The highest possible score that test-takers can get on the ACT is 36. It’s because of this why many high school students, especially those who took the ACT for the first time and would like to consider applying to elite schools, tend to feel frustrated and anxious after finding out that they got a low score on the ACT test.
A 16 or 17 on the ACT for the first time is not good for test-takers who would like to apply to selective schools. However, for those who would like to attend non-selective schools, an ACT score of 16 or 17 is good enough. Also, ACT test score doesn’t matter when applying to test-optional schools.
There are two ways to define a good ACT score.
First, a score on the ACT is good if it’s higher than the national average. This means a score in the middle 50, which can also be expressed as being within the 25th percentile (a score higher than 25% of all test-takers) and the 75th percentile (a score higher than 75% of all test-takers).
Second, a score on the ACT is good if it’s the minimum that’s accepted by the college or university the test-taker would like to apply to. For instance, an ACT score of 17 is good enough if you would like to attend the University of California – Merced. On the other hand, that ACT score is far from being good if you would like to go to Harvard.
Colleges That Accept Average ACT Score
In general, many US colleges and universities accept applicants with 16 or 17 ACT scores. In fact, an ACT score of 16 or lower is accepted by 33 schools. On the other hand, an ACT score of 17 or lower is accepted by 58 schools. However, an ACT score this low can keep admission to thousands of US schools.
Refrain from assuming that getting a 16 or 17 on the ACT is a death sentence. Even if you have an ACT score this low, you can still obtain admission into certain colleges and earn your college degree after two or four years.
Some students who get low ACT scores will retake the standardized exam in the hope of getting higher ACT scores the second time around.
However, it’s possible to skip retaking the ACT to improve your score, provided that some of the schools you would like to apply to are not selective and accept applicants with low ACT scores.
Here are some schools that you can get into with an ACT score of 16:
- Albany State University
- Bethune Cookman University
- College of St. Elizabeth
- Edward Waters College
- Gallaudet University
- Huston Tillotson University
- Johnson C. Smith University
- LeMoyne-Owen College
- Paul Quinn College
- South Carolina State University
- Southern University at New Orleans
- Texas Southern University
- Wiley College
On the other hand, the following are schools that a 17 ACT score can get you into:
- Alabama A&M University
- Alabama State University
- Benedict College
- Bloomfield College
- California State University Los Angeles
- California State University San Bernardino
- Chicago State University
- Dallas Christian College
- Felician College
- Fort Valley State University
- Gordon College
- Life Pacific College
- Lincoln University of Pennsylvania
- Rhode Island College
- Savannah State University
- Sul Ross State University
- Trinity College of Florida
- University of Maryland Eastern Shore
- Virginia State University
- Winston Salem State University
Based on the figures and examples given above, it’s true that a higher ACT score can get you into more schools.
Still, a 16 or 17 on the ACT score should not keep you from getting into college.
Keep in mind that the schools mentioned above are just a few examples of those that will accept a low ACT score — there are many others. And also, applying to a test-optional school will completely make any ACT score meaningless.
In a few, you will come across a listing of colleges and universities in the US that accept some of the lowest ACT scores, so don’t stop reading now if you would like to get to know them.
What Happens If You Get a 1 on the ACT?
Nothing will happen to test-takers who got a 1 on the ACT. While they didn’t fail the exam, their score can keep them from being admitted into selective schools. However, many colleges and universities today are test-optional schools, which means they don’t care about the ACT scores of applicants.
The lowest possible score that a test-taker can get on the ACT, as mentioned earlier, is 1.
It’s not a failing grade because, when it comes to the ACT, there is no such thing as a failing grade. As a matter of fact, there is also no such thing as a passing grade on the standardized exam.
However, there are such things as good and bad scores on the ACT.
A good ACT score, generally speaking, is something that places you at the 50th percentile — you scored better than 50% of all test-takers. If you took the exam together with 1,600,000 students, then an ACT score at the 50th percentile would mean you scored better than 800,000 of the test-takers.
But then again, getting a higher score than thousands of other test-takers doesn’t matter at all if the colleges on your list are test-optional schools or those that do not require the applicants to submit their ACT scores.
Even if the school you would like to apply to isn’t the test-optional kind, a low score ACT doesn’t necessarily mean that you should kiss your dream of having a college degree goodbye. That’s because there are many colleges and universities that are willing to welcome students onto their campuses with low ACT scores.
