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What is a Good ACT Score in 2022?

Updated: Nov 27, 2022

The American College Testing ("ACT") is a multiple-choice college entrance exam. Admissions boards use ACT scores to determine whether high school students are prepared to join their particular institutions. ACT scores, along with high school GPAs, letters of recommendation, and extracurricular activities, reflect a student’s academic prowess.

For the high school class of 2021, ACT composite scores dropped by 0.3 points from the previous year. According to a recent ACT report, 1,295,349 students took the ACT in 2021, and their average composite score was 20.3 points. The pandemic prevented many high-school students from taking the ACT.

The highest possible score students can get on the ACT is 36. However, of the 1,295,349 students who took the ACT in 2021, only 4,055 earned the perfect 36. That’s only 0.313% of all the test takers! So, don’t let this statistic discourage you. Not everyone can or has to be a perfect scorer. But, with persistence and preparation, you can get a good ACT score that helps you land your dream college admission.

In this article, we’ll guide you through the scoring process and help you understand what’s a good ACT score to get into the college you desire.



What’s a Good ACT Score?


Generally, a composite score of 24 or higher is considered good by national standards. Scores in this range put students in the 74th percentile or higher. In other words, a composite score of 24 means that you’re better than 74% of all test takers. Higher scores make students stand out more in ACT score percentiles.



What is an Average ACT Score?


According to the latest ACT report, the average composite score for students who took the ACT in 2021 was 20.3. Students who earn composite scores around this mark can consider their performances to be average.



What is the Highest ACT Score?


The highest possible composite score that students can earn on the ACT exam is 36. This score is the composite (average) of the four scores in the four different subject areas. As stated before, only 0.313% of all the test takers managed to score 36. Do you have to answer all 215 questions correctly to get a perfect score? Not necessarily as composite scores are rounded up/down.

Scoring 36 on three sections and 34 on one may also help you get a score of 36. But, getting an average score of 35.5 or 35.75 is just as hard as scoring 36 on all four sections. Students who take the ACT with the optional writing section don’t have to score 12 to get a perfect 36. The essay writing scores DO NOT AFFECT the student’s composite scores.


High ACT exam score
While 24 is generally considered to be a good score on the ACT, the highest score is 36.

What sections does an ACT Exam constitute?


The ACT exam constitutes 4 sections - Math, Science, Reading, and English, along with an optional writing section. For the Math section, students have to answer 60 questions in 60 minutes. The topics in this section of the exam are covered in middle and high school curriculums. The Science section consists of 40 questions that need to be answered in 35 minutes. The ACT science section tests the student’s understanding of basic scientific concepts. There’s no lab work. But, students are required to analyze and interpret data from sample experiments to draw their own conclusions. The Reading section tests students on their reading comprehension abilities and requires students to answer 40 questions in 35 minutes. Lastly, the English section comprises 75 questions that must be answered in 45 minutes. This test section covers a range of topics associated with English reading and writing, such as spelling, punctuations, grammar, sentence structures, and style. In addition to these 4 sections, students have an optional essay which they need to write within 40 minutes.

So the ACT consists of a total of 215 questions and an optional essay. Students receive 2 hours and 55 minutes in total to complete all sections. There are no penalties for guessing. Raw scores are exclusively dependent on the number of questions answered correctly. Hence, students shouldn’t leave any questions blank.



How are ACT scores calculated?


The ACT exam constitutes 4 sections - Math, Science, Reading, and English, along with an optional writing section. For the Math section, students have to answer 60 questions in 60 minutes. The Science and Reading sections each consist of 40 questions that need to be answered in 35 minutes, while the English section comprises 75 questions that must be answered in 45 minutes. In addition to these 4 sections, students have an optional essay which they need to write within 40 minutes.

So the ACT consists of a total of 215 questions and an optional essay. Students receive 2 hours and 55 minutes in total to complete all sections. There are no penalties for guessing. Raw scores are exclusively dependent on the number of questions answered correctly. Hence, students shouldn’t leave any questions blank.

