ACT Scoring - How Is the ACT Scored?

If you are getting ready to take the ACT or are still picking between the SAT or ACT, you are probably curious about how the ACT is scored. Understanding exactly how the ACT is scored is very important to help you set some goals for your ACT score and put together a plan to get prepared.

In this post, we will discuss the how the ACT is scored overall and within each section. We will also talk about how this scoring can affect your decision to take the ACT and some basic strategies that you should use after you know how the scoring works.

If you want to learn more about whether you should take the SAT or ACT, check out our post on SAT vs. ACT - 6 Big Questions To Help You Decide and SAT vs. ACT - Choosing Which Test To Take.


The ACT consists of four separate tests (English, Math, Reading, and Science), each of which is scored on a scale of 1-36. Your composite score is simply the average of your scores in all 4 tests. The average scores from your 4 tests are rounded up, so, for example, if your average ends up being a 28.5, you will get a composite score of 29 on your ACT.

The scaled scores come from your raw score in each section, which is simply the total number of questions that you answer correctly. There is no penalty for guessing on the ACT, so you should make sure to always answer every single question.

Where Do My Scores Come From?

For each ACT, there is a table that is used to turn your raw scores into scaled scores. These tables are used to determine what scaled score you will received based on the number of questions you answer correctly in each section.

The ACT uses a scaled scoring system to ensure that scores are consistent across separate test dates. In other words, the ACT wants to make sure that getting a 30 in the English Test on the January ACT is equivalent to getting a 30 in English Test on the September ACT.

The scoring tables for each ACT are not based only on the students who take the test on that test date. Instead, the ACT repeats questions from previous ACTs to standardized the ACTs, so no test date is easier or harder than any other.

An example of an ACT Scoring Table is below:

These tables do differ for various test dates though, as the raw scores can translate to different scaled scores. The difference is based on how difficult the questions on that test are.

How is a raw score turned into a scaled score?

For example, on the ACT above, you would need to answer 52 Math questions correctly to get a 30, but on a different test date, you would need to answer just 50 questions correctly to get that same 30. The score of 30 shows equivalent math skills and is equivalent across these two test dates. However, the math section on the first test was easier than the second, so you would need to get 2 more answers correct.

How is My Composite Score Calculated?

You will get a score out of 36 on the English, Math, Reading, and Science sections. Your composite score is the average of your scores from the 4 sections of the ACT rounded to the nearest whole point.

Do not worry...calculating your ACT score is not this complicated!

For example, if you score a 29 on English, a 26 in Math, a 24 on Reading, and a 31 on Science, your composite score would be:

(29 + 26 + 24 + 31) / 4 = 27.50 which would be rounded up to a 28.

Scores ending in ".5" or ".75" will be rounded up while scored ending in ".25" are rounded down.

What About the Writing Test?

If you take the ACT Plus Writing, which we recommend that you always do, you will complete an essay in addition to the four multiple-choice sections that we have already discussed. The essay is an extra, optional section and will be scored separately from your composite score.

So how is the essay scored?

Did you know that readers will only take 2-3 minutes to grade your essay?!?

Your essay will be scored on a scale of 2-12. Two readers will grade your essay on a scale of 1-6 in four domain categories (Ideas and Analysis, Development and Support, Organization, and Language Use and Conventions). The scores that the two readers give you will combine to give you a score from 2-12 in each of the four subsections. Your overall essay score is just an average of the four subscores rounded to the nearest whole point.

Your score on the Writing Test is important, but it is not nearly as important as your scores on the four multiple-choice section. A high composite score will give you much bigger benefit with college admissions and scholarship opportunities.

What Does the Scoring Mean For You?

Now that we know how the ACT scoring works, let's talk about some strategies that you can use to help you score better on test day. These test-taking strategies will help you across all 4 multiple-choice sections of the test.

1) Take A Guess - Never Leave Your Answer Sheet Blank

The ACT does not penalize you for guessing, so you should never leave a question unanswered. If you do not know an answer, simply bubble in your best guess and move on! Your raw score is just based on the number of correctly answered questions, so guessing can really help your score.

If you get stumped on a question, take a guess and move on.

If you hit any difficult questions that you are going to skip, bubble in your best guess before moving on.

If you have trouble with finishing sections of the ACT, pay attention to the clock and bubble in any remaining answers when there is 1 minute left. This will make sure you do not have time run out with questions left blank on your answer sheet.

2) Keep Yourself Moving

Time management is crucial for success on the ACT. One of the biggest problems for students is getting stuck on a difficult question for too long and running out of time. When you see a difficult question that stumps you, mark the question, take your best guess, and move on.

Remember, every question is worth the same 1 point, so it is your job to find the questions that you can answer and get the most points possible.

If you finish the section with some time left, you can come back to all the questions that you have marked and use your remaining time to try to solve them. That way, you'll make sure that you use every second to your advantage to try and get the best score possible.

Keep an eye on the clock.

3) Know Your Guessing Strategy

As you prepare for the ACT, you should know your guessing strategy. This will depend on your own skills and goals on the ACT, so it will be different for each student.

Know your strategy to win on test day!

Is Math one of your weaknesses? Rushing to finish all 60 questions is probably not the best strategy for you, as all of the most difficult questions are usually at the end of the Math Test. A better strategy for you may be to focus on doing as well as you can on the first 45 questions and then guessing on many of the later hard questions. Every question is worth the same 1 point, so your job is to find the math problems that you can answer correctly.

Do you struggle with finishing the Reading and Science sections? Use your practice ACTs to find out the best guessing strategy for you. If you get stuck on any Reading questions and cannot locate it in the passage quickly, it can be best to bubble in a guess and move on. If the Science section is a weakness of yours, it can be smart to quickly guess on the most difficult questions at the end of each passage if you realize you have no idea what the questions is asking.

I know these sound very general, but that is because YOUR strategy must match YOUR skills and ACT goals. You can learn about what guessing strategies might be best for you by checking out our posts on Strategies for the Science Test, Strategies for the Reading Test, and Strategies for the Math Test.

What's Next?

If you want to know more about the ACT, check out our post on Everything You Need To Know About the ACT.

It is also important to put together an ACT Prep plan to get ready for test day. You will need to know How To Prepare for the ACT and When To Take the ACT.

You can find the exact 2017 ACT Test Dates here.

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