What is the highest possible score on the ACT, and how rare is it to get one? If you are just diving into your ACT studying, or even have been at it for a while, you might be wondering what the best score is. In this post we’ll explore the odds of the maximum ACT score and give you tips and advice to reach one.
What Is a Perfect ACT score?
The highest possible score you can earn on the ACT is a 36, out of 36 possible points. That 36 is a composite, or average, of your score on the four ACT subject areas—English, Reading, Math, and Science. Each of those sections is also scored between 1 and 36. (If you take the ACT with Writing, your essay does not affect your composite score. This means you can get a perfect 36 without a perfect essay.)
The 36 points you can earn on each section are scaled scores, translated from your raw scores—aka the total amount of questions you get right on each section. (For more in-depth info about how each section is scored, see our article about how the ACT is scored.)
So just how rare is a perfect 36? Out of the 2,030,038 in the class of 2017 students who took the ACT, just 2,750 earned the highest possible ACT score. That’s only 0.136% of test-takers! (For more stats on ACT scores, check out the ACT’s report.) If you’re looking to be part of that 0.136%, keep reading to learn the raw scores you will need for each section—and why it’s possible to get a perfect score without answering every single question correctly.
The Composite ACT Score for a 36
Your composite score on the ACT is the most important part of your score, since it represents your overall performance. When people refer to a perfect ACT score, they are talking about a perfect 36 composite.
However, since your composite score is calculated from the average of your four subject area scores, not the total, you do not need a perfect 36 on every section to get a perfect 36 composite.
For example, say you got the following subject area scores:
Your composite would be
(36 + 36 + 36 + 34) / 4 = 35.5,
which would be rounded up to the best ACT score of 36. This is a slight difference from the SAT, where your composite score comes from all the sections being totaled, not averaged. To get a perfect score on the SAT, you need a perfect score on every section. For the ACT, you can have a slightly-less-than-perfect score on one or two sections and still net a 36 composite.
The Raw Scores You Need for a Perfect ACT Score
Even though it’s possible to get a 36 composite without a 36 on each section, if you are truly aiming for a 36, you should study with the goal of getting a 36 on each section.
Why? First of all, this will help you focus your studying on becoming 100% consistent. If you study with the allowance of making a few mistakes, any additional mistakes you make will definitely cost you the 36. But if you study with the goal of getting a 36 on each section, if you do end up making one or two mistakes, you could still get a 36 composite.
This chart estimates how raw ACT section scores will translate into scaled scores.
Based on this chart, you need to aim for a perfect raw score—that means answering every single question correctly—on English, Reading, and Science to get a 36. You can miss one question on the math section and still get a 36. However, while this estimate shows it is possible to get 59 raw points on the math section and still get a 36, that could change depending on how the ACT you end up taking is scaled. The only way to guarantee a 36 is to get a perfect raw score in every section.
How To Get Those Perfect Raw Scores
#1: Consistency and Stamina
Since you are aiming for perfect raw scores, you need to be able to achieve perfection during studying and while taking practice tests; it will be important to develop stamina and efficiency. Even if you are capable of answering all of the questions in a section correctly, to get a perfect 36 on the ACT, you will have to be able to work within the allotted time.
English: 75 questions in 45 minutes
Math: 60 questions in 60 minutes
Reading: 40 questions in 35 minutes
Science: 40 questions in 35 minutes
For the Math section, you get exactly one minute per question; for English, Reading, and Science, you get less than a minute. This intense pacing is why it’s important to aim for both speed and accuracy while studying.
#2: Find Your Weak Spots
Use practice questions and exams to find your weak areas—whether that is trigonometry questions on the Math section or the Social Science excerpt in the Reading section. Try to figure out where the gaps in your knowledge are and why you are answering certain questions incorrectly. Once you know where you struggle, you can target your studying. Learn the concepts behind questions you struggle on, and develop systems and strategies for those questions.
With enough studying, your weak links could become strengths.
#3: Don’t Get Complacent
Although you will spend a good deal of time on your weak spots, never assume that you have a section in the bag. For example, even if you are amazing at math and got a 36 on your first practice test, don't neglect this section when you practice. Taking practice tests can help you become familiar with the pacing you will need on test day, and also help you spot any careless mistakes you might tend to make.
#4: Prevent Careless Mistakes
Although the bulk of your studying will be addressing stubborn weak spots, make sure you are on the lookout for where you make small mistakes. That could be anything from skimming too fast and missing the point of a question, to an arithmetic error on the Math section, to even bubbling in an answer incorrectly.
Want more strategies on how to get the maximum ACT score? Read our detailed guide to getting a 36.
Although it will be tough to study for that perfect 36 ACT score—after all, only 0.136% of test takers achieve it—it is not impossible. And also keep in mind that although a 36 composite is considered perfect, a composite of 34 or higher is in the 99th percentile of test takers. In other words, if you get a 34 or higher, you have done better than 99% of students who take the ACT.
Studying using the principles in this article, and aiming for perfection, can definitely help you get a 99th percentile score—which is not too shabby, even for a perfectionist.
Want a more in-depth guide to getting a perfect ACT score? Read our guide on how to score a 36, written by a 36 perfect scorer.
Aiming for a top tier school? Learn what ACT scores it takes to get into the Ivy League.
Not aiming for a perfect score? You still need to figure out what ACT score you should aim for, and get the best ACT score you can. Read our step-by-step guide to calculating your personal ACT target score.
Want to improve your ACT score by 4+ points? We've written a free strategy guide to the top strategies you should be using in your studying. Download it now:
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Halle Edwards graduated from Stanford University with honors. In high school, she earned 99th percentile ACT scores as well as 99th percentile scores on SAT subject tests. She also took nine AP classes, earning a perfect score of 5 on seven AP tests. As a graduate of a large public high school who tackled the college admission process largely on her own, she is passionate about helping high school students from different backgrounds get the knowledge they need to be successful in the college admissions process.