It’s hard to define a good ACT score because every student has different goals and standards. However, there are various specific ways you might think about your scores to decide on what a good score means for you. In this article, I’ll go through four different means of defining what a good score might look like for you on the ACT.
What Is a Good ACT Score Nationally?
If you’re somewhat unfamiliar with the ACT, you probably just want to get an overview of the types of scores you might get and how they stack up to the national average. On the ACT, the highest score you can get is a 36, and the lowest score is technically a one. Within that range, based on national statistics, there are benchmarks for what indicates a higher than average or lower than average score.
- The lowest 10 percent of scores are below a 14 composite, so anything less that that would be considered a very low score.
- The bottom 25 percent of scorers earned a composite score of 16 or lower. These would also be considered low scores.
- The 50th percentile score on the ACT is around a 20 composite, so this represents the national average.
- The 75th percentile score is a 24, which means that 75% of students score below a 24 composite on the ACT. Anything above a 24 is a very good score on the national level.
If you score a 28 or above, you’ve moved into the elite score range, meaning you’re earning a better score than 90% of students in the country.
See this article for a more detailed discussion of ACT score percentiles. National statistics are only so helpful because they include students who don’t plan on attending college. This may skew the averages slightly lower and prevent you from setting accurate goals for yourself based on your personal abilities. It's also especially true for the ACT because many states use the ACT as a statewide assessment test that all students are required to take.
In the next few sections, I’ll go over some helpful ways to judge your scores in contexts that might be more appropriate for you.
Hawaii requires all high school students to take the ACT. And you can bet that it's hard to get any studying done when your backyard looks like this.
What’s a Good Score Compared to Other High-Achieving Students?
If you’re an honors student and are not satisfied with comparing yourself to the national average, you might want to compare yourself to other students who have similar goals and high school class records instead. The scores of your similarly high-achieving classmates might be more indicative of the score goals you should be setting for yourself.
As a general guideline:
For the top third of high school honors students, the 75th percentile ACT score is around a 29.
For the top tenth of high school honors students, the 75th percentile ACT score is around a 32.
If you’re in either of these groups, these scores should give you a benchmark as to where your scores need to be to compete with others who have similar college ambitions. Remember, 75th percentile means that these scores are higher than those of 75 percent of students within each of the groups, so if you aim for these scores you’ll most likely be above average even in a group of nerds.
If you attend a private school, you can also look up statistics on your school's website for ACT scores. Most private schools will provide these numbers publicly.
At this point, you may want to get even more specific and research the colleges that interest you to find out what score you should set as your goal. I’ll go over this process in the next section.
You're all Smarties, but who is....Smartiest?
What’s a Good Score for College?
This is where the determination of what a “good” score means can get a lot more subjective. Since every student has different goals for college, what qualifies as a good score will vary significantly from person to person. The best way to figure out what a good score is for your college goals is to look up the average scores of students who were admitted to colleges that interest you.
For most schools, you’ll see a score range that gives you the 25th and 75th percentile scores of students. To have a solid chance of admission, you should aim for the 75th percentile score as your goal. If you’re interested in a few different schools, you might look up statistics for all of them and average the 75th percentile scores to get a reasonable goal score. To find these numbers, just Google “[name of school] admissions requirements PrepScholar” and click on the first result. Read this article on how to find your target score for more details.
If you go through this process and find that your scores are already higher than the average scores at schools that interest you, you might consider aiming for more competitive colleges. At a more selective school, you’ll have access to better opportunities, a more intellectual community, and more challenging classes. You’ll also end up with better prospects post-graduation when you’re applying for jobs or grad school.
If you’re aiming for the most competitive schools in the country, you might find that their 75th percentile ACT score is close to a perfect 36 (Harvard’s is a 35). It’s safe to say that at these schools, you’ll need to aim for at least a 32 or higher to have any chance of being accepted. College admissions have become extremely competitive in recent years due to the volume of applications, so schools have had to adopt higher and higher standards to pick out students from the crowd.
You gotta be that one special red rock student in the big pile of gray rock students.
What’s a Good Score for You?
You might also consider your own starting point and limitations when deciding what a good score means. You’re competing against yourself first and foremost as you make improvements to your score. Try studying for ten hours and then taking a practice test. The score that you get on that test can be a baseline for you to build upon in future study sessions. With dedicated studying, you may be able to improve this score by 3 or more points. Once you take this first practice test, you can formulate a study plan to help you reach your score improvement goals.
Most students hit the limit of how much time they can put into ACT prep at around 40-80 hours of focused studying. After you have put in this much time, you should take another practice test and see where you stand. If you’ve improved by 3 or more points, you’re getting a good score compared to where you were at the beginning.
If you didn’t end up improving much at all, you might want to rethink your study habits and make sure you really understand your mistakes. Getting a “good” score is really about maximizing your potential, and you can’t do that if you’re not using the right study methods.
If you managed to improve by 3 points from a low score, you should consider yourself to have earned a good score regardless of the actual numbers. At this point, you can reassess your goals and see if you might be able to improve even more!
If you find that your studying is progressing SLOWLY, you might need to revise your methods. I just really wanted to include this picture of a sloth.
Trying to improve your score dramatically? Find out how long you should study for the ACT based on your goals.
What if you have a high GPA but didn't do so well on the ACT? Read our article to learn how to deal with this situation.
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Samantha is a blog content writer for PrepScholar. Her goal is to help students adopt a less stressful view of standardized testing and other academic challenges through her articles. Samantha is also passionate about art and graduated with honors from Dartmouth College as a Studio Art major in 2014. In high school, she earned a 2400 on the SAT, 5's on all seven of her AP tests, and was named a National Merit Scholar.