The ACT is used for college admissions decisions, similar to the SAT. That being said, the scoring on the ACT is very different from that on the SAT.
ACT scores on each component of the test - English, Math, Reading, and Science - range from 1 to 36. The average scores from all components of the test - called a composite score - also ranges from 1 - 36.
Since most students and parents want to know what a good ACT score is or what the average ACT score is, in this article we'll answer this question using data available from the ACT Inc.
We hope that after reading this article, families can have a better understanding of what ACT score to target as they prepare their child for success with the college admissions process.
Here's a quick breakdown of what we'll discuss:
Key ACT Score Stats
- 1.3 million students took the ACT in 2022, which is 30% less than the number of students who took the ACT in 2018
- The average composite ACT score in 2022 of 19.8 is the lowest observed average ACT score in the last 3 decades
- The average composite ACT score fell by 0.5 points between 2021 and 2022. Making this the most severe year-over-year decline in average ACT scores in history
- In the year 2022, the state of Massachusetts had the highest average ACT score at 26.0, while Nevada had the lowest score at 17.9
- Applicants to Ivy League universities typically have median ACT scores of about 33.5
Why You Can Trust ACT Scores
Before we jump into the sections about different benchmarks for your ACT score, let’s take a quick look at the research supporting the validity and reliability of ACT scores. The ACT uses scaling for its score system to make sure that college admissions counselors can interpret the score effectively.
In essence, you should be able to compare an ACT score from one student in 1995 to another student in 2010 and the comparison would be the same. There isn't a disruption in the score scale.
How is the ACT Scored?
The following table shows the number of questions in each section of the ACT and the reporting categories.
# of Questions
Production of Writing (29-32%)
Knowledge of Language (13-19%)
Conventions of Standard English (51-56%)
Preparing for higher math (57-60%)
Integrating essential skills (40-43%)
Key ideas and details (55-60%)
Craft and structure (25-30%)
Integration of knowledge and ideas (13-18%)
Interpretation of data (45-55%)
Scientific investigation (20-30%)
Evaluation of Models, inferences, and experimental results (25-35%)
Average ACT Score by Year
ACT inc.’s national profile report includes the number of test-takers and average ACT scores by year. The following table includes the total number of students who took the ACT each year, the average composite scores, along with the specific English, Math, Reading, Science scores.
# of test takers
Source: ACT National Profile 2022
As you can see, the number of test-takers has declined each year since 2018, with about 2 million students taking the test in 2018 and just about 1.3 million taking it in 2022.
Also, the average composite score decreased. In 2018, the average composite score was 20.8 and in 2022 it hit a new low of 19.8.
The graph below displays the same average score data, but it is easier to see the patterns. For example, the English score is the lowest score for all years and the Reading score is the highest. The Science and Math scores fall in the middle.
Throughout all five years, the lowest section score was the 2022 English score (19.0) and the highest section score was the 2018 Reading score (21.2).
Average ACT Scores by State
Even though looking at the average ACT scores by year is helpful, sometimes it can be beneficial to dive deeper by looking at the score distributions by state.
The table below shows the average composite ACT score by state, ordered from the highest score to the lowest score for the year 2022. It also includes the percentage of graduates from each state who took the ACT in the year 2022.
Avg. Composite ACT Score (2022)
Estimated Percent of Graduates Tested
Source: Average ACT Scores by State 2022
The states with the highest ACT score in 2022 were Massachusetts and California, with a composite score of 26.5. The state with the lowest score was Nevada, with a composite score of 17.3.
However, when comparing ACT scores between US states, it's important to also consider the percentage of graduates from each state that took the ACT in a given year.
For example while Massachusetts reported the highest ACT composite score of 26.5, only 4% of graduates from Massachusetts took the ACT in 2022. Compared to Nevada, where 100% of graduates took the ACT in 2022.
Students looking to attend a state school might be especially interested in this data because they can see how they compare to other in-state students. However, it is also important to note that scores vary based on individual schools.
The next sections will go over the average ACT scores for the Ivy League Schools and the top US colleges.
What is a good ACT score for Ivy League Schools?
Ivy League Schools are considered “the best of the best” and that means they usually want the highest ACT scores. Below, we put together a table with the data from The National Center of Educational Statistics to show the 25th percentile and 75th percentile ACT scores for the Ivy League Schools.
The 25th percentile means that 25% of students scored below this and the 75th percentile means that 25% of students scored higher than the given score.
This means the average is somewhere around the middle, making these ranges good benchmarks for students who want to make sure they're good candidates for the Ivy Leagues.
