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How Is the ACT Scored?

If you’re confused about how the ACT is scored, you’re not alone. Many ACT test takers do not understand how the exam is scored, making it very difficult to shoot for that ever-elusive “great” score. Here we break down how each section of the ACT exam is scored and why this information will be useful for you to know when you take the official test.


Calculating your raw and composite ACT scores:

The ACT is made up of four major, multiple-choice sections: the English, Math, Reading, and Science sections. This exam also includes an optional Essay section (also called the Writing section).

Section Number of Questions Time Limit
English 75 multiple choice 45 minutes
Math 60 multiple choice 60 minutes
Reading 40 multiple choice 35 minutes
Science 40 multiple choice 35 minutes
Essay (optional) 1 essay 40 minutes
Total 215 multiple choice + 1 essay 3 hours, 35 minutes (including essay)

It is worth noting here that a student’s score on the optional essay is not calculated into their raw score. However, the essay score will still be considered by colleges that require an essay score to be submitted with a student’s application.

Every question on the ACT, not counting the essay, is worth one point. If you choose not to answer a question or if you answer a question incorrectly, you will not gain or lose any points. So, for example, if you answered every question on the English section (which consists of 75 questions) correctly, you would receive 75 points on that section. If you only answered 60 questions correctly, however, you would receive 60 points.

Once you’re done, your total raw scores for the English, Math, Reading and Science sections will be converted into scaled scores between 1 and 36. These four scaled scores are then averaged together to create your total composite score, which is also between 1 and 36. This composite ACT score is the score that colleges care about.

The Essay section is scored differently – instead of being scored by a machine, the way the other sections are scored, it is read over by two human test graders. These graders will evaluate an essay and each give it a score of 1-6 for each of four writing domains: Ideas and Analysis, Development and Support, Organization, and Language Use and Conventions. The graders’ scores are then combined and then averaged to give you your total composite score on the essay. This means the highest score you can get on the ACT essay is a 12.


How do you receive your ACT scores?

Just like the SAT, the ACT is given on specific days during the year, and scores are released on specific days, as well. You can learn when your score will be released when you register for the official exam.

Within two weeks of you taking the ACT exam, you can view your score online, but this does not mean that they have actually been reported to schools. According to ACT (the organization behind the exam of the same name), score reports are released between 2 and 8 weeks from your test date. You can send your ACT score to up to four colleges for free when you register for the exam – if you choose to send it to additional schools after you take the exam, you will be charged a $13.00 fee per test date per report (this fee is increased to $16.50 if you purchase a priority report).

So why should you care about receiving your ACT scores? For starters, knowing the exact date when you will receive your score by means you won’t need to stress wondering when you will get your score. Knowing how long the scoring process takes also allows you to decide when to actually take the ACT. It is important to take the ACT as early as possible so that your score has plenty of time to reach the colleges you are applying to, and so you have time to retake the exam if necessary.


How can understanding ACT scores help you score higher?

Having a solid understanding of how the ACT is scored should be very important to any ACT test taker. For starters, knowing how the ACT is scored will help you determine whether the ACT is the right exam for you to take in the first place. Almost all colleges accept both ACT scores and SAT scores from applying students, so if you understand how both of these exams are scored, you will be able to better decide which exam you will fare better on based on your own strengths and weaknesses. If you understand how both of these tests work and still need help deciding which one you should take, check out Veritas Prep’s SAT vs. ACT Comparison Tool.

Once you have determined that the ACT is the best exam for you to take, you can continue to use your knowledge of how the ACT is scored to your advantage in formulating a study plan. For example, looking at the table above, you can see that time plays a very big role in developing an ACT test taking strategy, as you are given a very limited time to finish each section of the exam. With this in mind, you will want to make sure your study plan involves honing your time management skills. Another thing you may notice, looking at how the ACT is scored, is that your score on the essay will not have any effect on your overall composite score. This means you will need to determine whether or not you want to take the optional essay and how much of your time you want to devote to preparing for that in addition to the other sections of the exam. By using your knowledge of the ACT exam in this way, you can put yourself in a huge advantage when preparing for this exam, which will ultimately increase your chances for a high score.