What is Considered a Bad ACT Score?

Are you wondering how your ACT scores compare to others across the United States? Or, would you like to find out what ACT results are considered good enough to get into an Ivy League school?

When you receive your ACT scores, they will come in the form of an interactive student report. The report gives your scores, the number and percentage of questions you answered correctly, and state and national averages.

Analyzing Your ACT Score: Is It Good or Bad?

After you receive your scores, you need to analyze them to determine if you are comfortable with your score or if you would like to try it again.

College ACT Score Requirements

The quality of your ACT score depends on the schools you are applying to attend. Ivy League schools require a higher rating for admittance. For example, the average ACT scaled score for Harvard students is 34, with the 25th percentile having a score of 33 or lower and the 75th percentile scoring 35 or better.

In contrast, in Austin, TX, the University of Texas students scored between 26 and 33. As you can see, a good score at UT is not adequate for acceptance at Yale, Princeton, or Harvard.

If you want to make sure you achieve a score that is acceptable at all of the schools where you are applying to attend, you need to set your l at equal to or greater than the 75th percentile of the school with the highest scaled score average.

No matter which school you are applying to, you can consider your scores, “good,” if they were equal or better than the 75th percentile. Between the 25th percentile and the 75th percentile is an okay score, and anything lower than the 25th percentile will reduce your chance of acceptance.

National ACT Averages

In 2019, the average ACT score in the United States was 1059, down 9 points from 2018. The evidence-based reading and writing section average was 531, and the mathematics section average was 528.

If you scored a 532 in both sections, you did better than half of your peers. However, a total SAT score of 1064 is not going to help you stand out among other applicants. You will be lucky to get accepted to most schools with that score.

What Happens If Your SAT Score Is Not Good?

If your SAT score is on the lower end of the spectrum, your application and the items below will be scrutinized and compared to the other students with similar scores to determine who is the best fit for the institution.

  • School Attendance
  • Letters of Recommendation
  • Community Service/Involvement
  • Disciplinary Issues
  • Essays you submit
  • Involvement in sports and other extracurricular activities
  • Your GPA

Only applicants with spectacular achievements, essays, and GPAs are likely to be accepted with mediocre scores. After you finish your exam, it is essential to review each question to ensure that you answered each appropriately, especially if you plan to submit middle-of-the-road scores.

Tips for Improving ACT Scores

You want the best possible score on your college admissions exam. So, there are some things you must do to get ready for the grueling test. The better you plan, the less stress you will have when you take your exam.

Create a Plan for Achieving Your Ideal Score

When you are preparing for the ACT, it is essential to create an actionable plan with each of the steps you need to complete before your testing day. Your plan should include:

  • The score you need for acceptance to your ideal college.
  • PSAT exam dates
  • Practice test dates
  • Dates for test prep courses

You also need to include other essential tasks, dates, deadlines, or requirements you need to follow. For example, if the schools you are applying to require an essay submission with your ACT scores, you will need to register for the test with the optional article.

Start Studying Early

The ACT has 215 multiple choice questions across four subjects and an optional essay (which some colleges require). So, you have plenty of studying to do before your testing day. Take a look at this list of test prep activities to help you get started.

  • Take a prep course.
  • Take timed practice tests.
  • Practice essay writing
  • Work with a college admissions coach.

Starting your studies as soon as possible ensures that you have plenty of time to review your habits and make changes if necessary. If you are still struggling to find effective study methods after a couple of months of trying, you need to consult with a professional.

Take Care of Yourself

In the weeks leading up to your admissions exam, you need to take care of your mental and physical well-being. Below is a list of some of the things you can do to take care of yourself

  • Get plenty of sleep.
  • Eat a healthy diet.
  • Be confident in yourself.
  • Schedule time to relax or spend time with friends

If you are like many people, just the thought of taking the SAT is stressful. Add sleep deprivation and poor nutrition, and you have a recipe for disaster. So, during this crucial period, it is vital to do everything you can to take care of yourself.

During the Test

When most people take the ACT, it is a process of preparing, studying, taking a prep course, completing practice tests, and going to the testing facility to complete the exam. Taking the test might be the most challenging part of the process for a lot of students.

However, you can do a few things during the test to help yourself remain focused and avoid mistakes. First, take a few deep breaths and clear your mind of any internal chatter about items in your personal life.

While taking the test, make sure you read through each question thoroughly before answering. If you have trouble with any of the questions, move on to the next question and come back when you finish. That way, you do not miss any problems for which you know the answers.

Exam Sections

The ACT has four multiple-choice sections, math, science, reading, and English. Plus, there is an optional essay. Students have to complete the entire multiple-choice test, but they can opt-out or write the article.

Point Scale

The Act uses a unique point scale, with 36 being the best score possible. When calculating scores, you receive one point for every correct answer you give. The number of questions you answer correctly is your raw score. Using the table provided by ACT, you should be able to calculate your scaled score.

If you complete the essay, you will likely receive your multiple-choice and scaled score first because the written portion of the test takes longer to grade. When you do receive your essay grade, it will have a rating between 2 and 12. However, ACT does not factor essay grades when factoring raw or scaled scores.

Retaking the ACT to Improve Your Score

If you are unhappy with your ACT scores, you have the option of taking the test more than once, and actually, most people take it at least two times, once as a Junior, and again as a senior.

When you take the ACT test, you own the rights to your testing information. If you want a record for a specific test deleted, you can submit a written request with the date of the test you want to remove from your report to:

ACT Institutional Services

P.O. Box 168

Iowa City, IA 52243-0168


ACT Institutional Services will then remove any activity in your account from the date you indicate, including test records and scores from your account.

Even with the ability to remove unwanted records, you should always study before retaking the test. Otherwise, your score is unlikely to improve, which will only waste your time and money, and lead to frustration.

Final Thoughts on ACT Scores

Since the ACT exam was first introduced, millions of people have successfully applied to colleges using their test results. However, if you are unsatisfied with your scores, it might be beneficial to work with a professional entrance exam coach or take a comprehensive exam prep course.

After following these suggestions, if you are still not seeing an improvement in your ACT score, consider taking the SAT too so you can use the best results out of the two.

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Michelle Tsou

Contributor at ExamCave. Michelle graduated with a BA in English from Portland State University. She hopes to one day run her own test-prep organization.