What’s a Good ACT Score & How to Achieve It


Girl studyingA common question we get from students and parents is what is a good score on the ACT. Here in the DC area, average ACT scores are a lot higher than the national average, which is around 21 (the maximum score is 36).

Here  is a detailed breakdown for the national distributions for ACT Test Scores.

Scores from standardized tests are often talked about in terms of percentiles.  Here’s what that means: A 24 composite score on the ACT is in the 75th percentile, which means that the student did better than 75% of his peers.

While it is good to know one’s standing on a national level compared to peers taking the test, when figuring out what a good score is, the key is to know where the student wants to go to college; after all, the ACT is a tool to help students get into college, so it makes sense that the target score should really be set based on which schools the student wants to attend.

Step 1: Setting a Goal

Even before setting a goal, the very first step a student should do is to take an ACT diagnostic. Diagnostic tests will indicate to students where they are starting from and help in forming an achievable goal score.

Next, it is a good idea to write a list of colleges students want to apply to and figure out the average scores of students who are accepted at each college. A good way to do this is to use a reliable source such as College Data or the College Board. Then search each school on the list and write down both the average GPA and test scores for matriculating students.

When making the list of schools, it may be a good idea to consult with high school counselors. Oftentimes, high schools will have a list of average GPA and test scores of students who get into different colleges each year. This information can be very useful since it suggests a more accurate goal score for which students should aim to get into specific colleges.

At the end of this process, by looking at both the ACT diagnostic score and the average test scores of each school, students should have a better idea of what they need to do to increase their chances of acceptance into their goal schools.

Step 2: Achieving Your Goals

After setting goals, students should make a plan to reach these goals. Kids often get overwhelmed and do not feel motivated when there is a singular, overarching goal. Setting small goals is often helpful in approaching the bigger goal.

A good way to start is by breaking down ACT test prep into manageable tasks (i.e. 30 minutes of reading on Monday, 30 minutes of math on Tuesday, etc). Then make sure to write these mini-goals down on a calendar and put the calendar somewhere visible to more than just the student. Sometimes just saying “Wow, I see you put in a lot of time on this and finished all the work planned for this week” can really help motivate kids.

And if your student is still having trouble starting the preparation? Set the most micro-goals you can imagine.  Successfully completing just a few problems or a few minutes of work often gives the student a boost, which propels her to move forward.