ACT Scores 2022: Your Complete Guide

Let's dig into average scores, the scoring range, college averages and more

Let's cover everything you ever wanted to know about ACT scores, including the ACT scores range, percentiles and averages. We'll even take a look at average admitted ACT scores at various popular colleges. Let's jump in.

Table of Contents

1. ACT Scores Introduction

• What is a good ACT score?

• ACT Score Percentiles

• ACT Scores: the Good, the Bad and the Average

• What is a good ACT score for you?

2. College ACT Scores Data

• ACT Scores Range at Select Colleges

• ACT Scores Averages at 50 Popular Universities

• ACT Scores and College Admissions

3. How to Raise Your ACT Score

4. ACT Scores Final Thoughts

5. ACT Scores FAQ

ACT Scores Introduction

The ACT is made up of four sections, and each of those is scored from 1-36. Your composite score is the average of your four scored sections, and those averages do round up. There is also a separate essay that is scored from 1-12. The average composite ACT score is 20.6.

A few other key points:

  • The essay may not exist for long, and few colleges require it.
  • Calculators are permitted on the ACT Math Test.
  • Gaining one point on your composite score typically means gaining four total points from subscores.
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A Closer Look

English: 75 Questions, 45 Minutes

There are 75 questions on the English Test, and you will have 45 minutes to complete the section. The maximum score is 36, and the average score is 19.9. This will be the first section on the ACT, and each question has four answer choices.

Math: 60 Questions, 60 Minutes

The ACT Mathematics Test features 60 questions with a time limit of 60 minutes. The maximum score is 36, and students are allowed to use a calculator. The average score is 20.2, and each question has five answer choices. Questions get harder as you progress through the section, but all questions have equal weight.

Reading: 40 Questions, 35 Minutes

The Reading Test features 40 questions across four passages, and the time limit is just 35 minutes. There will be one prose fiction passage, one social science passage, one humanities passage and one natural science passage. Each question has four answer choices, and the average score is 21.2.

Science: 40 Questions, 35 Minutes

The Science Test features 40 questions spread across seven passages. There will be three charts and graphs passages, three experiments passages and one conflicting viewpoints passage. Each questions has four answer choices, and the average score is 20.4.

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We average just under 4 points of improvement, and all of our tutors have scored in the 99th percentile

What is a good ACT score?

A good score gets you into the college you want to attend and gets you a scholarship if you need it. Okay, duh. But what sort of score actually does that? Maybe you’ve taken the test and know your score, or maybe you’re still picking your test date and are trying to make your college shortlist.

Either way, we're about to lay out everything you need to know about ACT scores, including percentiles, the average score at a ton of top colleges and the amount of improvement you might see in your ACT score with some prep.

ACT Score Percentiles Chart

See how your ACT score stacks up against other test takers:

ACT Score English Percentile Math Percentile Reading Percentile Science Percentile Composite Percentile
36 99 99 99 99 99
35 99 99 98 99 99
34 96 99 96 98 99
33 94 98 94 97 98
32 92 97 91 96 96
31 91 96 89 95 95
30 89 94 86 93 93
29 88 93 84 92 90
28 86 91 82 90 88
27 84 88 80 88 85
26 82 84 77 85 82
25 79 79 74 82 78
24 75 74 71 77 74
23 71 70 66 71 70
22 65 65 61 64 64
21 60 61 55 58 59
20 55 58 50 51 53
19 49 54 44 45 47
18 45 49 39 39 41
17 41 42 34 32 35
16 37 33 29 26 28
15 32 21 24 19 22
14 25 11 19 14 16
13 19 4 14 10 10
12 15 1 10 7 5
11 11 1 5 4 2
10 7 1 3 3 1
9 3 1 1 1 1
8 2 1 1 1 1
7 1 1 1 1 1
6 1 1 1 1 1
5 1 1 1 1 1
4 1 1 1 1 1
3 1 1 1 1 1
2 1 1 1 1 1
1 1 1 1 1 1

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ACT Scores: The Good, The Bad and the Average

Scores range from 1-36, and the average ACT score in 2020 is 20.6. There are four separate sections, and the average score across these sections actually varies pretty substantially. The average score on the English Test is 19.9; the average score on the Mathematics Test is 20.2; the average score on the Reading Test is 21.2; the average score on the Science Test is 20.6.

