How is the ACT Scored?

studying for finals

Whether you’re studying for your first ACT or just got back a perfect score of 36 (after taking our ACT course, of course), knowing how the ACT is scored can be helpful for evaluating your study methods and your score report.

How the ACT is Scored

Your ACT actually gets 3 scores: a raw score, a scaled score (with a subscore), and finally, a composite score. The final composite score is your reported score – the one you tell your friends and the main number colleges look at.

The Raw Score

Your raw score is determined by the number of questions you got right in a section. You earn 1 point for each correct answer and no points for omitted or incorrect answers. For example, if you got 40 questions correct in the English section, your raw score for English would be 40.

The Scaled Score

Your raw score is then converted to a scaled score, ranging from 1 – 36, with 36 being the highest possible score. You receive a scaled score for each multiple choice section. You’ll also get subscores for each section of the test. These subscores detail how many questions per category you got correct (this is under the “Detailed Results” section of your score report).

act raw score chart
An example of the chart used to convert your raw score to a scaled score

The conversion from raw score to scaled score is based on that test’s scale, which changes every test. The ACT scales raw scores based on the difficulty of the test and the frequency a question was missed by test-takers, creating some wiggle room in scores from test to test. While this can be frustrating, if you’re aiming for a perfect 36, aim for perfection when you take the test; don’t rely on the possibility of missing a question and still getting a perfect score (this can happen, as seen in the chart above).

The Composite ACT Score

Your composite ACT score is the average of your four scaled scores, one each for English, Reading, Math, and Science.

Because your composite score is an average, you can get less than a perfect 36 on a section and still get a composite score of 36. For example, you could score 34 Math, 36 Reading, 36 Science, and 36 English, and get a composite score of 35.5, which the ACT would round up to a 36. While this may seem like a loophole, again, don’t rely on it too heavily…think of that old saying: “aim for the moon, and you’ll land among the stars.” Aim for a 36 and you just might make it, but you definitely won’t if you aim lower.

sample act score report
A sample ACT score report.

Tips for Achieving Your Goal Score

It’s helpful to have a goal ACT score in mind when you take the test and to understand exactly how you can perform to get that score. Say you’re aiming for a 28. You can reference the raw score chart, above, and discover that you can miss a few questions per section and still get your goal ACT score. This knowledge can help you stay focused and relaxed when you take the test; knowing you have a few “free questions” can keep your anxiety down when you come across a question you don’t know on test day.

Confidence-Boosting Tips for Nervous Test Takers

So when you’re studying for the ACT, keep the raw score chart in mind and see if you’re performing in your goal score range on practice tests. If not, since you know how the ACT is scored, you know almost exactly how much you need to improve to get your goal score. And remember, the most important study “trick” is to know the content!

More on ACT Scoring:

How to Interpret Your ACT Score Report
What Do Colleges See on My ACT Score Report?
How to Send ACT Scores to Colleges

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