Let’s take a look at some of these schools and the lowest ACT scores allowed for admission:
|COLLEGE||LOWEST ACT SCORE ACCEPTED|
|Medgar Evers College||13|
|Central State University||14|
|Paul Quinn College||14|
Because they accept applicants with low ACT scores, it doesn’t come as a surprise why these schools have very high acceptance rates.
For instance, both Medgar Evers College and LeMoyne-Owen College have 100% acceptance rates, which means that each and every student that applies to them gets accepted.
If your goal is to go to a non-selective school, it’s fine to have a low ACT score. Or you may apply to an elite college or university that’s test-optional, although you will need to impress with your GPA, admission essay, etc.
A Good ACT Score for the Top 100 US Colleges
The top 100 US colleges and universities consider ACT scores from 17 to 36 good. The majority of highly selective schools prefer applicants with ACT scores of 30 and higher. On the other hand, many high-ranking US schools that are not that selective accept students with ACT scores of at least 18.
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to have a perfect ACT score to get to the college of your liking, including elite and selective ones.
In many instances, an ACT score between the 25th percentile and the 75th percentile is enough to increase your chances of getting admitted into some of the top schools in the US.
Here’s a table of the ACT score range accepted by the top 100 US schools:
|COLLEGE||ACT SCORE RANGE|
|Princeton University||33 to 35|
|Harvard University||33 to 35|
|Columbia University||33 to 35|
|MIT||34 to 36|
|Yale University||33 to 35|
|Stanford University||32 to 35|
|University of Chicago||33 to 35|
|University of Pennsylvania||33 to 35|
|Caltech||35 to 36|
|Northwestern University||33 to 35|
|Johns Hopkins University||33 to 35|
|Duke University||33 to 35|
|Dartmouth University||32 to 35|
|Brown University||33 to 35|
|Vanderbilt University||33 to 35|
|Rice University||33 to 35|
|Washington University in St. Louis||33 to 35|
|Cornell University||32 to 35|
|University of Notre Dame||32 to 35|
|UCLA||27 to 34|
|Emory University||31 to 34|
|University of California – Berkeley||28 to 34|
|USC||31 to 34|
|Carnegie Mellon University||33 to 35|
|University of Virginia||30 to 34|
|UNC Chapel Hill||27 to 33|
|Wake Forest University||30 to 33|
|NYU||30 to 34|
|Tufts University||32 to 34|
|UCSB||25 to 33|
|University of Florida||28 to 33|
|University of Rochester||30 to 34|
|Georgia Tech||31 to 34|
|Boston College||31 to 34|
|College of William and Mary||30 to 34|
|Tulane University||31 to 33|
|Boston University||30 to 34|
|Brandeis University||30 to 33|
|Case Western Reserve University||30 to 34|
|UT Austin||27 to 33|
|University of Wisconsin Madison||27 to 32|
|University of Georgia||27 to 32|
|University of Illinois||27 to 33|
|Lehigh University||29 to 33|
|Northeastern University||32 to 35|
|Pepperdine University||27 to 32|
|University of Miami||29 to 32|
|Ohio State University||28 to 32|
|Purdue University West Lafayette||25 to 32|
|Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute||28 to 34|
|Santa Clara University||28 to 32|
|Villanova University||31 to 34|
|Florida State University||26 to 30|
|Syracuse University||26 to 30|
|University of Maryland College Park||29 to 33|
|University of Washington||27 to 33|
|Pennsylvania State University Park||25 to 30|
|Rutgers University||25 to 32|
|University of Connecticut||26 to 32|
|Fordham University||28 to 32|
|George Washington University||29 to 33|
|Loyola Marymount University||27 to 31|
|Southern Methodist University||29 to 33|
|Texas A&M University College Station||26 to 31|
|UMass Amherst||26 to 32|
|University of Minnesota Twin Cities||26 to 31|
|Worcester Polytechnic Institute||29 to 33|
|Clemson||27 to 32|
|Virginia Tech||25 to 31|
|American University||27 to 31|
|Baylor University||26 to 32|
|Indiana University – Bloomington||24 to 31|
|Yeshiva University||24 to 30|
|Brigham Young University – Provo||26 to 31|
|Gonzaga University||25 to 30|
|Howard University||22 to 27|
|Michigan State University||23 to 29|
|N. Carolina State University Raleigh||27 to 32|
|Stevens Institute of Technology||31 to 34|
|Texas Christian University||25 to 31|
|University of Denver||26 to 31|
|Binghamton University||29 to 32|
|Colorado School of Mines||27 to 33|
|Elon University||25 to 30|
|Marquette University||24 to 29|
|SUNY||26 to 32|
|University at Buffalo||24 to 29|
|University of California – Riverside||24 to 30|
|University of Iowa||22 to 29|
|University of San Diego||26 to 31|
|Auburn University||25 to 31|
|University of Arizona||21 to 29|
|University of California – Merced||17 to 22|
|University of California – Santa Cruz||24 to 30|
|University of Delaware||24 to 30|
|University of Utah||22 to 29|
Note: The entries amount to more than 100 as some of the schools are tie ranking-wise.
