When it comes to college admissions after college, your GPA is important. Everyone around you would advise you to make sure it is high. For it, you can study hard, and try to get done with your assignment perfectly and in time. While the GPA is crucial, there is another thing that can help you stand out with your college application – your ACT score.

If you are planning to take up the ACT exam, and want to know how ACT score percentiles work, you are in the right place. With this post, you will be easily able to comprehend the statistics about ACT percentiles. While different schools may use ACT data differently, we have tried to come up with a generalized view of how ACT score percentiles work.
Let the scrolling begin.

What Are ACT Score Percentiles?

Before moving on to answer your complex questions like – what percentile is a 27 on the ACT, let us begin with a simple question. Do you know what ACT score percentiles are? If not, have a look.

Your ACT score percentile ranking is a comparison of your ACT score with every other student who appeared for the exam. In simple words, your percentile in the exam is a clear indication of how many test-takers scored equal to or more marks than you. Now, for the test, you will not only get a composite/overall percentile ranking but also an individual ranking.

Yes, that’s true. You will receive a percentile ranking for the four subjects in the test called the subject-area scores. You should know that your ACT score percentile ranking is not as simple as a grade you get out of 100. Instead, it is a clear comparison between you and other test-takers of your grade level. Let us explain with an example.

Suppose, you have a 32 ACT Percentile. Do you know what it means? If not, it means that you have a score that is the same as or more than 32% of the students who took the exam. Further, getting a 32 percentile does not mean that you got only 32% of the questions correct in the test. Chances are, if you have 32% of the questions correct in the test, your ACT percentile may be more than 32.

ACT Format Details

Before we discuss more on the ACT percentiles, let us take a look at the format of the ACT exam. It has four mandatory sections that last for two hours and 55 minutes – English, Math, Reading, and Science. Along with this, there is an optional writing section. If you take it, the exam will last for three hours and 35 minutes, as a whole.
Further, when it comes to the grading of the exam, it occurs on a scale of 1-36. Below you can find details of all the ACT sections. Have a look:

ACT Test Section English
● Length of Time: 45 minutes
● Number Of Questions: 75

ACT Test Section Math
● Length of Time: 60 minutes
● Number Of Questions: 60

ACT Test Section Reading
● Length of Time: 35 minutes
● Number Of Questions: 40

ACT Test Section Science
● Length of Time: 35 minutes
● Number Of Questions: 40

ACT Test Section Experimental
● Length of Time: 20 minutes
● Number Of Questions: N/A

ACT Test Section Writing (Optional)
● Length of Time: 40 minutes
● Number Of Questions: 1 essay

The Experimental section that we have mentioned above is for 20 minutes only and is only given to some test-takers. Also, during the duration of the exam, you can take two breaks. These are:
● One ten-minute break between the Math section and Reading sections
● One five-minute break between the Experimental section and Writing section

Average Data About ACT Score Percentiles

After the format of the ACT exam, we will tell you a bit about the average ACT percentiles. For it, we have referred to the 2017 ACT statistics by ACT.org. This data applies to the national averages, and is as given below:

● For the ACT Section English, the average ACT score was 20.3.
● For the ACT Section Math, the average ACT score was 20.7.
● For the ACT Section Reading, the average ACT score was 21.4.
● For the ACT Section Science, the average ACT score was 21.0.
● The total average for all of these was 21.0.
Now, let us correlate this data to the gender of students. Have a look:

Males:
Out of the total students who appeared for the ACT, 46% were males. They were nearly 856,651 in number. Their average scores for all the ACT sections are as follows:
● English: 20.0
● Math: 21.4
● Reading: 21.1
● Science: 21.2
● Total: 21.1

Females:
Out of the total students who appeared for the ACT, 53% were females. They were nearly 977,127 in number. Their average scores for all the ACT sections are as follows:
● English: 20.7
● Math: 20.5
● Reading: 21.5
● Science: 20.5
● Total: 20.9
The average each year fluctuates a bit. But you can get an overall idea about them from here. If you wish to apply to an elite school, you need to make sure that you surpass these national averages. Next, we will clear all your doubts about what these percentiles mean and how they work. To know what score represents 30 ACT percentile or 28, or any other percentile, keep reading.

