1

1

1

1

2

1

1

1

1

1

1

1

1

1

1

1

1

1

 

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ACT Science Historical Percentiles 2011-2016

Below, I’ve listed the ACT score percentiles for each Science scaled score from 2011-2016. 

ACT Scaled Score

2016 Percentile

2015 Percentile

2014 Percentile

2013 Percentile

2012 Percentile

2011 Percentile

36

99

99

99

99

99

99

35

99

99

99

99

99

99

34

99

99

99

99

99

99

33

98

98

98

99

99

99

32

97

97

97

98

98

98

31

96

95

96

97

97

97

30

94

94

95

96

96

96

29

92

93

93

94

95

95

28

89

92

92

92

93

93

27

86

89

90

90

91

90

26

83

87

86

87

87

87

25

79

82

83

84

83

83

24

74

76

77

77

77

77

23

69

69

70

70

69

70

22

64

62

63

64

62

62

21

58

55

55

57

55

56

20

51

48

48

48

47

47

19

45

40

41

40

38

38

18

39

33

32

33

31

31

17

32

27

27

26

24

24

16

26

22

21

22

19

20

15

19

16

16

17

15

15

14

14

12

13

13

12

11

13

8

9

9

10

8

8

12

4

6

6

7

6

6

11

2

3

4

4

4

4

10

1

2

2

2

2

2

9

1

1

1

1

1

1

8

1

1

1

1

1

1

7

1

1

1

1

1

1

6

1

1

1

1

1

1

5

1

1

1

1

1

1

4

1

1

1

1

1

1

3

1

1

1

1

1

1

2

1

1

1

1

1

1

1

1

1

1

1

1

1

 

 

What’s Next?

Learn more about what qualifies as a good ACT score for your college and how to calculate your target score.

Or, if you already have a goal, try out our 15 top tips for taking the ACT or our 20-hour prep guide.

Finally, make sure you're studying the right way with our guide to reviewing your mistakes.

 

Disappointed with your ACT scores? 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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Dora Seigel
About the Author

As an SAT/ACT tutor, Dora has guided many students to test prep success. She loves watching students succeed and is committed to helping you get there. Dora received a full-tuition merit based scholarship to University of Southern California. She graduated magna cum laude and scored in the 99th percentile on the ACT. She is also passionate about acting, writing, and photography.



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