For those currently taking the ACT or who took it in 2011-2015, you might wonder: how does your percentile compare with students who got 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 2011-2015 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 is.
First off, a percentile is not the same as a percentage score you get 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 with other test takers. This in turn makes your score easier to understand since the ACT uses a pretty ambiguous scale of 1-36.
For instance, a 25th percentile score means you scored higher than 25% of ACT test takers, while a 98th percentile score means you scored higher than 98% of test takers. In short, the higher your percentile is, the better you did compared with others who took the ACT.
For instance, on an easy in-class test (on which most students scored 90% or above), you could get a high test score like 91% and get a relatively low percentile like 10%. However, if the test were very hard for your class (e.g., only a few students scored above 20%), you could get a low test score like 28% and a relatively high percentile score like 95%.
Percentile shifts tend not to be as extreme as this example since the ACT is equated, but I'll discuss this more in-depth later on.
Nonetheless, ACT percentiles are helpful for understanding your scaled scores, as percentiles allow you to determine where you fall in comparison with 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. That said, there can be some very slight changes (typically 3% at most from year to year). If you're unsure how scaled ACT scores are determined, learn how to calculate your score.
The reason there are only minimal percentile changes for a specific scaled score from year to year is that the ACT is equated to ensure the same curve on 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 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, ACT, Inc., tries to keep the score distributions the same so that one scaled score indicates the same level of ability across different test dates. For example, a score of 32 means you scored better than around 97-98% of test takers in 2011 and 2015 (and any other year).
Ultimately, this means that no one test date (or test year) is advantaged over another. All test dates are equated to ensure similar (if not identical) score distribution.
Why Care About ACT Percentiles—Especially Percentiles From Other Years?
Your ACT percentile is important because it lets colleges compare your ACT score with those of other applicants (and, more generally, students across the country). Why is this important? If colleges looked at just your scaled score without any other information, they wouldn't have a clear sense of what makes a good ACT score and what makes a bad one.
For example, if you got a 33 composite score and colleges didn't know your percentile, admissions officers might judge the ACT as a school test and think you got 33 out of 36—about 92% or an A-, which is good but not great. However, with ACT percentiles, colleges can know that a 33 is actually a 99th percentile score, meaning you scored better than 99% of test takers!
Essentially, percentiles allow colleges to get a sense of how test takers perform on the ACT and allow them to compare you with students in the rest of the country.
You should care about ACT percentiles from other years because you are applying to college with students who might have taken the ACT in other years, too. For example, although you might have taken the ACT in 2016 as a high school junior, some of your classmates applying to the same colleges as you might have taken it later in 2017 as seniors.
Say you and your classmate both scored 33, but you took the ACT in 2015 and he took it in 2016. Your score places you in the 99th percentile but puts him in the 98th percentile. This makes your 33 just slightly more impressive than his.
Comparing ACT 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 the same colleges and at the same time as you.
While percentile scores are important, the ACT score range for your target college is the more important consideration. 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 32-35—meaning 25% of admitted students scored at or below 32, and 75% scored at or below 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 schools, search "[School Name] ACT scores PrepScholar." For a more detailed explanation, with tips on how to calculate your target score, read our guide to what a good ACT score is.
The main reasons colleges care about their particular score ranges over national ACT percentiles are as follows:
- A college's ACT score range is often a consideration in college ranking lists. As a result, colleges want to admit students with higher ACT scores so that they will be ranked higher.
- Colleges publish their score ranges each year. Thus, the higher the score 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 score is the number that is most significant.
OK, maybe not this historical.
Historical ACT Percentiles for 2011-2015
Below, I've listed the ACT score percentiles for each composite scaled score from 2011-2015. I used data provided by ACT, Inc., to assemble this and the charts below (for the percentiles for individual sections).
Remember, a percentile is the percentage of test takers who scored at or below a certain scaled ACT score.
ACT English Historical Percentiles 2011-2015
Below, I've listed the ACT score percentiles for each English scaled score from 2011 to 2015.
|ACT English Score||2015||2014||2013||2012||2011|
ACT Math Historical Percentiles 2011-2015
Below, I've listed the ACT score percentiles for each Math scaled score from 2011 to 2015.
|ACT Math Score||2015||2014||2013||2012||2011|
ACT Reading Historical Percentiles 2011-2015
Below, I've listed the ACT percentiles for each Reading scaled score from 2011 to 2015.
|ACT Reading Score||2015||2014||2013||2012||2011|
ACT Science Historical Percentiles 2011-2015
Below, I've listed the ACT score percentiles for each Science scaled score from 2011 to 2015.
|ACT Science Score||2015||2014||2013||2012||2011|
Finally, make sure you're studying the right way with our guide to reviewing your mistakes.
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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.