Overview of ACT Percentiles

Before we move on to the ACT percentile chart as per the most recent data, let us see the percentiles from 2013-2015. The combined ACT Percentile for 2017, 2016, and 2015 as given below. Have a look:
● ACT Total Score 36 = 100 Percentile
● ACT Total Score 35 = 99 Percentile
● ACT Total Score 34 = 99 Percentile
● ACT Total Score 33 = 98 Percentile
● ACT Total Score 32 = 97 Percentile
● ACT Total Score 31 = 96 Percentile
● ACT Total Score 30 = 94 Percentile
● ACT Total Score 29 = 92 Percentile
● ACT Total Score 28 = 89 Percentile
● ACT Total Score 27 = 86 Percentile
● ACT Total Score 26 = 82 Percentile
● ACT Total Score 25 = 78 Percentile
● ACT Total Score 24 = 74 Percentile
● ACT Total Score 23 = 69 Percentile
● ACT Total Score 22 = 63 Percentile

Similarly, the combined ACT Percentile for 2013, 2014, and 2015 is as given below:
● ACT Total Score 36 = 99 Percentile
● ACT Total Score 35 = 99 Percentile
● ACT Total Score 34 = 99 Percentile
● ACT Total Score 33 = 99 Percentile
● ACT Total Score 32 = 98 Percentile
● ACT Total Score 31 = 96 Percentile
● ACT Total Score 30 = 95 Percentile
● ACT Total Score 29 = 92 Percentile
● ACT Total Score 28 = 90 Percentile
● ACT Total Score 27 = 87 Percentile
● ACT Total Score 26 = 83 Percentile
● ACT Total Score 25 = 79 Percentile
● ACT Total Score 24 = 74 Percentile
● ACT Total Score 23 = 68 Percentile
● ACT Total Score 22 = 63 Percentile

From all the above data, you can see the difference between the combined ACT Percentile for 2013, 2014, and 2015 and 2017, 2016, and 2015. The percentiles have increased over the last three years between 2013-and 2015. There may be numerous reasons behind this increase. One of them is that over the years, ACT has become a popular exam, and numerous students take it.

The above data also gives an idea of what admissions counselors mean when they talk about ACT percentile data. The data also gives you an idea about the changing nature of the ACT exam and the increase in its difficulty and competition level over years. That being said, now, there has also been an increase in the resources that you can use to prepare for the exam.

Current ACT Score Percentiles

After all this discussion about the average percentile rankings, let us now come to the major part of the post – how ACT percentiles work for both individual sections and as a composite score. All the data that you will find below is from the year 2020. Without any delay, let us start with the score percentiles for ACT English.

ACT English
This part of the ACT test is more than a test to know how well you write or how good your grammar is. Instead of these two major areas, it will test you on your editing skills. The test will judge you on how well you can fix errors in grammar and punctuation. Also, it will test you on how you can improve the organization and style of a write-up.

The score you achieve for ACT English will correspond to a particular percentile. For the year 2020, this is what top ACT English score meant in terms of Percentiles:
● 36 ACT English Score= 100 Percentile
● 35 ACT English Score= 99 Percentile
● 34 ACT English Score= 96 Percentile
● 33 ACT English Score= 94 Percentile
● 32 ACT English Score= 92 Percentile
● 31 ACT English Score= 91 Percentile
● 30 ACT English Score= 89 Percentile
● 29 ACT English Score= 88 Percentile
● 28 ACT English Score= 86 Percentile
● 27 ACT English Score= 84 Percentile
● 26 ACT English Score= 82 Percentile
● 25 ACT English Score= 79 Percentile
● 24 ACT English Score= 75 Percentile
● 23 ACT English Score= 71 Percentile
● 22 ACT English Score= 65 Percentile
● 21 ACT English Score= 60 Percentile

ACT Math
The next section of the exam is the Math section. It consists of a total of 60 questions that you have to answer in 60 minutes. Typically, all the questions have five choices, and one out of them is correct. The six areas of math that this section covers include – coordinate geometry, plane geometry, pre-algebra, elementary algebra, intermediate algebra, and trigonometry.

