Whether you’re studying for your first ACT or just got back a perfect score of 36 (after taking our ACT course, of course), knowing how the ACT is scored can be helpful for evaluating your study methods and your score report.
Your ACT actually gets 3 scores: a raw score, a scaled score (with a subscore), and finally, a composite score. The final composite score is your reported score – the one you tell your friends and the main number colleges look at.
This is how it works: you take your ACT, and the ACT scorers get to work grading your test. You earn 1 point for each correct answer and no points for omitted or incorrect answers.
Your raw score is determined by the number of questions you got right in a section. For example, if you got 40 questions correct in the English section, your raw score for English would be 40.
Your raw score is then converted to a scaled score, ranging from 1 – 36, with 36 being the highest possible score. You receive a scaled score for each multiple choice section. You’ll also get subscores for each section of the test that detail how many questions per category you got correct (this is under the “Detailed Results” section of your score report).
The conversion from raw score to scaled score is based on that test’s scale, which changes every test. The ACT scales raw scores based on the difficulty of the test and the frequency a question was missed by test-takers, creating some wiggle room in scores from test to test. While this can be frustrating, if you’re aiming for a perfect 36, aim for perfection when you take the test; don’t rely on the possibility of missing a question and still getting a perfect score (this can happen, as seen in the chart above).
Your composite ACT score is the average of your four scaled scores, one each for English, Reading, Math, and Science.
Because your composite score is an average, you can get less than a perfect 36 on a section and still get a composite score of 36. For example, you could score 34 Math, 36 Reading, 36 Science, and 36 English, and get a composite score of 35.5, which the ACT would round up to a 36. While this may seem like a loophole, again, don’t rely on it too heavily…think of that old saying: “aim for the moon, and you’ll land among the stars.” Aim for a 36 and you just might make it, but you definitely won’t if you aim lower.
It’s helpful to have a goal ACT score in mind when you take the test and to understand exactly how you can perform to get that score. Say you’re aiming for a 28. You can reference the raw score chart, above, and discover that you can miss a few questions per section and still get your goal ACT score. This knowledge can help you stay focused and relaxed when you take the test; knowing you have a few “free questions” can keep your anxiety down when you come across a question you don’t know on test day.
So when you’re studying for the ACT, keep the raw score chart in mind and see if you’re performing in your goal score range on practice tests. If not, you know almost exactly how much you need to improve to get your goal score. And remember, the most important study “trick” is to know the content!