Each of the four sections is scored on a scale of 1-36. The optional essay is scored individually on a scale of 1-12. Students receive individual section scores (1-36 and 1-12) along with composite scores. Colleges typically use composite scores to assess a student’s performance on the ACT.

The concept of ACT composite scores is the main source of confusion for most students. Here’s a straightforward three-step process of calculating your composite ACT score -

  • Calculate the raw scores for each section

  • Convert the raw scores to scale scores on a scale of 1-36 using score conversion tables

  • Calculate the composite scores by dividing the sum of scale scores by 4

Unlike the four multiple-choice sections, the optional essay writing test is scored on a subjective basis. Two readers evaluate the essay and score it on a scale of 1–6. Overall, students can score anywhere between 2-12 (1-6 x 2 evaluators).



ACT Score Percentile Distribution


Students can view their composite ACT scores in the form of percentages to compare their performances with other test-takers. Bear in mind – each college has its own ACT percentile range. For admissions, ACT composite scores are way more important than the percentiles. Here’s the ACT composite score percentile distribution for the year 2020-21 –

  • ACT Composite Score: 34-36, ACT Composite Percentile: 99-100%

  • ACT Composite Score: 31-33, ACT Composite Percentile: 95-98%

  • ACT Composite Score: 28-30, ACT Composite Percentile: 80-93%

  • ACT Composite Score: 25-27, ACT Composite Percentile: 78-85%

  • ACT Composite Score: 22-24, ACT Composite Percentile: 64-74%

  • ACT Composite Score: 19-21, ACT Composite Percentile: 47-59%

  • ACT Composite Score: 16-18, ACT Composite Percentile: 28-41%

  • ACT Composite Score: 11-15, ACT Composite Percentile: 2-22%

  • ACT Composite Score: 10 or less, ACT Composite Percentile: 1%



Good ACT Composite Scores for Popular Institutes


Achieving a composite score of 34 or higher means that your application will be considered in every top institute. Students who want admissions to selective institutions must aim for a composite score of 34 or higher. Here’s a list of the composite scores required by top schools for newly enrolled students in 2022 -

Composite Scores Required by the Most Selective Schools

These are the top-tier academic institutions that generally admit less than 20% of all applicants. These schools have highly limited spots for new students, so they have higher score ranges. -

  • Harvard University: 33-34

  • Stanford University: 32-35

  • Vanderbilt University: 33-35

  • Johns Hopkins University: 33-35

  • Columbia University: 33-35

  • California Institute of Technology: 35-36

  • Georgetown University: 31-35

  • Duke University: 33-35

  • University of Chicago: 33-35

Colleges and universities that typically admit between 20-50% of all applicants have slightly lower score ranges.

  • University of Michigan: 31-34

  • Colgate University: 31-34

  • University of Virginia: 30-34

  • Bucknell University: 28-32

  • The US Naval Academy: 26-32

  • Rutgers: 25-32

  • The US Military Academy West Point: 25-30

  • Clemson University: 27-32

  • Purdue University: 25- 32

  • Virginia Tech: 25-31

  • Penn State University: 23-30

  • Pratt Institute: 24-30

  • Seton Hall University: 24-29

  • Auburn University: 19-23

  • University of Colorado – Boulder: 25-31

  • University of Arizona: 21-29

  • New Jersey Institute of Technology: 24-31

  • University of Delaware: 24-30

  • The Juilliard School: 24


Unsure whether you can get an entry to your dream institute? Don’t worry. Many students get into top-tier schools with scores lower than these typical requirements. After all, your ACT score is only one part of your overall application.

All colleges on this list consider other factors like - high school GPAs, letters of recommendation, admissions essays, etc. Instead of obsessing over how you can climb this list of eligibility, focus on creating your own “goal score.” Prepare in accordance with this goal score.


A College Student
Acceptance to your dream college will require a variety of factors


How to Find Your Goal Score?


What may be considered a bad ACT composite score for one student may be a decent score for another student. Your goal score should be based on your individual academic goals. For instance, students trying to get into top schools like Johns Hopkins University should set higher goals.

