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What's a Good ACT Score for an Honors Student?

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Posted by Vero Lecocq | Jan 16, 2016 7:00:00 PM

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It can be hard to tell what counts as a good score on the ACT, especially for high-achieving students. In this article, I'll explain what competitive ACT scores are for an honors student and what that means for you.

But first let's define our terms!


What Is an Honors Student?

Answering this question is tricky because not everyone or every school agrees. Some schools have specific honors classes, and enrolling in these is what wins you the title. Other schools name students to an honor roll based on their GPAs. Still others may associate the term "honors" with a certain level of class rank.

What do we all seem to agree on? Honors students are, relative to the general high school population, higher academic achievers.

This means that their goals on the ACT are likely to be higher, too, so as to keep their standardized test scores in line with their grades, and, ultimately, so as to keep them competitive as applicants to more elite schools.


What Is a Good ACT Score?

It's a little tough to nail down an exact definition of a "good" score, because there's no single number that marks the boundary between a good score and a bad one. What a good score looks like for any given student ultimately depends on what they want to do with it and who they're competing with.

For most student, getting a good score is less about hitting an arbitrary number and more about landing in a range that makes you look attractive to the schools you hope to attend. Your score goal will be very different if you're looking at Ivy League schools than if you're looking at your local state school. Ultimately, a good score is the score that gets you where you want to go.

Nonetheless, you are being compared to the other applicants, so can it be helpful to understand how you stack up against your peers.



Think of that ideal ACT score as a ticket to your dream school.


Good ACT Scores for Honors Students

We ran some statistical analyses to answer the delicate question of what a good score really looks like for an honors student. We used what's called a Monte-Carlo method, which is a lot more accurate than just lining up percentiles and comparing those. 

You see, just because you're a top student at your school, that doesn't necessarily make you a top test taker. Why not, you may ask? For one thing, high schools select honors students based on criteria other than the ACT. For another, some students with high GPAs struggle with low ACT scores. Our analysis take these variations into account.

Based on our data, we've compiled high, average, and low scores for both honors and high honors students.


Honors Students

We're defining these as the top third of high school students. It's possible that some of these students are not recognized as honors students at their schools, and it's possible that some students recognized as honors students at their schools are not among this third.

Let's look at the range of scores for this group:

  • A low score (25th percentile) is 24
  • An average score (median) is 26 
  • high score (75th percentile) is 29 

You'll notice that these scores are clustered fairly close together. That's because it's really a pretty small range of scores, all things considered. Combine that fact with a steep bell curve distribution, consider that we're looking at the far ends, and, sure enough, you wind up with this cluster effect.


High Honors Students

We're defining these as the top tenth of high school students. These students are the ones most likely to be in high honors programs, though the same disclaimer applies here as it did before.

Let's look at the range of scores for this group:

  • A low score (25th percentile) is 29
  • An average score (median) is 30
  • high score (75th percentile) is 32

Notice that these scores are clustered extremely close together. As you get up to the highest scores, every point counts.


body_miser.pngBe a total miser when it comes to those points—pinch your proverbial pennies.



Honors students, and especially high honors students, have to put in extra effort to distinguish themselves from the crowd. The difference between a decent showing of a score and a home-run of a score can be entirely in the details.


What's Next?

Start putting in the work to prepare for this test nice and early. Spend a little time figuring out just how long you should devote to preparation. Aim for perfection: a score of 36 is hard, but possible.

What if you don't have the luxury of time? Read about stellar last-minute programs to prepare for the exam.


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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Vero Lecocq
About the Author

Vero is a firsthand expert at standardized testing and the college application process. Though neither parent had graduated high school, and test prep was out of the question, she scored in the 99th percentile on both the SAT and ACT, taking each test only once. She attended Dartmouth, graduating as salutatorian of 2013. She later worked as a professional tutor. She has a great passion for the arts, especially theater.

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