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How to Calculate Your ACT Composite Score, Plus 5 Strategies

Posted by Allen Cheng | Dec 31, 2017 6:00:00 PM

ACT General Info, ACT Strategies



Your ACT Composite Score is an important part of your college applications. In this guide, we show you how exactly to calculate your ACT Composite Score from each of your section scores. More importantly, we give you custom strategies on how to use your Composite Score to adapt your ACT prep. Read on...


Calculating Your ACT Composite Score

The ACT has four core sections (English, Math, Reading, and Science), with one optional section (Writing). Each of the four sections has a score that ranges from 1 (lowest) to 36 (highest). The Writing score is a separate score, ranging from 2 (lowest) to 12 (highest).

Your Composite Score is the average (the arithmetic mean) of your four core section scores, with these important points:

  • The Composite is rounded to the nearest whole number.
  • Scores ending in 0.5 or higher are rounded UP to the nearest whole number.

Here are a few examples of ACT section and Composite scores:

Test English Math Reading Science Average Final Composite
Test 1 21 23 24 19 21.75 22
Test 2 23 23 22 25 23.25 23
Test 3 24 24 23 23 23.5 24


Get the hang of it?

The ACT also uses a combined English/Reading/Writing score, called an ELA score. Honestly, this isn't used that often and isn't that important for college admissions, so I would suggest not worrying about it.

Before diving too deep into your ACT prep, you should also know your target ACT Composite Score, which is largely based on which schools you'll be applying to.

Calculating an ACT Composite Score is pretty simple. The more important part is knowing what ACT Composite Scoring means for your study strategy.


5 Strategies for Raising Your Composite Score

Your goal on the ACT is to get the highest Composite Score possible. The Composite Score is by far the most important ACT score used in college admissions, beyond any individual section score. Colleges will use this score to compare you to the thousands of other applicants to that school. This means that raising your Composite Score can have a disproportionate effect on your admissions chances.

We all know that raising your score overall by getting better at the test is the obvious way to improve your score. But let's dig into more specific strategies:

  1. Even just one extra point on a single section can increase your Composite Score. For example, in the Test 2 example above, if the student re-took the test but improved his English from a 23 to a 24, his average would increase from a 23.25 to a 23.5, and his final Composite would increase from 23 to 24. You can bet this increase makes a difference in college admissions. Therefore, if you've taken the ACT just once or twice, definitely retake the test because your Composite Score is likely to improve.

  2. Focus your initial prep on your weakest section, which will give you the most room to grow. For example, if you scored a 16 on Science but a 24 on all the other sections, your Science section is clearly dragging your Composite Score down. If you improve your Science section by four points, your Composite will increase by a point.

  3. Writing is less important than the four core sections. If you have limited time to study, concentrate that time on raising your Composite Score. 

  4. Your target schools may emphasize either English/Reading or Math/Science. Given the same Composite Score, engineering schools will favor a higher Math/Science score over English/Reading. If you plan to major in the humanities, the opposite is true. Focus your time on the sections that are more important for your college goals.

  5. Some schools use the 'highest combined Composite Score', aka the 'superscore.' This basically means that the school will take your best section score across all your tests, then combine them into your best possible Composite Score. If you're applying mainly to schools that use the superscore, you can focus on improving one section at a time, then combine all your tests together into your maximum Composite Score.

Now that you know the importance of the ACT Composite Score and understand targeted strategies to improve it, read more to get deeper into our philosophy of how to improve your ACT scores.


What's Next?

Which colleges superscore the ACT? Check out our list of every college that uses ACT superscoring.

What’s a good ACT score? Read our article on good, bad, and excellent ACT scores so you can identify and prepare for your target score.

Need help on a specific section of the ACT? Read our guides to getting a 36 on ACT English, ACT Math, and ACT Reading.


I also highly recommend this free guide to picking up some extra points on the ACT:

Raise Your ACT Score by 4 Points (Free Download)


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Allen Cheng
About the Author

As co-founder and head of product design at PrepScholar, Allen has guided thousands of students to success in SAT/ACT prep and college admissions. He's committed to providing the highest quality resources to help you succeed. Allen graduated from Harvard University summa cum laude and earned two perfect scores on the SAT (1600 in 2004, and 2400 in 2014) and a perfect score on the ACT.

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