Okay, so those are the averages. But what’s a good score? What’s a bad one? What kind of score will make you cry? Those are much tougher questions to answer. A good place to start is a few key score percentiles from our chart above:

  • 99th Percentile: 34
    A 34 is a really, really high score. It's only two points away from a perfect score, but it's still a feat that is accomplished by 1-in-100 test takers. It's also right around the average score for most Ivy Leaguers, so if you have Ivy ambitions, you better start studying.
  • 90th Percentile: 29
    This is still an extremely high score (better than 90% of students). It's also pretty close to the average at a lot of competitive colleges that are not Ivy League schools. There are plenty of good schools with lower average scores, so don't fret if a 29 isn't in the ballpark for you.
  • 75th Percentile: 24
    This is a good score, and it is within striking distance for a student who starts with an average score of 20-21. If you’re sitting at a 24, you’re better off than three out of four students, so even if it isn't a 34 or a 29, it’s still pretty good. This kind of score will make most students competitive at a lot of quality flagship state universities and many private schools. Increasingly, though, top-tier state universities are above this mark.

That gives us a starting point to understand what counts as a good ACT score. But what about a good score for you?

What is a good ACT score for you?

Unfortunately, this question is not an easy one to answer. For most students, their college prospects depend largely on two things:

  1. ACT Scores

  2. GPA and class rank

Both of these factors are absolutely huge, and at competitive colleges, both need to be strong. A student with a 34 but a bad GPA is probably an outsider at most Ivy League schools. Similarly, a student with a great GPA but a poor test performance isn’t super competitive at a lot of really competitive universities. Thus, we can’t really talk about bad scores without having the context of GPA.

Instead, we can say this: A bad ACT score is one that is weaker than your GPA.

Okay, that’s kind of a non-answer. But it’s the truth. If you want to go to a top-tier state university like the University of Texas-Austin, a 25 is probably a bad score. However, a 25 might be a great score if you want to go to a lot of other pretty good schools. Many students would be thrilled to have a 25, but others might feel devastated.

Bottom line: The ACT score you need is determined by the college you want to attend.

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College ACT Scores Data

Since good ACT scores are determined by target universities, let’s look at what types of colleges have average ACT scores in various ranges:

34+: The best universities in the world, including Harvard, Stanford, Cal Tech, MIT and Princeton.

31-33: Almost-Ivies, like UC-Berkeley, University of Michigan, University of Virginia, UCLA and Notre Dame.

27-30: Tons of good private and public universities, including the University of Texas at Austin, University of Florida, George Washington University and Pepperdine.

25-26: This is probably the most common range for quality state universities, including the University of Colorado, University of Arizona and Texas A&M. There are also many quality private schools in this range, including TCU and Syracuse.

22-24: Broad range of schools, including flagship state universities like the University of Missouri and Ole Miss and quality second-tier state universities like the University of Illinois-Chicago and UC-Riverside.

Below 21: There are actually quite a few universities in this category, including tons of non-flagship state universities and a lot of small private colleges. Some examples include Arkansas State University, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, Regis University and Illinois State.

What can you gather from this? Three things:

  1. There’s a school to match your ACT score. Quality universities can be found up and down this list, so you’re not destined to a life on the streets if you end up with a 21.

  2. Three points can make a HUGE difference. A 29 can put you at UT-Austin, which is a top-10 public school in America. The 26 can put you at some good schools, but nothing of that caliber.

  3. The best schools are really, really competitive. If you were to line a hundred students up, on average, only one would be seriously competitive at schools in the first group. Even for the second group, only a few students would have a real chance.