Ways to Improve ACT
Many test-takers dream of getting a perfect 36 score on the ACT. Unfortunately, it’s a dream that rarely comes true.
For instance, in 2018, only 0.334% of all test-takers got the highly coveted score of 36. On the other hand, approximately three times more test-takers got the next-best score of 35 — 0.961% of all test-takers in 2018 got that score.
It’s perfectly fine to try to get 36 on the ACT. However, since that’s a very rare score, it’s a much better idea to dream about getting a score high enough to earn you admission into your preferred school.
Alas, many students fail to get their expected score the first time they take the ACT. It’s a good thing that students can take the ACT up to 12 times before graduating from high school.
What’s more, test-takers can take the ACT up to seven times a year. In the US, the ACT is usually offered in:
As you can see, there is no need to despair if your ACT score is 16 or 17 or something else that you and your dream college aren’t proud of.
With up to seven test dates a year and up to 12 tests before you apply to college, there are plenty of opportunities for you to get an ACT score that you can be happy with.
Whether you are about to take the ACT for the first time or once again because you are not happy with your initial score, there are factors that you need to keep in mind. They include:
- Your chosen colleges’ application deadlines.
- If you would like to take the Writing section or not.
- How much time you can study for the ACT.
Especially if you are going to retake the ACT to give getting a better composite score a shot, it’s not enough that you have taken into account the factors of taking the ACT mentioned above. It’s also a must that you do everything you can to get an ACT score that’s higher than your previous one.
Here are some foolproof ways to get a more impressive score on the ACT this time around:
Study, study, study
The ACT is divided into five sections: English, Math, Reading, Science and Writing (optional). Needless to say, to get a better ACT score when you retake it, it’s of utmost importance to study these different subject matters.
When it comes to the optional Writing section, there is no need to study for it, which means that you can focus more on the rest of the sections. However, it’s a good idea to brush up on the characteristics of a good essay, such as unity, order, brevity, style and personal touch.
Having a solid introduction and conclusion is also key to getting a perfect 12 score on the ACT Writing section.
And this takes us to a critical ACT preparation-related question…
Improving ACT score after a month of studying
It’s possible to improve a student’s ACT score from 1 to 6 points after a month of studying. The amount of score one can gain per month of studying will depend on the study plan, which can range from light, medium to heavy. The more time is spent on studying, the better the ACT score’s improvement.
Studying well can help improve your ACT score (or any other exam score) by improving memory, boosting competence, increasing self-confidence, and reducing exam-related stress and anxiety.
As mentioned earlier, in one year, the ACT can be taken seven times. This provides you with one to two months to prepare in between exams. Taking your first ACT in September and taking your second ACT in July provides you with ten long months to gear up very well for the standardized exam.
Depending on your study plan, you can improve your ACT score by 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6 points. The goal is to get a second (or third, or fourth, etc.) ACT score that’s high enough to get you admitted into the college of your dreams.
Check out this table showing the relationship between study plan and score improvement:
|SCORE IMPROVEMENT||STUDY PLAN||HOURS A MONTH||HOURS A WEEK|
|Up to 1 point||Light||10||2.5|
|Up to 2 points||Medium||20||5|
|Up to 4 points||Heavy||40||10|
|Up to 6 points||Heavier||80||20|
It’s possible to improve your ACT score by up to 9 points in a month. However, you will have to spend more than 150 hours a month preparing for the exam — that’s 40 hours per week!
Studying a lot can help you get a better ACT score alright. However, studying too much can do more harm than good.
Excessive studying can cause memory loss as a result of brain inflammation. It also puts a lot of pressure on the mind and body that it can increase your risk of having heart disease, heart attack and stroke.
Going back to ways to improve ACT…
Use high-quality materials
Studying is not enough. You will also need practice to get a better ACT score. This is when the importance of using the right practice materials comes in.
