In the United States, there are many factors that affect if a university accepts a student. In addition to GPA, involvement in the school community, awards and your essay, students also need to demonstrate what they've learned by taking a series of standardized tests. Two of the most important standardized tests used to evaluate a student's overall application for college are the SAT and the ACT. If you want to determine whether or not your ACT score is where it needs to be, then you will need to know how to calculate your composite ACT score.

What Is the ACT?

The ACT is a standardized test in the United States, similar to the SAT, used to determine a student's readiness for college. The score a high school student obtains on the ACT is a data point that admissions counselors can use to compare the student to other applicants. The test is either two hours and 55 minutes long or three hours and 35 minutes long with the optional essay component.

In addition to that optional essay section, there is a Math, English, Reading and Science section. Most students take both the SAT and ACT to better their chances of getting into the school they desire, but most schools typically will only require the scores from one. There are a few key differences between the SAT and ACT, for example, the SAT does not include a science section, while the ACT has a broader math section. If you're not sure which test is right for you, consult with your guidance counselor or call the admissions office at the schools you're thinking of applying to.

How to Calculate Your Composite Score

As the ACT has multiple sections, the first step in calculating your overall composite score is to find out what your scores are in each area. Each section gets a grade on a scale from 1 to 36 points. You would want to look at the scores you get in each section so that you can see where your strengths are and where you need improvement. For instance, if your score is a 30 on the Math section but a 15 on the English section, then it's clear you need to review more English topics. This comes in handy if you need to take the test again before applying to college.

To determine the composite score on your ACT, you will need to take the average of the scaled scores you obtain from each section, which also falls between 1 and 36 points. So, for example, if your scores were Math: 30, English: 15, Science: 32 and Reading: 22, then you would add up these numbers, then divide by 4. Your composite score would then be a 24.75. Keep in mind that the optional essay section gets a separate score.

What Your Score Means

The first thing to understand about how scoring the ACT works is by knowing what counts and what doesn't. On the ACT, you will not lose points for selecting the wrong answer. Your points are calculated solely based on the number of questions you answered correctly out of how many total questions there are.

Next, there is the difference between raw points and scaled points. To grade the ACT, first, calculate the raw score. As an example, since there are 75 points on the English section, the highest number of raw points you can get is 75 if you answered all 75 questions right. If you got 15 questions wrong but 60 questions right, then your raw score would be 60.

But, this can get confusing. Since each section's score, as well as the composite score, falls between 1 and 36 points, the raw score must be scaled in order to determine what your actual score is.

Each year, the raw points vs. scaled points changes, based on factors like how difficult the test is. These translations will be set out for each test beforehand. So, for example, if you score 60 raw points on the English section, then your scaled score may be somewhere around 26, according to the charts. Once this is done for all the sections, the composite score can be calculated. This final score is then translated to a percentile number, which states how well you did compared to the rest of the population.

What Do Most Schools Require?

The average score on the ACT can always change from year to year. Remember that your score is being compared to that of other test-takers, so what may seem like a bad score on paper, may not actually be so bad. The average score is 20, and the highest score is 34 points or more. If you want to know whether or not your score is good enough to get into your dream school, then you will have to check the school's information. Princeton, for example, has an average ACT score of 33, while a small, private college in Connecticut, University of Hartford, only averages at 23.

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