ACT scores at competitive universities have gotten really, really high.

ACT Score Data for 50 Popular Universities

College Name Average ACT Score
Arizona State University 26
Cal Tech 36
Colorado State University 26
Florida International University 26
Florida State University 28
Harvard University 34
Indiana University 28
Kansas State University 24
Louisiana State University 26
MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) 35
Michigan State University 26
NYU 32
Northern Arizona University 22
Oklahoma State University 25
Princeton University 34
Rice University 34
Rutgers 28
San Diego State University 26
SMU (Southern Methodist University) 31
Stanford University 34
Texas A&M 29
Texas Tech University 25
The Ohio State University 30
UCLA 31
University of Alabama 27
University of Arizona 25
University of Arkansas 27
University of California at Berkeley 31
University of Calfornia at Irvine 29
University of Central Florida 27
University of Chicago 34
University of Florida 30
University of Georgia 30
University of Illinois 29
University of Illinois at Chicago 24
University of Kansas 26
University of Maryland 31
University of Michigan 33
University of Minnesota 28
University of Missouri 26
University of Oklahoma 26
University of South Florida 27
University of Southern California 32
University of Texas at Austin 30
University of Washington 30
University of Wisconsin 30
Vanderbilt University 34
Virginia Tech 28
Yale University 34

What would 4 EXTRA POINTS do for you?

We average just under 4 points of improvement, and all of our tutors have scored in the 99th percentile

ACT Scores and College Admissions

Like we said above, ACT scores and GPA/class rank make up the vast majority of the admissions calculation. In fact, many schools will use these figures as their initial filter before moving on to further aspects of a student’s application.

For many schools, a great ACT score can help offset a mediocre GPA or class rank. Schools differ in how they weight the various portions of a student’s application, but a less-than-stellar GPA will always look better next to a strong ACT score.

Of course, if you plan on targeting top-tier colleges, you will need a sufficiently high ACT score and GPA. At the most competitive universities, standards are so high that very, very few students are shoo-ins, regardless of their ACT scores and GPA. I’ve known of perfect-scoring students who were rejected at multiple Ivy League schools!

How to Raise Your ACT Score

We have spent thousands and thousands of hours figuring out how to help students do better on this test. There is no one-size-fits-all solution for every student, but there are some things that will work for the vast majority of students. This information isn't a replacement for a comprehensive prep program, but it will be useful to any student looking to raise their ACT score. While you're at it, you might want to check out our Free ACT Prep Guide.

Consistency COUNTS

It's tempting to try to cram for the ACT. But remember that the test covers years of school concepts. It's a ton of material, and you won't be able to get it done in a week and do it justice. So don't try. Instead, start early and make consistent, steady progress.

Most students are surprised at the progress they can make in 6-8 weeks of dedicated prep. Just four or five hours a week for a couple months is enough for most students to significantly improve their academic concept understanding and become confident in the most important test-taking strategies.

Improve Concept Understanding

You hear a lot of people talk about little tricks that can massively raise your score. Don't buy into it. The big gains come from getting better on the actual grammar, algebra, etc. that is tested.

Do Official Practice Tests

There is no substitute for putting in the time, and you should spend this time on official practice tests. The good news is that there are a lot of free official practice tests

Target Weaknesses

Based on your practice test results, you should know where you are weak and where you are strong. Make a list of your biggest weaknesses and move through the relevant content in a methodical way. Rinse and repeat.

Track Progress

A good plan is one that leads you up to a specific test date and also features weekly goals for the amount of time you should spend on prep. Use your practice tests to track your progress toward your goal and determine where this time should be spent.

ACT Scores: Final Thoughts

There is no magic number for what constitutes a great ACT score. Your starting point of reference is your targeted schools list. That will tell you what your goal should be. Once you’ve created your list and looked at the average ACT scores for your target schools, you should have an idea of what kind of score you will need in order to be competitive. If you have a low GPA, you’ll need to be even higher.

