High school students who want to apply to college must take the SAT or the ACT. The scores you get on these tests are taken into consideration with the rest of your application. Therefore, it's important to not just take one of these tests, but to actually strive to do well on it by earning a good score. Each test has an average score range, and if you score below that, your chances of getting into the school you want will be slim.

About the ACT Test

The ACT is one of the two standardized tests that high school students are required to take in order to apply to college. At one time, schools would dictate whether or not you should take the ACT or the SAT (or both), but these days, you can take one or the other.

The ACT is 2 hours and 55 minutes long. If you decide to take the writing section as well, then the test will be another 40 minutes long. There are four sections, and it's quite an intense test in terms of timing. You won't be able to spend too much time on each question.

Differences Between the ACT and SAT

The ACT is a bit different than the SAT in terms of scoring, cost, the content on the test and the time allotted. Knowing these differences can help you determine which test would be better for you to take, especially if you feel confident that you can score higher on one test than on the other.

As far as the academic side goes, both the SAT and the ACT have an English/writing and language and math section, though there are two math sections on the SAT: one with a calculator and one without. The ACT has a science section, whereas the SAT does not. Both tests have an optional writing/essay section.

Therefore, if you feel that you are not as strong in math as you are in science, then the ACT would likely be a better choice for you.

What's the Average ACT Score?

The ACT is scored between 1 and 36. The average score is 20.4. Therefore, if you score a 21, then you did better than 50 percent of those who also took the test.

However, you should do your best to score as high as you can, as what's considered average might be different depending on the school to which you're applying. For instance, a 20.4 would be considered low for an Ivy League school like UPenn, whose average ACT score is a 33.

In fact, most colleges are usually looking for a score above the national average, so it's important to check the recommended ACT score at each of the schools to which you're thinking of applying. This can help you decide what your target score should be so you can study accordingly.

What Are Low ACT Scores?

Now that you know what an average ACT score is, you might be wondering what's considered a low ACT score or what's considered a bad ACT score. First of all, anything under the 20.4 average would be considered not so good. However, remember that test taking is all relative. If one year everyone scores lower than the year before, then the average score would also be lowered.

Additionally, what's considered a good score, average score or bad score has a lot to do with percentiles. For instance, if you are in the 10th or 25th percentile, that means that 90 percent or 75 percent of the test-taking population scored better than you, which isn't very good. In score numbers, this would mean that a 13 or 14 is in the 10th percentile, and a 16 or 17 is in the 25th percentile. A 16 or below would be considered a bad ACT score, though there are still some colleges that may accept a 16 ACT score.

What's the Lowest ACT Score?

The lowest ACT score that a student could possibly get is 1. This is because the ACT is scored between 1 and 36, with the highest score being 36 and the lowest score being 1. That being said, it would be very difficult for a person to score 1 on the test.

Colleges With Low ACT Scores

If you're concerned about getting an ACT score that's good enough to get you into a college, then it might be helpful to know about schools that accept low ACT scores as long as your other credentials are where they need to be. Community college, of course, is a good place to start. However, if you want to go to a four-year school, there are some options:

  • The University of North Texas: Average ACT 23
  • San Jose State University: Average ACT 22
  • Portland State University: Average ACT 22
  • Kent State University: Average ACT 22
  • Florida Atlantic University: Average ACT 23
  • California State Sacramento: Average ACT 20
  • New Mexico State University: Average ACT 21

These are just a handful of popular universities that accept ACT scores on the lower end of the scale. There are many more. When you start researching schools, you can check on their ideal ACT score.

What to Do if You Get a Low ACT Score

If you get a lower ACT score than you were hoping to get, there are a few things you can do. First of all, it's important to remember that while your ACT and/or SAT scores are necessary parts of your college application, these scores are not the only thing that college admissions officers examine.

College admissions officers are also looking at your GPA, the types of classes you've taken throughout high school and how you did in those classes, your involvement in extracurricular activities and your personal statement. You can also take one or several of the SAT Subject Tests, and if you do well on those, college admissions officers may take another look at your application.

Because some schools are more strict with their ACT score requirement, it won't matter so much how great your other credentials are. You still need to reach that school's minimum score, otherwise they may not even look at your application.

Can You Take the ACT More Than Once?

If you don't get the score you want on the ACT the first time around, there are other options. You are allowed to take the ACT many more times to try and get the score you want. In fact, you can take the test up to 12 times.

You can choose which scores you want to send so that you don't have to send scores that are low. However, if you're applying to Yale, Boston University, Pomona, Stanford, Columbia, Brown, Cornell, Washington University or Hamilton College, then they expect you to send all of your scores.

Why You Shouldn't Take the ACT Multiple Times

All this being said, even though you can take the ACT many times, there are many reasons you shouldn't. First of all, it costs money to take the ACT. Secondly, the test is only given seven times a year, so you may have to start early in your junior year and take the test on every single test date that it's given.

Lastly, instead of taking the ACT as many times as you can, focus on how you can do well the first or second time around. Many students take the test up to two times but not more. Study hard and find other tools and resources to help you reach your goal.

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About the Author

Hana LaRock is a freelance content writer from New York, currently living in Mexico. She has spent the last 5 years traveling the world and living abroad and has lived in South Korea and Israel. Before becoming a writer, Hana worked as a teacher for several years in the U.S. and around the world. She has her teaching certification in Elementary Education and Special Education, as well as a TESOL certification. Hana spent a semester studying abroad at Tel Aviv University during her undergraduate years at the University of Hartford. She hopes to use her experience to help inform others. Please visit her website, www.hanalarockwriting.com, to learn more.