How Do I Interpret My ACT Test Score?

Kelly Ferguson
Kelly Ferguson
Exam scores are very important to colleges.
Exam scores are very important to colleges.

Correctly interpreting an ACT test score can give a student a general idea of how appealing he or she may be to colleges. While extracurricular activities and community involvement may indicate to a college that the applicant is a sociable, well-rounded individual, exam scores are also very important. Although exam scores provide just one snapshot of a student's competence, colleges often use them to evaluate and predict the future GPA and overall academic performance the student may achieve if he or she were admitted. An ACT test score can be evaluated by looking at the individual section scores, the overall composite score, and the comparison between one individual's score and the rest of the people who have taken the test in recent years.

The composite ACT test score consists of the average of all of the section scores, and ranges from a low score of 1 to a high score of 36. The composite number is difficult to interpret without any reference for comparison, so it is often listed alongside a percentile score. The percentile tells the student how he or she scored in relation to other individuals.

For 2008-2011, for example, a composite score of 25 is in the 80th percentile, which means that a person who received a composite ACT test score of 25 performed at the same level or better than 80% but lower than 20% of the other people who took the test. ACT provides additional data that is updated every few years including the average ACT test score, the frequency with which each score is achieved, and the range of ACT scores that colleges typically admit. This information helps a student determine whether he or she has achieved an uncommonly high or low score and whether that score will be adequate to get into college.

The individual section scores, also on a scale from 1 to 36, provide a better insight into which areas, such as science, math, or language, the student excels in or struggles with. For example, a high score in language but a low score in math may equal out to an average score. This does not give an accurate picture of the student's above average performance in language, which may be important if he or she is attempting to get accepted into a language-focused major. If that same student were instead trying to pursue a major in a math-related field, the low math score would indicate to the student that he or she may struggle in that area and may benefit from extra preparatory classes. Consider working with an ACT math tutor to improve these scores.

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    • Exam scores are very important to colleges.
      By: Lisa F. Young
      Exam scores are very important to colleges.