How Scoring Works with the ACT

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  • 0:02 ACT Scoring
  • 0:55 Your Score Report
  • 2:50 Percentiles & Ranks
  • 3:47 Writing
  • 4:25 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Elizabeth Foster

Elizabeth has been involved with tutoring since high school and has a B.A. in Classics.

It's not just you: ACT scoring is really confusing! Watch this lesson to learn what all those numbers on your score report actually mean and how to interpret them.

ACT Scoring

Wouldn't it be nice if the ACT used a normal grading system - maybe a 4-point scale or just a score out of 100? Something that let you look at your score and immediately get a general idea of how you did? Unfortunately, your ACT score report is going to require a little more interpreting.

ACT scoring starts with your answers. The test has four multiple-choice sections: English, math, reading and science. On each of these sections, you earn one point for every correct answer. There's no guessing penalty, so you get zero points for every wrong answer just the same as if you'd skipped the question entirely.

On each section, counting up one point for every correct answer gives you a raw score, a record of how many questions you got right and wrong. For example, on the math section, there are 60 questions. If you answer 45 of them correctly, your raw score is a 45.

Your Score Report

The number 45 isn't the number you'll see on your score report, though. The problem with raw scores is that each section has a different number of questions, so it's hard to compare how well you did on two different sections. For example, there are 40 science questions and 75 English questions. So, if you get a raw score of 40 on both sections, you aced the science, but you really struggled with the English.

To make all the section scores comparable to each other, the raw score for each section is converted to a scale score. Scale scores translate each raw score into a score between 1 and 36. For all the scale scores, 1 is low and 36 is high. So if you get a scale score of 28 on the science and on the English, you know you did equally well on both tests. All of these four subscores are then averaged together to get your composite score, an overall measure of how you did on the test as a whole.

For each test, you'll also get scores from three reporting categories. Reporting categories measure your performance on a specific group of questions within each section. For example, on the English test, you'll get a subscore for production of writing, another for knowledge of language and a third for conventions of standard English. Each question on the English test belongs to one of these three categories, so for each category you'll see a report of how many questions were in that category and how many you got right.

On the math only, you'll also get a super detailed breakdown. One of the reporting categories has five subcategories. You'll see the number of questions in each plus how many you got right. You'll also get a STEM score that gives the composite of your math and science section scores and an ELA score that gives the composite of your English and reading scores plus the essay, if you take it. More on that in a minute.

On your score report, you'll see your scale scores for each section, your composite score, your STEM and ELA scores, and your scores in the reporting categories for each section.

Percentiles & Ranks

You might think all those numbers would be enough to measure you in every possible way, but you'd be wrong! You'll also get an analysis of your pencil speed, a critique of your eraser quality and a personality report based on your reaction to subliminal messages encoded in the bubble sheet. Just kidding. . . but you will actually get at least one other set of numbers: your national ranks. These are rankings that allow you to compare your scores to the national averages.

On your score report, you'll see your national rank for each subject area and for your composite score. Your national rank tells you what percentage of students achieved your score or below. In other words, it tells you how many people are at or below your level. The higher this number, the better. A national rank of 99 means that 99% of people are at or below your level. In other words, you're in the top 1% of students.

You'll also see a state rank, which is the same thing but just for students in your state.


All of this so far just covered the multiple-choice. But wait, there's more! Most college-bound ACT test-takers also take the essay, or the writing test. So, how does this factor into your overall score?

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