What’s a Perfect Score on the ACT?

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If you’re preparing to take the ACT, you may be wondering what score you should try to achieve. What is each section scored out of? How does the system work overall? If you earn, say, a composite 29, how good is that?

Understanding ACT scoring helps you track your progress as you move closer to getting accepted to the college of your dreams.

So what does a perfect ACT score look like?

Raw vs. Scaled Scores

The highest score anyone can achieve on the ACT is a composite 36.

To understand what that number means, you need to understand the difference between raw scores and scaled scores.

Your raw score equals the number of questions you answered correctly. If you get 40 out of 60 problems correct on the Math section, your raw Math score is 40. Ace 66 English questions out of 75, and your raw English score is 66.

Imagine you achieved the scores below on the four multiple choice sections of the test:

Number of Correct AnswersRaw Score
English66/7566
Math40/6040
Reading31/4031
Science28/4028

We should be able to just average those numbers to find your composite score, right?

The problem is that some administrations of the ACT always turn out to be either easier or more difficult than others. That means that your raw Reading score may not represent the same exact skill level as someone else’s identical score on another ACT.

Imagine that you take the ACT in February and your twin takes a different version in June. Both of you get 66 questions correct on the Reading section, but you end up with a scaled score of 28 while hers is 30.

Why?

The reason is that her test had a more difficult Reading section than yours did. The ACT company compensates for the difference by translating your raw scores into scaled scores ranging from 1-36. They essentially adjust the significance of your raw score to make sure that a 30 on the Reading section always means the same thing for everyone—hence the term “standardized test”.

Your Composite Score

ACT Inc. takes your four raw section scores and converts each one to a scale of 1-36:

Number of Correct AnswersRaw ScoreScaled Score
English66/756630
Math40/604029
Reading31/403129
Science28/402823

The relationship between raw and scaled scores is slightly different from one test to the next, and ACT doesn’t share the exact algorithm they use to calculate it.

But if you want to do the conversion yourself (maybe to score a practice test at home), you can check any ACT score conversion table to get a pretty good sense of what your scaled scores would be. Your practice test should come with its own conversion table. If not, look for one online or in the scoring chapter of any ACT prep book.

The final step is to average your four scaled scores to determine your composite score:

Number of Correct AnswersRaw ScoreScaled Score
English66/756630
Math40/604029
Reading31/403129
Science28/402823
Composite Score28

That’s 30 + 29 + 29 + 23 = 111, divided by 4 = 27.75, rounded up to 28.

You might think that an average composite score would be 18—halfway between 0 and 36. In fact, the 2018 national average was 20.8. Of the 2 million students who took the ACT that year, ACT Inc. reports that 3,741 achieved a perfect composite 36.

About That Composite 36…

You don’t need four perfect section scores in order to reach a composite 36. You just need scores that average (at least) 35.5. Depending on which particular version of the ACT you’re given, you may be able to miss a question or two in Math and English and still earn subscores of 36. Even if a couple of your subscores drop to 35, they’ll still average out to 36.

What About the Writing Section?

The optional ACT essay gets scored all by itself. It doesn’t affect your composite in any way, and the highest possible score on the ACT Writing section is 12.

So What’s a Perfect Score on the ACT?

In practical terms, a “perfect” ACT score is the number that gets you where you want to go. 

Check with the universities and colleges to which you’re applying. Find out what scores you’ll need to have a good chance of winning the admission letter or scholarship you want. Any score that does that is just as good as a perfect 36.