For the year 2020, here is what percentile top ACT scores in Math score referred to:
● 36 ACT Math Score= 100 Percentile
● 35 ACT Math Score= 99 Percentile
● 34 ACT Math Score= 99 Percentile
● 33 ACT Math Score= 98 Percentile
● 32 ACT Math Score= 97 Percentile
● 31 ACT Math Score= 96 Percentile
● 30 ACT Math Score= 94 Percentile
● 29 ACT Math Score= 93 Percentile
● 28 ACT Math Score= 91 Percentile
● 27 ACT Math Score= 88 Percentile
● 26 ACT Math Score= 84 Percentile
● 25 ACT Math Score= 79 Percentile
● 24 ACT Math Score= 74 Percentile
● 23 ACT Math Score= 70 Percentile
● 22 ACT Math Score= 65 Percentile
● 21 ACT Math Score= 61 Percentile

ACT Reading
After the math section, there is the ACT reading section. It is thirty-five minutes long. For it, you have to read four ~750-word passages and answer 10 questions each for them. Like the other sections of the exam, it may appear a bit daunting but you can easily go through it. The only thing you need to take care of is to be methodical, quick, and resourceful.

For the year 2020, here is what percentile top ACT Reading scores referred to:
● 36 ACT Reading Score= 100 Percentile
● 35 ACT Reading Score= 98 Percentile
● 34 ACT Reading Score= 96 Percentile
● 33 ACT Reading Score= 94 Percentile
● 32 ACT Reading Score= 91 Percentile
● 31 ACT Reading Score= 89 Percentile
● 30 ACT Reading Score= 86 Percentile
● 29 ACT Reading Score= 84 Percentile
● 28 ACT Reading Score= 82 Percentile
● 27 ACT Reading Score= 80 Percentile
● 26 ACT Reading Score= 77 Percentile
● 25 ACT Reading Score= 74 Percentile
● 24 ACT Reading Score= 71 Percentile
● 23 ACT Reading Score= 66 Percentile
● 22 ACT Reading Score= 61 Percentile

ACT Science
The last portion of the exam – the science section is a lot more manageable than students think. After all, just like the reading test, it is an open book test. So, even if you do not have much knowledge on a topic, there are still chances of getting better scores in the section. This fourth test has 6-7 passages for which you need to answer 5-8 questions each in 35 minutes.

For the year 2020, here is what percentile each top ACT science score was:
● 36 ACT Science Score = 100 Percentile
● 35 ACT Science Score = 99 Percentile
● 34 ACT Science Score = 98 Percentile
● 33 ACT Science Score = 97 Percentile
● 32 ACT Science Score = 96 Percentile
● 31 ACT Science Score = 95 Percentile
● 30 ACT Science Score = 93 Percentile
● 29 ACT Science Score = 92 Percentile
● 28 ACT Science Score = 90 Percentile
● 27 ACT Science Score = 88 Percentile
● 26 ACT Science Score = 85 Percentile
● 25 ACT Science Score = 82 Percentile
● 24 ACT Science Score = 77 Percentile
● 23 ACT Science Score = 71 Percentile
● 22 ACT Science Score = 64 Percentile

Why Are ACT Test Section Percentiles Important?

After the top Percentiles for 2020 for each section of the ACT exam, let us see why these individual percentiles are important. Have a look:
● The Math section of the ACT exam tells you about your performance in all the sections that it covers. These are plane geometry, and trigonometry. pre-algebra, algebra/coordinate geometry, and elementary algebra.
● For the English section, you will know where you stand in standard English conventions, language knowledge, as well as production writing.
● The science section of the exam helps you analyze your knowledge of Biology, Chemistry, Physical sciences, and physics.
● The reading section and writing part, lastly, help you test your knowledge in topics like arts, literature, and social sciences.
● For the writing part of the exam, you also need to know to give your views on a contemporary issue.

Not only will the ACT be able to test on all the things mentioned above, but it is also a critical requirement by most universities and colleges. Most of your dream colleges may use your score in these sections to compare you to other applicants. Therefore, always make sure to have a competitive score.

Along with having a good score on the ACT, make sure to perform well in your high school too. It is because a good GPA along with high ACT scores is sure to get you into the college of your dreams.