ACT SCORES: FALL 2020 (ENROLLED FIRST-TIME STUDENTS)
University of Pennsylvania
Based on the table, we can see that most of the Ivy League Schools have similar ACT score ranges - between 32 and 35 on average. However, we want to make sure that students and parents know that the Ivy League Schools base their admission decisions on more than just standardized test scores.
Students will also need an engaging essay, glowing letters of recommendation, a top-notch academic transcript, experience with community service, and more.
Good ACT scores for Top Colleges
Even if you’re not aiming for the Ivy League Colleges, there are a bunch of Tier One Schools out there with high standards for their standardized test scores. Tier One Schools are the colleges in the top 50 US News college rankings, which adds to their reputation as an elite university.
As of the 2022-2023 US News report, the following schools are listed as some of the top National Universities. Based on that list, we pulled the ACT scores for the 2020 incoming class:
ACT Scores for Tier One Schools
US News Ranking
Source: US News
How COVID-19 Impacted ACT Scores
The average ACT scores dropped when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. The ACT blog has a couple of articles about how COVID-19 impacted ACT scores. The key takeaway from the news article was that the decline in scores from 2020 to 2021 was the most severe in the history of school-day testing. The researchers concluded that fewer students are ready for college and careers, which means it’s so important to focus on raising a low ACT score.
In addition, according to the news report on the ACT achievement data, out of the 1.3 million students who took the ACT in 2021, only 25% met all four ACT Benchmarks and 38% failed to meet any of the benchmarks. While the report claims that COVID-19 isn’t the only cause of the decline, the trend is thought to have been worsened by the conditions of the pandemic.
In 2022, the composite score of the ACT reached its lowest in over three decades, coming in at 19.8.
According to ACT CEO Janet Godwin in an article by InsideHigherEd, ACT scores have been declining for the past five years, meaning that the trend began before the COVID-19 Pandemic.
In addition to the falling ACT scores, the average SAT score fell again in 2022. The class of 2021 had an average SAT score of 1060, but in 2022 this dropped 10 points.
Because of this negative trend, it’s more important than ever for high school students to focus on raising a low ACT score.
How to Raise a Low ACT Score
Take An ACT Prep Course
According to a research study, taking an ACT online prep course is associated with score gains. This means that you probably want to find the right ACT prep course to help you meet your goals.
Check out our in-depth review article on the best ACT prep courses on the market. There, you'll find our top recommendation for an ACT course that best fits your needs, based on our holistic first-hand experience purchasing and using several ACT courses. Some of our best recommendations are PrepScholar and The Princeton Review.
Watch Helpful ACT Prep Content on YouTube
Yes, you heard us correctly. Watching the right YouTube videos just might help you raise a low ACT score. In one of our previous articles, we covered the best ACT YouTube channels. Our list of top YouTube channels with valuable ACT prep content include the following:
Find a Good ACT Prep Book
There isn’t one ACT prep book that we can say best fits the need of every student. However, some good ACT prep books we recommend are, The Official ACT Prep Guide, The Princeton Review 2022 ACT Prep Book, and the Kaplan 2022 ACT Prep Book.
Stick to A Study Schedule
As much as everyone thinks they can just study when the time is right, making a more structured study schedule and sticking to it is the way to go. Whether you’re going to spend one hour per night, five nights per week, or you’re going to spend all weekend with your nose stuck in your prep book - find the study schedule that works for you. Keeping a routine is key.
Average ACT Scores Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
To conclude this article, we wanted to cover some of the questions we get asked most often about what a good ACT score is. Take a look at the answers below:
Is 32 a good ACT score?
The short answer is yes, 32 is a good ACT score. However, it depends on where you're applying. If you're shooting for the Ivy Leagues or a Tier One school, this might not be high enough. On the other hand, if you're aiming for a Tier Two School, this will probably get you admitted and might even earn you a scholarship.
Is 27 a good ACT score?
If you want to get into the Ivy Leagues, then 27 is not a high enough ACT score. But, if you’re set on going to a state school or a Tier Three private university, this might be enough to ensure your admission.
Is 29 a good ACT score?
Again, this probably isn’t good enough for an Ivy League School, but 29 is still a good ACT score and will likely earn you a spot at a variety of national universities.
Is 28 a good ACT score?
Knowing that the average national ACT composite score is around 19.8, you would think that 28 would be a great ACT score. We’re not saying that it isn’t good, but if you’re aiming for a top university, this might fall short of their minimum.
Is 22 a good ACT score?
Since the average ACT score was 19.8 in 2022, we can say that 22 is still slightly above average, but it certainly won’t get you into a top college.
Is 20 a good ACT score?
This is just around the average score for the US in 2022. If you have your sights set on an average school and you don’t need a scholarship, this could still be good enough.