What Is an ACT Composite Score?

TPA-ACT-WhatIsCompositeScore-Header

Your composite score is your single, overall score on the ACT.  It’s the number that everyone looks at first. Composite ACT scores range between 1 and 36, with 36 indicating a perfect or near-perfect test score.

So, what determines your ACT composite score?

As you likely already know, the ACT is made up of four individual multiple-choice tests:

  1. English
  2. Math
  3. Reading
  4. Science

On each one of those sections, the number of questions you get right equals your raw score. The ACT then converts that raw score into a scaled score ranging from 1 to 36.

(For more on scaled scores and why they exist, check out my previous article on “What Is the Highest ACT Score?”)

Your composite score is the rounded average of your four scaled scores. The ACT also includes an optional Writing Test, but that is scored separately and doesn’t affect your composite score.

Here’s an example of how the ACT is scored (based on a fictitious test-taker):

Test SectionTotal Number of QuestionsNumber of Correct Answers (Raw Score)Scaled Score
English7559/7525
Math6057/6034
Reading4032/4029
Science4034/4029
Composite

29

This fictional student achieved a scaled 25 on English, a 34 on Math, a 29 on Reading, and a 29 on Science. Add those numbers together and divide by four, and we see that they achieved a composite ACT score of 29.

What’s a Good Composite Score?

So what is considered a “good” composite score? Is there a clear cut-off between a “fine” and “disappointing” test result?

Not really.

A good composite score is one that accomplishes your goals–that is, it gets you accepted to your dream school and maybe wins you some financial support. Exactly what that number is depends on where you’re applying for college.

Your composite score corresponds to a percentile rank that relates your performance on the ACT to that of the whole group of people who took the test when you did. If you’re at the 65th percentile in Science (for example), that means you did better than 65 percent of students on that section. If your composite score is at the 91st percentile, it means that you did better overall than 91 percent of your peers.

Each year, colleges and universities publish information on the 25th and 75th composite ACT percentiles among their incoming class. Google “Average ACT score for [insert name of institution]”, and you’ll get a good idea of what scores you need in order to be competitive there.

For Future Reference

In general, you should aim to match or surpass the 75th percentile score for any school you’re applying to.

As an example, searching “Average ACT score for UC Berkeley,” we see that their 25th percentile is a score of 29, meaning that a composite 29 places you well below average among incoming Berkeley freshmen. But their 75th percentile is 34, so if you achieve a composite 34, you’re doing better than 75 percent of first-year students (though a full 25 percent of those people scored a 35 or 36).

If you’re planning to apply to Berkeley, or any school of a similar caliber, your target composite ACT score should be at least 34. Make sure to utilize proper prep materials provided by The Princeton Review, Kaplan, ACT Online, and others.