Your ACT test scores are two of the most important digits in your high school career. The ACT is one of two standardized tests designed to measure your college readiness. Most schools require you to take either the ACT or the SAT and submit your scores as part of the application process. No pressure, right? The first thing you'll probably be wondering is "How did I do?" or "Did I get a good score?"
National Average for ACT Test Scores
When determining how good your score is, we can start by comparing your ACT test scores to the national average among test takers. A good score by national standards is a 20. So if you've hit that score your first time taking the ACT, then you're doing okay! If you've scored a 16 or below then you need to be careful and take the test again. The top 25% of ACT test takers score at least a 24. So if you're hitting above that, then you're doing really well. The best possible score you can earn on the ACT is a 36. The closer you can get to that number; the better off you'll be when it comes time to apply to colleges.
While knowing the national averages is good information to have, these aren't the numbers you need to pay attention to. The numbers that really matter are the ones colleges are looking for in their prospective students. But how do you figure those out? And how exactly do they factor into the college application process?
College Admissions and ACT Test Scores
As I mentioned earlier, the ACT is designed to measure your college readiness. It tests you on material you’ve learned, reading comprehension, and your ability to think critically. All of these are skills you will need in college and when the admissions committee looks at your ACT test scores, they’re checking to see if you’re prepared to handle their college-level coursework.
This is why you need to take a look at the scores specific to each school you’re looking to apply to — they don’t use the national average as an indicator of whether or not you should be accepted. While some colleges have an official minimum requirement for ACT test scores, the majority do not. So how do you find out what score you need on your ACT to be seriously considered by the college of your dreams? Well, you have to do a little digging.
Most colleges and universities will release a profile on the most recent class admitted, will publish the score percentiles, or will release the median scores. You can also try looking for something called admissions statistics to find this information. It could take some searching on the school's’ admissions pages, because each school calls this data something different.
Let’s use the University of Michigan as an example. The mid-range ACT test scores for the 2016 entering class was 30 to 34. If you were to have scored a 26, you would be below the average score of students admitted, meaning it would be more challenging for you to be accepted. It would be in your best interests to re-take the ACT so you could submit a better, higher score for University of Michigan admissions.
Sticking with our University of Michigan example, this mid-range gives you an idea of the type of score you need to work for when taking the ACT. To be seriously considered, you should aim for at least a 30, but ideally earn closer to a 34 or above. The higher, the better. University of Michigan also breaks down the mid-range ACT test scores by section. You can see that they demanded higher proficiency on the English section, because the mid-range is 31 to 35. The highest score you can earn on the ACT is a 36 so the demand is very high. But if you take a look at the writing section, the mid-range is 24 to 29, which is significantly lower.
These scores help you tailor your preparation for the ACT by showing you the expectations for each subject. So if your score on the English portion was a 34, but your score on writing was 20, you aren’t wasting time studying the English section and can devote more time to improving your writing score.
How to Improve Your ACT Test Scores
Now that we’ve established how to find your ideal ACT test scores, let’s talk about how to improve your scores and chances of getting into the college of your choice. There are a couple different ways I recommend going about this.
I always recommend taking an official practice exam. Whether you do this in the form of checking out a book from the library, printing some off from online, buying a book or taking the Pre-ACT; taking practice tests lets you see where you are right now and where you need to improve. I also recommend you learn about the test itself. Sounds crazy right? But if you learn what the test takers are looking for, you’re better able to answer their questions.
Tutoring is an incredible investment. I work with tutors every day who share my passion for improving test scores and have taken home some of the top scores in the nation. Think of it like an athlete approaching a sport. The coach they work with is someone who knows the game, played the game, and is now passing on their wisdom. Working with the right tutor means you’ll learn test-taking tips and strategies while receiving immediate feedback on how to correctly approach each question. This can ultimately lead to a higher score.
Taking the ACT and doing well on it is a critical portion of applying to colleges, because your ACT test scores show how prepared you are for colleges. Although knowing where you stand nationally is good information, you really want to research the colleges you’re interested in to find that ultimate ACT score for admissions. By taking practice test and investing in tutoring, you can improve your scores and your chances of being admitted to the college of your dreams.
What do you think about the ACT? Do colleges put too much value on standardized tests? Are you worried about how you’re going to do on test day? Leave a comment below. We’d love to hear from you!