On the other hand, students who are willing to attend any top/medium-tier college can set more achievable goal scores. For them, an average ACT score of 24 or more will get the job done. Higher ACT scores allow students to be more selective with the colleges they apply to. A higher ACT composite score will boost your eligibility.

But, students shouldn’t be unrealistic while setting their goal ACT scores. Instead, they should take a scientific approach to this process. Here’s a guide.


  • Self-Assessment: Get a clear idea of your starting point. Based on your current abilities, how much do you think you can score on your first ACT? A good way of determining this starting point score is by taking mock tests. Once you have this score in mind, start improving.


  • Timeline Assessment: How much preparation time do you have before your ACT test? The more preparation time you have, the higher you should set your goal score.


  • SWOT Analysis: What are your strengths and weaknesses in regards to the four mandatory ACT topics? Do you excel in Math, Science, or English? Focus on your strengths. Improve your weaknesses. Also, assess other aspects of your overall application. What ACT score do you need to boost your overall application? If your extracurriculars, school grades, etc., are poor, aim for higher ACT scores.


  • College Goals: Figure out which educational institutes you aim to apply. Use the list above to figure out the ACT requirements of the schools in your application list.


  • Determine Your Final Goal Score: This step will vary for all students. However, most students aim for a 75% score as it makes them eligible for admissions into top-tier schools. Make this score your goal to boost your overall eligibility.



Can ACT Scores Help Students Win Scholarships?


Yes. A student’s ACT score may grant him/her scholarships from top institutes. Some students are automatically granted scholarships after they receive their ACT scores. These are the highly talented students who exceptionally demonstrate their capabilities in their ACT tests.

Other students may qualify to receive scholarships by sending special applications. For instance, let’s say you have a good ACT score and you score high on a college admission exam. That institute may reward your performance with financial assistance. Overall, achieving a high ACT score can increase your chances of earning scholarships.

Students who want ACT-based scholarships must conduct thorough research into these offers and create appropriate study plans. Here’s a list of top-tier universities that frequently offer ACT-based and other merit-based scholarships -



What if My ACT Score is Too Low?


While it’s discouraging to find you’ve scored low in your ACT exam, it’s not all doom and gloom. Students who receive poor scores the first or the second time often score higher in their future attempts. Here are the steps that students who score low on their ACT tests should take -


Sign-Up for Retests

Retaking the test is the best way for students to earn higher scores. However, all educational institutes have strict cutoff dates for reviewing applications. Learn about these deadlines before scheduling your re-test.


Assess Your Mistakes

Review every answer to discover what you did wrong. This assessment will help you improve in future tests. Instead of skimming through the question and answer sheets, try to understand your errors. Avoid the same errors in the re-test.


Super-Scoring

Many colleges allow students to take their best scores from different exams and combine them to create “super-scores.” For example, let’s say you’ve taken both the ACT and the SAT exams. You’ve scored well in the Math sections of both the exams. But, you’ve scored poorly in the English sections of both the exams.

If your educational goals are mainly Math-related, combine your ACT and SAT Math scores to create a super-score. Mention the super-score in your application. Bear in mind – not all colleges allow “super-scoring.” Check whether the school you’re applying for observes this rule.


Prepare for the ACT Retake

After understanding what went wrong in your previous test, start preparing for the re-test. This time, make your preparations different from the first time. Devote more time to your weaknesses. Keep taking practice exams, mock tests, etc., to track your rate of improvement.

If you need expert assistance, turn to specialized ACT prep institutions like Prestige. Prestige’s data-based preparation program is the most effective in helping students receive top scores. 50% of Prestige’s student-base scores higher than 75% every year. That’s because the institute is the only prep that has specialized ACT prep courses with strategic approaches customized for each student.

Prestige assesses each student’s test-taking skills to understand the types of mistakes they frequently make. Then, they create customized paths for each student to get to their “goal scores.” Since every batch only consists of five students, Prestige’s educators can pay close attention to every students’ needs.

Start preparing on Prestige’s digital platform by answering real-test questions. Sign up for a free level test and a free consultation now!

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