ACT Scoring and the Score Report
The way the ACT is scored might be the most confusing
aspect of the test. The number of different scores a single ACT
test produces is mind-boggling.
- First, you receive four raw scores,
one for each Subject Test, in addition to raw subscores for
subsections of the Subject Test (for example, Usage/Mechanics and
Rhetorical Skills are the two subsections of the English Test).
- Those raw scores are converted into four scaled
scores for the subject tests and scaled subscores for
- The four scaled scores are averaged, producing the Composite
- Finally, every single score is assigned a corresponding percentile
ranking, indicating how you fared in comparison to other
The two scores that will matter most to you and
to colleges are the Composite Score and the overall percentile ranking.
You will receive these two numbers, plus your scaled scores and subscores,
in a score report about four to seven weeks after you take the test.
Although you will never see a raw score on your score
report, you should know how the raw score is computed. All raw scores
are based on the number of questions you answered correctly. To
compute the raw score of a Subject Test, simply count up the number
of questions you answered correctly in that Subject Test. For each
correct answer, you receive one point. Your raw score is the total
number of points you receive. There are no point deductions for
Each subject test contains component subsections, each
of which is assigned a raw subscore. For example, the English Subject
Test breaks down into Usage/Mechanics and Rhetorical Skills. Let’s
say you correctly answered 32 Usage/Mechanics questions and 21 Rhetorical
Skills questions. Your raw scores for those two subsections would
be 32 and 21, respectively.
Scaled scores account for disparities among different
versions of the ACT. Without scaled scores, you wouldn’t be able
to compare your score on a particular test with the score that someone
else received on a different test taken on a different date. One
version of the test might be more difficult than another,
affecting the overall raw scores received.
The makers of the ACT don’t reveal the formula used to
convert raw scores into scaled scores, but we provide you with conversion
charts that mimic the ACT conversion formula, so you can get an
idea of your scaled performance. These conversion charts are located with
the practice tests at the back of this book.
To add to the confusion, the subscores of a Subject Test
are not scaled according to the same curve as the entire Subject
Test of which they are a part: adding together scaled subscores
will not necessarily produce a Subject Test’s scaled score. For
example, if you receive scaled subscores of 14 on Usage/Mechanics
and 15 on Rhetorical Skills, your English scaled score
will not necessarily be 29. More likely, it will be either 27 or
If you want to take and score a practice test at home,
it pretty much stinks that the ACT uses these different scale conversions.
The makers of the ACT use computers and programs—to which you don’t
have access—to compute their scaled scores. For this reason, when
we provide you with a conversion key to compute your scaled scores
on practice tests, we skip the step of scaling the subsections
separately. This means that the scores you receive on our practice
tests will be very close to the scores you would get on an ACT,
but they will not always be exact. Any test preparation book that
implies the scores you receive on its practice test are exactly
right isn’t telling you the truth.
Use of Scaled Scores
When you receive your score report, you will see both
your scaled scores and scaled subscores. Colleges will care primarily
about your scaled scores for Subject Tests.
Your scaled subscores will come in handy if you
plan to take the test again. They can help you identify your weak
and strong areas so you can better focus your studying.
ACT Scores and the Optional Writing Test
The Writing Test will be graded on a scale of 1 to 6.
Two raters will grade your essay, and their scores will be added
for a final subscore between 2–12. This subscore will then be combined
with the English score to create a “Combined English/Writing score,”
on a 1–36 scale. This score, along with the Writing Test subscore,
is listed on your score report in addition to the regular battery
of scores. Also, the Writing Test answer sheet will be scanned and
made available for download, so institutions will be able to read
exactly what you wrote.
If you take the Writing Test, all scores, including the
Combined English/Writing score and Writing subscore, will be sent
to all the institutions you requested to receive your scores during
the registration process. This is regardless of whether
or not those schools require the writing test. A school
must specifically request not to receive the results of
the writing test or they will be sent to the school automatically.
