What Is the Average ACT Score?

This article describes what the ACT exam is and also provides information about the average ACT score. The ACT is a national college admissions test that examines a student’s ability and knowledge of four key subject categories:

  • English
  • Mathematics
  • Reading
  • Science

The test consists of 215 multiple choice questions, split into four individual tests, and a 30-minute writing test. The ACT is accepted by all four year colleges and universities located across the country.

Over 43% of all high school graduates have taken the ACT by the time they graduate, but states with the highest concentration of students taking the ACT are located in the Midwest or Rocky Mountain region. Nearly 100% of high school students in Illinois, Michigan, and Colorado take the test by the time they graduate.

In the north Atlantic, it is much less likely that a student will take the ACT. In Delaware, Maine, Maryland, and Massachusetts less than 20% of high school graduates take the ACT by the time they graduate.

Average ACT Scores

ACT scores (along with an applicant’s high school grades, curriculum, and class rank) are the largest determinants into whether a college will accept an applicant. The ACT test is based out of 36 points, with scores ranging from 1 to 36. The average ACT score of all 1.4 million test takers nationwide remains consistent from year to year, and was just above 21.1 in 2012. Almost 30% of ACT takers score between a 19 and 23. 55% of all ACT takers score between 17 and 25. While technically a student can score a 1 on the ACT, over 99% of test takers score a 12 or above.

The average ACT score in each state fluctuates. The states with the highest average ACT test scores were Massachusetts (23.6), Connecticut (23.3), New York (23.1), and Washington (23.1). My alma mater, the University of South Carolina has an average ACT score of 25. This is 4 points over the national ACT average score.

The states with the lowest average ACT scores were Mississippi (18.9), Washington DC (19.1), and Florida (19.8).

The minimum ACT score required for admittance differs by school. Most public universities require an 18, although exceptions are made.

Most Ivy League schools only accept applicants whose ACT scores are in the 90th percentile, which most years require a score of 28.

Achieving a 36 on the ACT does not require getting every question answered correct, but is difficult to achieve. Only 1 in every 4,000 test takes gets a 36.

A score above 34 puts a student in the top percentile. A score of 30 is considered to be excellent and is only achieved by the top 4% of all test takers.

How the ACT is Scored

average act scoreThe ACT is scored by taking an average of the scores of all four tested categories. All of the categories are scored on a scale of 1 – 36. In the event the average score is not a whole number, the ACT rounds the average score to the nearest whole number. Like other standardized tests, the ACT has created a “College Readiness Benchmark” for each subject category.

The readiness benchmark is supposed to be an accurate determination of whether a student is academically or intellectually prepared for college. The ACT college readiness benchmark scores are 18 for English, 21 for reading, 22 for mathematics, and 24 for science. The weighted average of all four of the college readiness benchmarks is 21.25, which means the average test taker who gets a 21.1 fails to meet the level of readiness that the ACT is required to succeed in college. In fact, the ACT reports that only 23% of all test takers in 2009 successfully exceeded the benchmarks in all four categories.

If you’re taking the ACT, or preparing to take the ACT, then it’s time to start thinking about scholarships too. Check out this directory of scholarship programs to help you in your search. You can also find out more about how above average ACT scores can help you out with scholarships here.