ACT Composite Score

Combining the scores for all the four sections above, you get the average ACT scores. Typically, when it comes to this composite score, a score of 24 or higher is considered good. Also, by getting a composite score of 21, you will have a 55+ percentile. For the year 2020, here is an idea about what score students needed to get in a particular percentile:

● A total ACT score of 36 = 100 Percentile
● A total ACT score of 35 = 99 Percentile
● A total ACT score of 34 = 99 Percentile
● A total ACT score of 33 = 98 Percentile
● A total ACT score of 32 = 96 Percentile
● A total ACT score of 31 = 95 Percentile
● A total ACT score of 30 = 93 Percentile
● A total ACT score of 29 = 90 Percentile
● A total ACT score of 28 = 88 Percentile
● A total ACT score of 27 = 85 Percentile
● A total ACT score of 26 = 82 Percentile
● A total ACT score of 25 = 78 Percentile
● A total ACT score of 24 = 74 Percentile
● A total ACT score of 23 = 70 Percentile
● A total ACT score of 22 = 64 Percentile

So, What Is a Good ACT Percentile?

As per the results of various ACT exams over years, the average composite ACT score is 20.7. It generally corresponds to a 60 percentile that is considered a good ACT percentile. To get this score, your score in all the sections needs to be – 20.1 in English; 20.4 in Math; 21.2 in Reading; and 20.6 in science. If you manage to get a score above these, you will have an above-average percentile.

That being said, what may be a good percentile for you, may not be the same for your dream college. Most competitive colleges are looking for high percentiles and not the average ones. Therefore, whether or not the ACT percentile you have is good will depend on the fact whether it can get you into your dream school or not.

How to Improve Your ACT Percentile?

After all this about ACT percentiles, let us tell you how you can get a high ACT percentile. For it, first, determine how much preparation you will need by taking a practice test. Once you do so, follow the steps given below:

  • Make a schedule and stick to it. This will give your time to improve your current level. Even if you decide to study for half an hour a day, make sure to do it daily.
  • Then, once you feel you are prepared well, sit down and solve a practice test again to see if you can solve it. Also, while you do so, make sure to follow the real test conditions.
  • From the results of the practice tests you take, find out the areas you lack in. These are the weaknesses you need to work on for your desired score.
  • Another thing you will need to work on is time management. For it, get acquainted with the time limits for each section, and while solving practice tests, try to finish those at the same time.
  • After you have followed the above strategy a few times, analyze your performance, and come up with a time strategy that will work on the actual test day. Make sure to try it for errors.
  • Since there is no penalty for wrong answers, even if you do not know the answer to one, take a guess.
  • Another thing you can do is to try to get your desired score on the practice tests. If you can achieve a good score in these, it means you are prepared for the test day.
  • Lastly, on the test day, do not panic, read every question carefully, avoid making silly mistakes, and you are sure to get the best ACT score.

Final Thoughts – Do ACT Score Percentiles Matter?

To conclude, ACT score percentiles are quite important as they will help colleges compare your performance in the test with other test-takers. Also, when it comes to the best score range, it will depend on your dream college more than your overall percentile ranking. Typically, this range is middle 50% of admitted applicants. It may also be 25th and 75th percentile scores. To know about it, you will have to check with your dream college and aim for a score accordingly. Good luck!

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is the ACT?

The ACT is a multiple-choice, pencil-and-paper entrance test that allows 2 hours and 55 minutes. The sections are: English, Math, Reading, and Science. Writing is optional. Extra 40 minutes if the candidate takes the ACT with writing.

2. What is the ACT exam used for?

Most colleges and universities make admissions decisions based on the ACT score.

3. What percentile is 33 on the ACT?

You are in the top 1% of candidates with a 33 ACT score. You figure in the highest 98th percentile of those who appeared for the ACT exam. The score shows you have answered all the questions in all the sections correctly.

4. What is a good ACT score?

A good ACT score is above the 75th percentile mark – at least 24. Students should target to reach the middle 50% of ACT scores.

5. Do I need to study for the ACT?

Two hours a week for two months is required to prepare for the exam. Studying for one to six months for an hour every day refines the skills needed to ace the test.