What is the Average ACT Score?

Posted by Tom Rose on Monday, January 30, 2017
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tom Rose

Tom is a career educator and technologist. He has been a professional test preparation tutor for over a decade and is the co-founder of Testive. Tom started Testive at MIT, after spending years as a highly paid private SAT and ACT tutor, to provide students with personalized, efficient and affordable test prep

What is the Average ACT Score?

The average ACT score is 20. In other words, 20 is the median composite score. About half of the nation's test takers score above 20, and about half score below.

ACT Category Score
Average ACT Composite score 20
Average ACT English score 19
Average ACT Math score 19
Average ACT Reading score 20
Average ACT Science score 20
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The Design Target Average ACT Score

The ACT scoring scale is designed so that 18 is the average ACT score. The English, Math, Reading, and Science are also designed for an average score of 18, on a range from 1 to 36. A standard deviation on any section is designed to correspond to 6 points.

ACT Category Score
Average ACT Composite score 18 target
Average ACT English score 18 target
Average ACT Math score 18 target
Average ACT Reading score 18 target
Average ACT Science score 18 target
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Why Does the Actual Average ACT Score differ From the Target?

Because the ACT strives to stay consistent over time, the true average ACT score has some drift. This is because every ACT test is different, and some tests are easier than others. To account for this, the ACT sometimes includes a fifth section that was previously given on a prior ACT. ACT then uses performance on that section to determine how easy or difficult a new ACT test actually is and assign scores accordingly. This is what allows takers of the October ACT to compare their scores to takers of the November ACT.

True ACT Performance is Measured by Percentile

The average ACT score is not an important metric for college applicants. A more precise indicator is the percentile where you rank. Percentile is a way of indicating the percentage of students who perform worse than you on the ACT. If you scored exactly average on the ACT, then you would say that you had a 50 percentile score. In other words, you perform better than 50%, or half, of all the students who take the ACT.

What if you improve your score another 2 points? Then what? Your score is no longer average, so you need a new metric. That better metric is your percentile score. What you can look up is that if you scored an 22 composite score instead of a 20 composite score, you would now be scoring at the 63rd percentile across all test takers, meaning you are now performing better than 63 percent of all test-takers.

How to Look Up Your ACT Score Percentile

To determine how good your ACT score is, the most straight forward thing to do is look up your percentile. Your percentile will tell you the percentage of test takers who performed worse than you. If you have a 99th percentile score, that means that 99 out of 100 test takers performed worse than you on the ACT.

You need a lookup table to calculate your percentile score on the ACT. Here are a few.

ACT Composite Score to Percentile Lookup Table

ACT Score Composite Percentile English Percentile Math Percentile Reading Percentile Science Percentile
36 99 99 99 99 99
35 99 99 99 99 99
34 99 98 99 98 99
33 99 97 98 97 98
32 98 95 97 95 97
31 96 93 96 92 96
30 95 92 95 89 95
29 92 90 93 86 94
28 90 88 91 84 92
27 87 85 88 81 90
26 83 82 84 78 87
25 79 79 78 75 83
24 74 74 73 71 77
23 68 69 67 66 70
22 63 64 62 61 63
21 56 58 57 55 56
20 50 52 53 48 48
19 43 45 49 42 40
18 36 40 43 36 33
17 30 36 37 31 27
16 24 32 27 25 22
15 18 27 15 21 17
14 12 21 6 16 13
13 7 16 2 11 9
12 4 13 1 7 6
11 1 10 1 4 4
10 1 7 1 2 2
9 1 4 1 1 1
8 1 2 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

ACT Complete List of Score Percentiles

You can look up the complete, published list of ACT score percentiles published by the ACT here.

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