Leveraging Your ACT Score: What to Do Next

You worked hard for your ACT score -- now make it work for you!

By Sydney Nikols | March 25, 2014

If you recently received your ACT score, you may be wondering what to do next. Follow these five steps in order to make good use of your score as you proceed in the college admissions process.

Understand your score sheet

Your ACT score sheet will consist of four or five section scores, depending on whether or not you chose to take the optional writing test. You’ll see a score for English, math, reading, science and writing, if applicable.

The four multiple-choice sections of the test are scored by giving you one point for each correct answer. These points add up to make your raw score (for instance, if you got 50 math questions right, your raw score will be 50 for that section). That raw score then translates into your scaled score, which is calculated by considering differences in difficulty among the various test administrations. Scaled scores range from 1 to 36, with 36 being the highest possible score. Your final ACT score, or composite score, is assessed by averaging the four scaled scores from each individual section.

The writing test is scored a bit differently. First, two readers assess your essay, giving it a score between 1 and 6. The two readers’ scores are then added together to make a number between 2 and 12, with 12 being the highest score. The writing score doesn’t affect your ultimate ACT score; instead, it’s used as a stand-alone score for schools to separately assess.

Analyze your score

It’s important to understand how your score compares to other students’ scores nationwide. The national average for the ACT composite score is between 20 and 21 and the national rankings for specific sections are listed on ACT Student’s website.

You should aim to get a score that will help you get into the colleges you’re interested in. The more selective your college choices, the higher your score will need to be. A score below 15 is considered too low by most four-year colleges. On the other end of the spectrum, Harvard University generally only admits students with scores between 32 and 35. Ideally, your score should reflect your personal academic best as well as appeal to the types of colleges you would like to attend.

Retake the test if there’s room for improvement

The higher your score, the more options you’ll have available to you in your college search. For that reason, you should strive to get the best score on the ACT that you possibly can. However, you shouldn’t stress out over retaking the test if you and your mentors think you’ve already achieved your personal best. Turn to your parents, teachers and advisors for advice on whether you should take the test again.

If you decide that it’s a good idea to retake the test, analyze which sections deserve the majority of your study time. If you got a 30 on the English section and an 18 on the math section, you should spend the majority (if not all) of your time bolstering your math skills before the next test date. After you’ve assessed which areas to focus on, consider reaching out to a test-prep company like The Princeton Review for personalized help with your studies.

Allow your score to inform your college search

If you and your mentors are happy with your ACT score, use it to help narrow down the list of colleges to which you will apply. By plugging your ACT composite score and GPA into ACT College Search’s admissions tool, you can easily find out which schools are likely to accept you based on your stats. This exercise will help you in your quest to find a good college match (a school that caters to both your academic strengths and your personal preferences).

Use your score to pursue scholarships

A high ACT score can help you receive a merit-based scholarship, which is a scholarship that’s offered because of academic excellence (as opposed to financial need). Use a website like Meritaid.com to help you find and apply for merit-based scholarships for which you are eligible. You can also check out U.S. News and World Report’s tips for maximizing your merit aid.

Now that you know how to use your ACT score to your advantage, you can more confidently proceed with the college admissions process.

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