ACT Score Calculation and Interpretation

The ACT has four sections or subject areas: English, Mathematics, Reading, and Science. Each subject area score ranges from 1 to 36 and the area scores are then averaged into a composite score which also ranges from 1 to 36. Along with this, students can also see their STEM (Maths + Science) and ELA (English + Reading + optional Writing) scores that represent how well they performed in those areas. This is important from the college admissions process point of view since it helps gauge the student’s competitiveness as an applicant and their aptitude which will determine the area of study that they want to pursue.

Students preparing for the ACT must understand the difference between the ‘raw score’ and the ‘scaled score’. The raw score represents the number of questions that the student got right in a particular section. For example: If a student gets 65 out of 75 questions right in the English section, then their raw score will be 65. The scaled score is the final score that the student gets for each section, on a scale of 1-36. The scaled score is calculated from the candidate’s raw score. While calculating the scaled scores, ACT accounts for differences and ultimately ensures that scores are consistent across all test dates, that is, a candidate who writes the exam in January and scores 30 out of 36 will represent the same level of skill as another candidate who writes the exam in March and gets the same score.

Students often ask the factor or the multiple that ACT uses to convert the raw score into the scaled score. But unfortunately, ACT is very secretive about the calculation process, hence there is no way of finding that out and that “multiplying factor” is not a fixed number. With every successive year, students will find a slight variation in the way the scaled score is calculated.

In the ACT testing pattern, students will also realize that their raw scores will not be able to map 100 percent to other test-takers, in case peers want to compare their scores. This is because each ACT differs in content and difficulty, and hence each student will have to refer to their own conversion chart to get the accurate scale scores. The scale scores reflect on how well you did in relation to other test takers. If a test is relatively easy and more people did better on it than usual, higher raw scores will be needed to get certain scale scores. In a case, if the test is especially difficult, slightly lower raw scores may net you those same scale scores.

ACT scoring pattern

  1. You may be able to hide the score of a subject that you are weak in, by showing a higher composite score. For example, if your scores are as follows:
    1. Reading: 29
    2. English: 30
    3. Science: 31
    4. Mathematics: 22
    5. Composite ACT Score= (29+30+31+22)/4 = 28
      Even though your Mathematics score is much lower than the other three sections, you still get a 28, which falls in the 90th percentile score.
  1. While preparing for the exam, work towards a minimum target raw score that you must achieve. This way, you can estimate the scale score that you may get.
  2. Since there is no negative marking, you must not leave any question. If it means your answer is a wild guess, go ahead and put what you think is right.
  3. If you are unhappy with your score, do not get disheartened. You must work towards improving your original score to get into your desired college. Study harder and use the knowledge you have from the first exam to do even better on your next attempt.

In continuation, you should read some of our other articles, like this one on – Test Taking Tips to Crack the ACT.

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