Why 36? An Overview of How the ACT is Scored

It’s pretty hard to do well on the ACT if you don’t know how the test is scored, which makes understanding scoring on the ACT an important stop on your prep journey. In this post, I’ll break down ACT composite and section scoring and give you the answer to the question “How does ACT scoring actually work?” Let’s dive in.


ACT Section Scoring


There are four sections on the ACT – English, Math, Reading, Science – and you’ll receive an individual score for each one. There are two components to each section score: raw score and scaled score.


Raw Scores


Your raw score is extremely simple to calculate. Each question on the ACT is worth 1 raw score point, and there is no penalty for wrong answers. (As a corollary, this also means that you should always guess on any questions that you can’t answer, as there’s no difference score-wise between getting a question wrong and leaving it blank.)

Because of this, your raw score in a given section is simply the number of questions you answered correctly in that section. If you answered 33/40 questions correctly in the Reading section, for instance, your raw score for that section would be a 33.


Scaled Scores


Once you have your raw scores for the various sections, the next step is converting them into scaled scores, which range from 1 to 36.

The ACT uses scaled scores to account for the differences in difficulty between test administrations. For instance, let’s say that you and a friend took the test on different dates and you both got 48/60 questions correct on the Math section. If the Math section that you took was more difficult than your friend’s, then it’s fair to say that your performance was more impressive, even though you both got the same raw score.

The test addresses this using a process called equating. By comparing the difficulty of a given section to the last several years’ worth of data about that section from other test administrations, the ACT can adjust the scoring curve to compensate for differences in difficulty. So in our example, despite the fact that you and your friend got the same raw score, it’s likely that you would have gotten a slightly higher scaled score because your section was harder and therefore would have had a friendlier curve.


ACT Composite Scoring


After your individual scores are calculated for all four sections of the ACT, the final step is combining those into an overall composite score. This part is easy: your composite score is simply the average of your four section scores, rounded according to standard rounding rules. So if you scored a 27 in English, a 29 in Math, a 26 in Reading, and a 28 in Science, the average of those four scores would be a 27.5, which would round up to a 28 composite.

It’s important to note that the ACT Writing Section, or ‘essay’, does not contribute to your composite score at all. If you choose to take the essay, you’ll receive a separate score (ranging from 2 to 12) for that portion of the test, and that score will be displayed on the score report that you send to colleges as a supplement to your composite score.

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And that’s pretty much all you need to know about how the ACT is scored. Pretty simple, right? If you’d like more information about scoring on the ACT or any other aspect of the test, head over to Inspirica’s ACT headquarters. We offer a diverse range of ACT prep options to fit a ton of different timelines and budgets, and our squad of test gurus would love to help you crush the ACT.

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