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Historical ACT Percentiles for 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, and 2016

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Posted by Laura Staffaroni | Jan 1, 2021 4:00:00 PM

ACT General Info

 

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Whether you're currently studying to take the ACT or took it in 2016-2020, you might be curious about how your ACT percentile compares to students who took the ACT in past years.

In this article, we'll go over what percentiles are, how percentiles work on the ACT, and why ACT percentiles matter. We also lay out ACT percentile charts for 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020 so you can see how your score compares to historical ACT scores.

Note: if you're looking for ACT percentiles from earlier years, check out our articles compiling ACT percentiles from 2011-2015 and 2008-2010.

 

What Are ACT Percentiles?

Your percentile on the ACT tells you what percentage of students scored as well as or less well than you. This is true for both your averaged composite score and each section score (English, Math, Reading, and Science). For example, if your ACT score is in the 25th percentile, 25% of students did as well as or worse than you (and 75% of students did better than you).

Unlike your percentages on tests you might take in school, ACT percentile scores do not tell you how many questions you got right on a particular section or test. A 98% on a school math test tells you that you got 98% of the questions on that test correct, but doesn't tell you anything about how well other students in the class did. On the other hand, a 98th percentile ACT score doesn't tell you how many questions you got right or wrong, but does indicate how well you did compared to other students.

The higher your ACT percentile, the better you did on the ACT compared to other students who took the ACT. Percentiles make it easier for students to understand how they stand in comparison to other test takers because they are much more concretely defined than the 1-36 ACT scaled scores.

For example, if you got a 25 on ACT Science, you know that you did as well as or better than all students who also got a 25 or below, but what does that mean? It's not intuitively clear how the 25 scaled score is calculated from your raw ACT score. On the other hand, if your ACT Science score is an 82nd percentile score, then you for sure know that you did as well or better than 82% of test-takers—a much clearer comparison.

 

Do ACT Percentiles Change Over Time?

For the most part, there's not a lot of change over time in what percentile a particular scaled score is. A 26 composite score is probably going to be around the 82nd percentile, whether you took the ACT in 2017 or 2020.

At most, there's usually about two percentile points variance from year to year for composite percentiles and three to four percentile variance for section scores (e.g., a Math score of 18 was 50th percentile in 2020 but 47th percentile in 2016).

The reason ACT percentiles do not change much over time is because of what ACT, Inc. calls equating, or the process of making sure scores on different tests taken at different times can be compared to each other. ACT, Inc. wants to make sure that, for example, a 32 on the ACT in October 2016 or April 2019 means you scored better than 97-98% of other test-takers.

We explain ACT equating a little more in this article on the ACT curve, but ultimately what it means is it doesn't matter what date (or what year) you take the ACT; all scoring is equated to nearly or exactly match the same distribution of students at each score level.

 

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Why Do ACT Percentiles (Even From Past Years) Matter?

ACT percentiles matter because they allow colleges to more clearly understand how your scores compare to those of other applicants and test-takers. If colleges just looked at your scaled score out of 36, without knowing anything about what percentiles went along with each score, it wouldn't be clear what is a good or bad ACT score.

For instance, if you got a 26 composite score (out of 36) and that was all the information colleges got, admissions officers might treat it like a school test and assume you got 26/36 (about 72%, or a C-), or assume that you scored about halfway between a 16 and a 36.

With knowledge of ACT percentiles, however, colleges understand that a 26 composite ACT score is an 82nd percentile score, which means you actually scored better than 82% of all other ACT test-takers—far closer to the 100% of students who score a 36 or below than to the 30% of students who score a 16 or below.

By looking at ACT percentiles, colleges can get a better idea of how all test-takers perform on the ACT in general and how your score specifically stacks up against other applicants'.

The comparison between your scores and other applicants' is why ACT percentiles from past years matter: when you're applying to college, you'll be competing with at least some students who took the ACT in other years. For instance, if you took the ACT as a junior in 2019, you'll be in the same pool as some students who took the ACT as seniors in 2020 (or as sophomores in 2018).

