The Process

The ACT, or American College Test, is a series of multiple choice questions with an optional writing test. After the tests are taken, they are returned to for grading. Multiple choice answer sheets are scored by optical scan, with a computer noting which answers were bubbled in correctly and which were not. The essay portion is graded by professional educators who use a rubric to determine the points awarded. The rubric, which is not made public, awards credit based on grammar, spelling and punctuation, as well as reading comprehension.

Grading System

The test measures comprehension and skill level in five academic areas: English, math, reading, writing and scientific reasoning. All but the writing scores are based on answers to multiple choice questions. The four multiple choice areas are scored on a range from 1 to 36, while the writing is scored on a range from 2 to 12. In each case, higher scores reflect greater achievement. The ACT does not use a traditional grading system which deducts a predetermined number of points for each incorrect answer. The test follows a grade scaffolding, which converts the number of correct answers to a test score. There is a specific conversion applied to each section of the exam. For instance, a score of 36 may require a perfect 75-of-75 on the English exam, but either 59 or 60 correctly answered questions on the math exam. The conversion chart changes from exam to exam based on the exam's difficulty.

What the Grades Mean

Students who take the ACT are assigned six grades, one for each individual subject and a composite score. The composite score is the average of the scores from the English, reading, scientific reasoning and math exams, rounded to the next whole number. The writing exam is scored separately and does not figure into the composite score. The average ACT composite score is 21. While both the ACT and SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) are owned by the College Board, Inc., there is no official conversion chart that equates the two exams. Many colleges and universities have adopted their own method of converting scores. For instance, the average score on the ACT--21--is approximately a 1,500 score according to a scale used by many colleges.

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About the Author

Jared Paventi is the communications director for a disease-related nonprofit in the Northeast. He holds a master's degree from Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communication and a bachelor's degree from St. Bonaventure University. He also writes a food appreciation blog: Al Dente.