Percentile rankings indicate how you performed compared
to the other students in the nation who took the same test you did.
A percentile ranking of 75 means that 74 percent
of test takers scored worse than you and 25 percent
scored the same or better.
The percentile rankings that matter most are the ones
given for each Subject Test and the one accompanying the Composite
Score (the chart below gives a sampling of percentile rankings and
their corresponding Composite Scores). You will receive these percentiles
on your score report.
The Composite Score
The Composite Score is the big one. It is the score your
parents will tell their friends and the one your curious peers will
want to know. More precisely, it is the average of your scaled scores
for the four Subject Tests. So, if you got a 28 on
the English Test, a 26 on the Math Test, a 32 on
the Reading Test, and a 30 on the Science Reasoning
Test, your composite score will be:
On your score report, look for the Composite Score at
the bottom of the page.
Correspondence of Composite Score, Percentile Rank
& Correct Answers
The chart below shows a sample of Composite Scores and
how they correspond to percentile rankings and percentages of questions
answered correctly. This chart should give you some context for
understanding the relative levels of achievement indicated by these
||ACT Approximate Percentile Rank
||Percentage of -Correct Answers
Who Receives the Scores? Not You.
That heading is a little misleading, but we thought we’d
draw your attention to a bizarre aspect of the test. If you follow
the ACT’s registration instructions, you probably won’t receive
your score directly—your high school guidance counselor and any
colleges you list (see “Sending Scores to Colleges,” below) will
get it first, and then you must retrieve your score from your guidance
counselor. But there are ways around this bureaucracy.
If you want to receive the report directly at home rather
than through a third party at your high school, you can do one of
Have your high school give ACT permission to send
your score to
the High School Code blank when you sign up for the test.
Option 2 is less complicated than Option 1, and
there are no repercussions from leaving the Code blank. Although
ACT won’t explicitly tell you about Option 2, it will work.
Early Score by Web
Now you are able to view your ACT score report 10 to 15
days after you take the test, and well before the 4 to 7 weeks it
normally takes them to mail the scores to you. Simply log on to www.ACT.org
Early Scores by Web. Of course there is a cost involved, as with
most things related to the ACT, and satisfying your need to know
will cost you $8. Note that it is $8 each time you view your scores,
not a flat $8 fee, so make sure you print that score report page
the first time you view it. Also, this feature is only available
for certain test dates.
Sending Scores to Colleges
In the moments before you take the ACT, the test administrators
will give you a form allowing you to submit a list of up to six
colleges that will receive your score directly from the company
that makes the test. Don’t submit a list unless you feel extremely
confident that you will achieve your target score on the exam. After
all, once you receive your score report and know you
got the score you wanted, you can always order score reports to
be sent to colleges. True, forwarding your scores costs a small
fee after the first three reports, but the security it provides
is worth it.
There is only one reason why you should opt to have your
score sent directly to colleges. If you take the test near college
application deadlines, you will probably have to choose this service
to ensure that your scores arrive at the colleges on time.
Canceling the Score Report
If you choose to send your score report directly to colleges,
but then have a really horrible day at the test center, don’t panic.
You have several days to cancel your score report. To do this, call
ACT at (319) 337-1270. You have until noon, Central Standard Time,
on the Thursday immediately following your test date to cancel your
Taking the ACT Twice (or Three Times)
If you have a really horrible day at the test
center but you didn’t choose to send your score
report directly to colleges, don’t cancel the report. No matter
how many times you take the ACT, the colleges you apply to will
see only one of your scores—the one you pick. If you don’t score
as well as you want to the first time, you can take the test again
(and again and again) with impunity until you receive a score with
which you are happy.
You have a good opportunity to improve your ACT score
on the second try. More than half of second-time test takers increase
their scores. Taking the test a third or a fourth time probably
won’t make much difference in your score unless something went seriously
awry on your previous tries.