In most cases, the differences will be minuscule, but when you're applying to schools with <10% admission rates, even the slightest edge can help. For example, let's say that you got a 33 on the ACT in 2019 and your classmate got a 32 on the ACT in 2018. Your score puts you in the 98th percentile, while your classmate only scored in the 96th percentile. Both scores are impressive, but yours is slightly better.

Keep in mind, however, that while ACT percentiles matter, what is most important to your chances of admission is how your ACT score compares to the scores of students admitted at the schools you're applying to. You can find more information about how to learn each school's ACT score range (and how to choose your own ACT target score) here.

 

body_historicalcobblestonesHistoric cobblestones: maybe a little more historical than the following ACT percentiles.

 

Historical ACT Percentiles for 2016-2020

Below, we've listed the ACT score percentiles for each composite score for 2016-2020. All data in this and the following section percentiles charts are from ACT, Inc.

Remember: an ACT percentile is the percentage of students who scored at or below that score for a particular test.

ACT Score 2020
2019 2018 2017 2016
36 100 100 100 99 99
35 99 99 99 99 99
34 99 99 99 99 99
33 97 98 98 98 98
32 96 97 96 97 97
31 94 95 95 95 96
30 92 93 93 93 94
29 90 91 91 91 92
28 88 88 88 88 89
27 85 85 85 85 86
26 82 82 82 82 83
25 78 78 78 78 79
24 74 74 74 73 74
23 70 69 69 68 69
22 65 64 64 63 64
21 60 58 58 57 58
20 54 52 52 51 51
19 48 46 46 44 45
18 42 40 40 38 39
17 36 33 34 31 32
16 30 27 27 25 26
15 24 20 21 19 19
14 17 14 15 13 14
13 11 9 9 7 8
12 6 4 4 3 4
11 2 1 1 1 2
10 1 1 1 1 1
9 1 1 1 1 1
8 1 1 1 1 1
7 1 1 1 1 1
6 1 1 1 1 1
5 1 1 1 1 1
4 1 1 1 1 1
3 1 1 1 1 1
2 1 1 1 1 1
1 1 1 1 1 1

 

 

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ACT English Historical Percentiles 2016-2020

Below, we've listed ACT score percentiles for the English section for 2016-2020.

ACT English Score 2020
 2019 2018 2017 2016
36 100 100 100 99 99
35 99 99 99 99 99
34 96 96 96 97 98
33 94 94 94 95 96
32 92 93 93 93 94
31 91 91 91 92 93
30 89 90 90 91 91
29 88 88 88 88 89
28 86 86 86 86 88
27 84 84 84 84 85
26 82 82 82 81 82
25 79 79 79 79 79
24 76 75 75 74 75
23 71 70 70 69 70
22 66 65 64 64 65
21 62 59 59 58 59
20 56 54 53 53 53
19 50 48 48 47 47
18 46 44 44 43 43
17 42 40 40 39 39
16 38 36 36 34 35
15 33 30 30 29 29
14 27 23 24 22 23
13 21 18 18 17 17
12 17 14 14 13 14
11 13 11 11 10 11
10 8 6 6 6 7
9 4 3 3 3 4
8 2 1 1 2 2
7 1 1 1 1 1
6 1 1 1 1 1
5 1 1 1 1 1
4 1 1 1 1 1
3 1 1 1 1 1
2 1 1 1 1 1
1 1 1 1 1 1

 

 

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ACT Math Historical Percentiles 2016-2020

Below, we've listed ACT score percentiles for the Math section for 2016-2020.