Because getting high ACT scores is the goal of many students, it doesn’t come as a shock why there are tons of practice materials out there.
Unfortunately, not all practice materials that you can get your hands on are created equal. Some may help you achieve your ACT score goals alright, while others want nothing but to get your money.
The best practice materials come straight from the ACT. It’s a good thing that they come free of charge — all you have to do is download these official ACT practice tests and practice away!
And by the way, each practice test comes with an answer key.
Every year, the ACT issues a free and full-length practice test that will give you a similar firsthand experience on taking the ACT, which can be very helpful if you will take the ACT for the first time. To date, there are six ACT practice tests in circulation, each one different from the other.
Here are the links to those practice tests:
- ACT practice test 2018 to 2019
- ACT practice test 2015 to 2016
- ACT practice test 2014 to 2015
- ACT practice test 2011 to 2012
- ACT practice test 2008 to 2009
- ACT practice tests 2005 to 2006
However, some test-takers feel that the explanations ACT practice tests provide aren’t very good.
And, in some instances, there are no explanations at all. It’s because of this why supplemental materials, each one focusing on a different section, may be necessary. This is especially true if you find it difficult to figure out mistakes on your own.
Learn from mistakes
Speaking of which, it’s a definite must that you learn from your mistakes during practice tests.
Otherwise, it’s very much likely that you will commit the same mistakes over and over again, no matter how many times you take the ACT. Well, you can take it up to 12 times only, which is why learning from your mistakes ASAP is important.
Here are a couple of steps to take while taking practice ACT tests:
- Mark questions that you are unsure about.
- During grading, review all the questions that you marked, even if you answered right.
It’s not enough that you find out why you got an answer wrong or got it correctly by guessing — it’s also a must that you think hard why the question failed you. This way, in case you encounter it during the actual ACT, you will be able to answer the question without any doubt or hesitation.
Writing all the questions you answered wrongly or guessed is a great idea. It will allow you to check them out without any trouble, thus making sure that you will not have to answer them wrongly or make guesses ever again.
Practice to act quickly
Just like the ACT, the SAT has an optional Essay section. Without the Essay section, the SAT is three hours long. With the Essay section, the SAT is almost four hours long — three hours plus 50 minutes.
On the other hand, the ACT is two hours and 55 minutes long without the optional Writing section. With the Writing section, an additional time of 40 minutes is given to the test-taker, bringing the ACT to three hours and 34 minutes.
Because the ACT is quicker than the SAT, many test-takers feel that the ACT is the harder of the two standardized exams.
Because it’s shorter than the SAT, it’s a must that you act quickly while taking the ACT.
As a general rule of thumb, you should finish one ACT section five to ten minutes before the next section starts. This way, you have enough time to go back to the questions you are unsure about and determine whether you should stick to your answer or choose a different one.
Taking the ACT practice test over and over again can help you solve each question faster and faster, thus allowing you to finish every ACT section quicker and quicker.
To help you finish an ACT section five to ten minutes (or more) before the time ends, as suggested earlier, spend no more than 30 seconds on each question. If after 30 seconds you still have no idea of how you will answer it, mark it. Go back to it after you have answered all of the remaining questions.
Calm your nerves
Last but not least, you must stay calm while taking the ACT. It’s perfectly fine to aim to get the perfect ACT score of 36. However, you should keep in mind that a perfect 36 ACT score is elusive — as mentioned earlier, in 2018, only 0.334% of all test-takers got a 36 on the ACT.
This is why it’s a much better idea to set your mind on getting an ACT score high enough for you to gain admission into one of your preferred colleges.
Studying and taking the ACT practice test a few times can help before and during the ACT. That’s because you know that you did your part as a test-taker, which is vital for getting a good score. By pairing your self-confidence with your desire to go to the college of your dreams, the ACT should not be as nerve-racking.
To help you stay calm and focused, too, during the ACT, try to get seven to nine hours of sleep the night before. Also, it will help a lot if you think positively.
Just Before You Take the ACT
It’s true that you should study for the ACT and take the ACT practice test a few times before you take the standardized exam. You should also determine which colleges and universities you would like to apply to beforehand.
A 16 or 17 on the ACT is a good score if you would like to attend a non-selective school. Similarly, it’s a good score if you would like to go to a test-optional school.
However, compared to the national average, which is around 21 to 22, an ACT score of 16 (bottom 25th percentile) or 17 (bottom 31st percentile) is not good enough.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the College Reality Check.