Composite ACT Scores: How They’re Calculated

The ACT exam is a standardized exam used for college admissions in the United States. The American College Testing Program created the ACT and first administered it as a competitor to the SAT test in the fall of 1959. Understanding Composite ACT Scores and how they are calculated can help you get into college.

The ACT includes test questions in English, Mathematics, Reading, Science and Writing categories.

The English Section of the ACT

The English section of the ACT measures standard written English and rhetorical skills. Students are given 45 minutes to complete 75 multiple choice questions.

The student is presented with five prose passages, and the English questions refer to underlined portions of the text. The student must choose a correct alternative to the underlined sentence, text, or passage. The English test is divided into two sections: Usage/Mechanics (40 questions) and Rhetorical Skills (35 questions).

The Mathematics Section of the ACT

The Mathematics portion of the test is composed of 60 multiple choice questions. The student is given 60 minutes to complete the exam.

This section of the ACT requires basic knowledge of formulas and computation. The test is divided into 24 Pre-Algebra and Elementary Algebra questions, 18 Intermediate Algebra and Geometry questions, and 18 Plane Geometry and Trigonometry questions.

The Reading Section of the ACT

For the Reading section, the student is given 35 minutes to complete 40 multiple choice questions that measure reading comprehension. The student is presented with four prose passages in the areas of Humanities, Social Studies, Natural Sciences and Prose Fiction. These passages represent the type of reading passages that would be part of the curriculum in a first- year college class. 20 of the questions are in the area of Social Studies and Natural Sciences, while 20 of the questions focus on Prose Fiction and Humanities passages.

Rather than focusing on the recall of facts or vocabulary words, the Reading section of the ACT tests skills such as inferring and deductive reasoning.

The Science Section of the ACT

composite ACT scoresThe Science portion of the ACT is composed of 40 multiple choice questions. Science measures the analytical, interpretative, and problem solving skills that are required in the Natural Sciences through data representation, research summaries, and conflicting viewpoints.

The test also measures evaluation and reasoning skills and requires students to generalize, draw conclusions, make predictions, and critically examine the relationship between provided information and the hypotheses developed.

Students are given 35 minutes to complete this part of the test and the ACT assumes that the student has completed 3 or more years of high school science classes.

The Writing Section of the ACT

The Writing section of the ACT is optional and includes one prompt in which the student is given 30 minutes to complete. The Writing portion measures skills used in high school and first-year college Writing classes.

The student is given an issue with two points of view and must adopt one of the points of view or create his or her own opinion on the issue.

This section is not required, but the graded essay will be sent to your school if you choose to complete this portion. If Writing is one of your strengths, it can be helpful to complete this section of the ACT.

Getting ACT Scores

Once the student has completed the ACT, he or she will be mailed scores within 3 to 8 weeks or they can be viewed on-line through a student account. At this time, one can view both their individual test multiple choice scores and composite scores. However, one can check on-line weekly as scores are added on a weekly basis. The Writing exam scores are available within two weeks after the composite and separate test scores are posted.

How ACT Scores Are Calculated

In order to calculate your multiple choice and composite score, ACT first counts the number of multiple choice questions that you answered correctly on each individual test. Points are not deducted for incorrect answers.

Next, the raw scores on each test are converted to scale scores. Scale scores mean the same thing for every form of the ACT regardless of the day or time it was taken. Your scale score for each test can range from 1 to 36. This number tells you your individual score on each part of the exam.

The composite score is then calculated by averaging the four individual multiple choice test scores and rounding them to the nearest whole number. The composite score also ranges from 1 to 36.

Fractions less than one half are rounded down, while fractions greater than one -half are rounded to the next highest number.

The composite score is your overall score on the exam. This is the score that is most looked at by colleges and universities.

Finally, ACT computes your seven sub scores. For example, the English test is divided into two sections: Usage/Mechanics which is 40 questions and Rhetorical Skills which is composed of 35 questions. Therefore, your sub score is calculated for each section of the English test. However, the sub score is based on a scale ranging from 1 to 18. There is not a direct mathematical relationship between your sub scores and the multiple choice or composite score. Therefore, your sub scores do not add up to the overall test score.

Once your scores have been reported you are assigned a national rank. The rank displays the number of high school students who scored above or below you in all four sections of the exam as well as the subsections of the test across the country. Your rank can be beneficial in telling you what areas you are strong in and what classes you may need to develop more skills.

How Colleges Use ACT Scores

Colleges use ACT individual test scores and composite ACT scores to determine admissions, help with course placement, and determine eligibility for scholarships and loans. And if you chose to take the Writing section of the exam, your essay, along with any comments, is sent to your school. Some universities use this as a tool for deciding admission. Most schools place the most weight on the composite score for admissions purposes.

On the other hand, some colleges do place value on the individual test scores when placing students into first-year college courses. If your score was not as high as you had hoped, you can retake the test as many times as you see fit. Most colleges also take into consideration grades, extra-curricular activities, and other accomplishments.