ACT Math Score 2020
2019 2018 2017 2016
36 100 100 100 99 99
35 99 99 99 99 99
34 99 99 99 99 99
33 98 98 98 98 98
32 97 97 97 97 97
31 96 96 96 96 96
30 94 95 95 95 95
29 93 93 93 93 94
28 90 91 91 91 91
27 88 88 88 88 88
26 84 83 83 83 84
25 79 79 79 78 79
24 75 74 74 73 75
23 71 69 69 68 69
22 66 65 65 63 64
21 63 60 60 59 59
20 59 57 57 55 56
19 55 53 52 51 52
18 50 47 48 46 47
17 44 40 40 38 40
16 35 31 31 29 30
15 22 19 20 18 18
14 13 10 10 8 8
13 4 3 3 3 4
12 2 1 1 1 1
11 1 1 1 1 1
10 1 1 1 1 1
9 1 1 1 1 1
8 1 1 1 1 1
7 1 1 1 1 1
6 1 1 1 1 1
5 1 1 1 1 1
4 1 1 1 1 1
3 1 1 1 1 1
2 1 1 1 1 1
1 1 1 1 1 1

 

 

body_actreadingpercentiles1519

 

ACT Reading Historical Percentiles 2016-2020

Below, we've listed ACT score percentiles for the Reading section for 2016-2020.

ACT Reading Score 2020
2019
2018 2017 2016
36 100 100 100 99 99
35 98 99 99 99 99
34 96 97 97 97 98
33 93 95 94 95 96
32 91 92 92 93 94
31 88 90 89 90 91
30 86 87 87 88 89
29 83 84 84 85 86
28 82 82 82 82 83
27 79 80 80 79 81
26 76 77 77 77 78
25 74 74 74 74 74
24 71 71 70 70 71
23 66 66 66 65 66
22 61 61 60 60 60
21 55 54 54 53 56
20 50 49 49 48 48
19 45 43 43 42 43
18 40 38 38 37 37
17 34 32 33 30 31
16 29 27 28 26 26
15 25 22 22 21 22
14 21 18 18 16 16
13 15 13 13 12 12
12 11 9 9 7 7
11 6 5 5 5 4
10 3 2 3 2 2
9 1 1 1 1 1
8 1 1 1 1 1
7 1 1 1 1 1
6 1 1 1 1 1
5 1 1 1 1 1
4 1 1 1 1 1
3 1 1 1 1 1
2 1 1 1 1 1
1 1 1 1 1 1

 

 

body_actsciencepercentiles1519

 

ACT Science Historical Percentiles 2016-2020

Below, we've listed ACT score percentiles for the Science section for 2016-2020.

ACT Science Score 2020
2019 2018 2017 2016
36 100 100 100 99 99
35 99 99 99 99 99
34 98 98 98 99 99
33 97 97 97 97 98
32 96 96 96 96 97
31 94 95 95 95 96
30 93 94 94 94 94
29 91 92 92 92 92
28 90 90 90 90 89
27 88 88 88 88 86
26 85 85 86 85 83
25 82 82 82 82 79
24 77 77 77 77 74
23 71 70 71 70 69
22 64 64 64 63 64
21 58 57 57 55 58
20 52 50 50 49 51
19 47 43 44 41 45
18 39 37 37 35 39
17 33 30 30 28 32
16 27 24 25 22 26
15 20 18 18 16 19
14 15 13 14 12 14
13 11 9 10 8 8
12 8 6 6 5 4
11 5 4 4 3 2
10 3 2 2 1 1
9 1 1 1 1 1
8 1 1 1 1 1
7 1 1 1 1 1
6 1 1 1 1 1
5 1 1 1 1 1
4 1 1 1 1 1
3 1 1 1 1 1
2 1 1 1 1 1
1 1 1 1 1 1

 

 

What's Next?

Have more questions about your ACT score? Find out what a good ACT score for college is and how to choose your personal target ACT score.

Already know what ACT score you're aiming for? Get help shaping your prep to get you there with our guide to building an ACT study plan and ACT prep tips.

Looking for resources to help you study for the ACT? We've listed all free and official ACT practice tests here, along with our ultimate free ACT study guide.

 

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)

 

Have friends who also need help with test prep? Share this article!


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Laura Staffaroni
About the Author

Laura graduated magna cum laude from Wellesley College with a BA in Music and Psychology, and earned a Master's degree in Composition from the Longy School of Music of Bard College. She scored 99 percentile scores on the SAT and GRE and loves advising students on how to excel in high school.



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