ACT Scoring and the Score Report
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 subsections.
  • The four scaled scores are averaged, producing the Composite Score.
  • Finally, every single score is assigned a corresponding percentile ranking, indicating how you fared in comparison to other test takers.
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.
Raw Scores
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 wrong answers.
Raw Subscores
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
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.
Scaled Subscores
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 28.
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
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 Composite Scores:
Composite Score ACT Approximate Percentile Rank Percentage of -Correct Answers
31 99% 90%
26 90% 75%
23 76% 63%
20 54% 53%
17 28% 43%
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 two things:
  1. Have your high school give ACT permission to send your score to your home.
  2. Leave 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 and locate 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 score.
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.
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