To some people, a 25 is a great score. If you’re looking at colleges with an average score of 22, a 25 is fantastic. You’re likely to get in, assuming your GPA is in order. However, that same 25 becomes much less impressive if you are targeting a school with an average ACT score of 32. If they have an average of 32, you have some serious work to do.

Fortunately, scores can improve, and if you’ve made it through this entire post, you might have the commitment needed to get YOUR great ACT score :).


ACT Scores FAQ

Still have questions on how your scores fit into the college admissions puzzle? We'll try to answer them.

I have a good score but a bad GPA. Can I still get into a great college?

Maybe! Different colleges give different weight to scores and GPA. Having a good score but a bad GPA is certainly better than having a bad score and a bad GPA, but how much that bad GPA will hurt your really does depend on the colleges you are considering. Obviously, a good GPA is better than a bad GPA, but there is a good chance you will find some competitive universities that will give significant weight to a great score.

I have a bad score but a good GPA. Can I still get into a great college?

The answer is pretty much the same as the good score/bad GPA question: Maybe. Just as some colleges will give weight to a great score, some will give less weight to ACT scores and more weight to GPA and class rank. There is a limit to this potential, however. The odds of getting into Harvard with a 22 are extremely low, regardless of your GPA. The lesson here is that top colleges expect both high scores and a high GPA. Having one or the other is better than having neither, though.

How much can I realistically raise my score?

Most students can raise their scores significantly through consistent hard work. What does "significantly" mean? It means you will be competitive at colleges you are not currently competitive at. Going from a 20 to a 23 is a significant jump, just as going from a 32 to a 34 is a significant jump. That doesn't mean all students will do this, though. The reason is simply that not all students are prepared to put in consistent hard work. A tutor can help with this, but plenty of students can do it on their own.

Is the ACT easier than the SAT?

No. Both tests are standardized, which means they are scored in comparison to other students who take the test. The way ACT scores are compared to ACT scores is through percentiles, and a 50th percentile score on the ACT means you did better than 50% of other test takers -- which is exactly what a 50th percentile score the ACT means. Neither test is easier than the others in general, but there are some considerations that could make one a better pick than the other for you. Request a diagnostic quiz to see which one is right for you.

Do colleges superscore?

"Superscore" refers to the practice of taking the highest sub-score for each section across all testings and combining them to make the highest possible test score. For example, if you scored a 25/28/26/25 (English/Math/Reading/Science) on one test date and a 28/26/28/27 on the next, your superscore would be 28/28/28/27. That would give you a 28 composite score, which would be one point higher than your otherwise-best composite score of 27 (your second test). Some colleges do this, some don't. It varies greatly. There are even some colleges that do this for admissions purposes but not for scholarships, and some colleges do the exact opposite. Most schools will state their policy on their website.

I bombed the ACT. Will I be a failure in college?

No, probably not! Your ACT scores are just one part of your college preparation, and they don't say anything great about you as a person. The biggest indicator of your potential for success in college is your willingness to put in the work. While it is a good idea to get the best score you can, which will allow you to get into the college of your choice, don't fret if you end up with a less-than-stellar score. Plenty of successful people didn't do well on the ACT.

When should I hire a tutor?

Some students can get meaningfully higher scores by prepping on their own. Some can't. Doing ACT tutoring with a professional prep company has its advantages. You can work more efficiently because the tutor will help you prioritize where to spend time, you can move through the material in an organized, systemic way and the tutor can help you through your content weaknesses, whether those include brushing up on old algebra you haven't done in years or fixing some bad grammar habits. Students who can get the same results on their own usually have a lot of time and no shortage of drive to do it. If this isn't you, or if you need results now, a tutor might be a good option.

Is it easier to get a better score on certain test dates?

No. This is a myth. Because the tests are standardized, there's no advantage to taking one test date over another.

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