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A Guide To ACT Scoring

Understanding how the ACT is scored is one of the most fundamental aspects of taking the test. Before even stepping foot into the classroom on test day, knowing the scoring for the ACT can help you to outline your studying and set realistic score goals as you are planning for the big day. Let’s dive into our guide for ACT scoring and what you should know right now:

Scoring For Multiple Choice

The most important feature of the ACT test that all students need to know is that you are not penalized for guessing or incorrectly answering a question. You will get one point for each correct answer and no points for each incorrect answer. This combination for each correct answer totals to the raw score for each section.

The Raw Score

The raw score of each section is how many correct answers you get on each section. Let’s imagine, for example, that you correctly answered 60 questions on the English section. This means your raw score for English is 60. Pretty simple so far, right?

The Scaled Score

The scaled score is the final score for each section (English, Math, Science, and Reading) once the raw score is “scaled.” The scaled score is more familiar to most ACT test takers, as it ranges from 1-36. The metric for scaling the test is determined by the test administrators based on how difficult they deemed the section to be. This is commonly thought of as the “curve.” The bigger the curve, the more difficult the test was considered. Unlike most curves that depend on how well other students do on the test, the ACT’s curve is set based on difficulty and not raw scores of test takers.

The Composite Score

The composite score for the ACT is super easy to calculate, as it’s simply the average of the scaled section scores (English, Math, Science, and Reading) you received. This score is rounded to the nearest whole number. This means any score with a decimal greater than or equal to .5 is rounded up and a decimal less than .5 is rounded down.

Scoring For The Writing Test

When you complete the optional writing test, two readers will score your essay based on 4 specific criteria:

-Ideas and Analysis

-Development and Support


-Language Use and Convention

According to the ACT, this is exactly what the readers are looking for in your writing:

Ideas and Analysis—Scores in this domain reflect the ability to generate productive ideas and engage critically with multiple perspectives on the given issue. Competent writers understand the issue they are invited to address, the purpose for writing, and the audience. They generate ideas that are relevant to the situation.

Development and Support—Scores in this domain reflect the ability to discuss ideas, offer rationale, and bolster an argument. Competent writers explain and explore their ideas, discuss implications, and illustrate through examples. They help the reader understand their thinking about the issue.

Organization—Scores in this domain reflect the ability to organize ideas with clarity and purpose. Organizational choices are integral to effective writing. Competent writers arrange their essay in a way that clearly shows the relationship between ideas, and they guide the reader through their discussion.

Language Use and Conventions—Scores in this domain reflect the ability to use written language to convey arguments with clarity. Competent writers make use of the conventions of grammar, syntax, word usage, and mechanics. They are also aware of their audience and adjust the style and tone of their writing to communicate effectively.

Each criteria is given a score out of 1-6 by each reader. 1 being the lowest and 6 being the highest. The score from both the readers for each criteria is added together to form a criteria-specific score between 2-12. If there is sharp contrast between the reader’s scores (more than 1 point), a third reader will come in and score in order to make the scoring fair. The domain scores are then added together and scaled on a 12-point scale.If you notice your writing score was out of 36, then you probably took the ACT between September 2015 to June 2016, when the ACT made some short-lived changes (it was too confusing for many) on how to grade this portion of the test. If you have a score out of 36, it’s no problem, you can just convert it to a 12-point scale using the ACT’s chart.

The scoring for the optional writing test is not averaged with the other section scores to create the composite score. The optional writing test’s score is actually combined with the English and Reading scores, averaged, and scaled to create the English Language Arts (ELA) score. This score is out of a 36-point scale. Without the optional writing test, however, there is no ELA score reported at all.

Having a solid grasp of how the ACT is scored is very helpful when preparing for the test as well as understanding how you need to do on practice tests to translate into the score you want for your dream school.

Good luck!Kristine Thorndyke works for Quesbook, your go-to for FREE online ACT prep and test-specific as well as college admissions resources.