Understanding ACT Scores: What to Know Before and After the Test - dummies

Understanding ACT Scores: What to Know Before and After the Test

By Lisa Zimmer Hatch, Scott A. Hatch

So you’ve decided to take the ACT® test—great choice! The ACT is the leading U.S. college admissions test, giving college admission departments a deeper look into your capabilities as a student and how prepared you are for college. In fact, some say your ACT scores hold greater value than your GPA in college admissions, so it’s important to know how scores are measured, what to aim for, and how colleges and universities view your results.

First, Breathe

The ACT could very well be your ticket into the school of your dreams (no pressure!). You probably already have a good idea of what you’re going to be tested on, but with so much riding on one test, it doesn’t hurt to take a moment to review what’s on the ACT. Here’s a quick refresher:

Math: Preparing for Higher Math, Number & Quantity, Algebra, Functions, Geometry, Statistics & Probability, Integrating Essential Skills, and Modeling

English: Grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, rhetoric

Reading: Comprehension

Science: Questions surrounding scientific charts, graphs, and research

Writing: Essay (optional and does not contribute to your composite score)

How You’ll Be Scored

The ACT is scored comprehensively, which means that each section is tallied individually and then averaged to create your composite score. Scores are intended to show your academic development and achievement, which means they are unique to each student.

Your Composite Score

Each section is graded on a scale of 1 to 36. This means your number of correct answers converts to a score that ranges from 1 to 36 for each of the four tests (English, math, reading, and science). Your composite score is the average of the scores on these sections. Remember, the writing section does not contribute to your composite score.

Although your scores will reflect your own strengths and areas of needed improvement, here are a few general benchmarks to keep in mind:

  • A composite score of 21 is average.
  • A composite score of 16 or below is considered low.

It Doesn’t Hurt to Guess
Scores are solely based on the number of correct answers1, so even if you don’t know an answer, you should take a chance and guess. But when it comes to guessing, there are better ways than closing your eyes and pointing to a random selection. Instead, try these tips:
•Read the question more than once
•Eliminate the most outlandish choices
•Analyze your remaining options
•Select the best two options and then choose one

Your Writing Scores

If you decide to take the writing test, your essay will be scored on a scale of 1 to 6 by two expert readers in each of the following four writing domains:

  • Ideas and analysis
  • Development and support
  • Organization
  • Language use and conventions

Readers will assess how well you applied these four domains, which represent the essential skills and abilities you need to meet the writing demands of college. To break it down a bit more, the writing test is intended to see how well you can:

  • State ideas and introduce other perspectives
  • Develop ideas with supporting evidence
  • Organize thoughts logically
  • Express ideas through proper English

If the readers disagree by more than one point, a third reader will be called in to evaluate the essay for fairness. The two scores for each domain will be added together, and your total writing score is the average of your four domain scores rounded to the nearest whole number.

The Waiting Game

You can view your scores online as soon as two weeks after taking the ACT. Score reports are released within three to eight weeks after the test date.

If you take the writing test, your score report will be available only after all of your scores—including your writing score—are ready, usually within five to eight weeks after taking the test.

Your Score Report

After you’ve taken the ACT, your scores are analyzed and calculated, and then reported on your ACT Student Score Report. Here’s how to make sense of it all and see where you stand:

  • Correct answers are counted in each of the four subjects. You will also see college readiness information so you can tell if your scores meet or fall short of these expectations.
  • Your composite score is determined by averaging the scores from each of the four subjects (not including your writing score). You can see how well you did in each subject by viewing the detailed results which show:
    • The total number and types of questions asked
    • How many you got right
    • The percentage of correct answers
  • You can compare your scores to US and state rankings broken down by composite and subject scores.

National averages:
English: 20.3
Math: 20.9
Reading: 21.3
Science: 20.8
Composite: 21
Writing: 17.2

Sending Your Scores

You can automatically send your ACT score report to four schools for free.* However, you can always add more schools after you complete the exam and receive your scores.

How Colleges Use Your Scores

Admissions: ACT scores aren’t the only thing schools look at, but they are at the top of the list.

Course Placement: Many colleges look at your score report to see which level of a course you’ll excel in: developmental, regular, or advanced.

Academic Advising: Your scores can help counselors identify areas where you may need assistance and help determine the best route to get there.

Scholarships and Student Loans: Colleges and scholarship agencies may use your ACT scores to evaluate your eligibility for scholarships, loans, and financial aid.

Get tips for boosting your score, explore test-taking strategies, and prepare with full-length practice tests. Learn more at www.wiley.com/go/ACT.