How to Read Your ACT Score Report

Tiffany Sorensen

Both the ACT and the SAT are accepted by college admissions committees, and both are extremely popular among college applicants. However, while the SAT is often the favored assessment of the coastal United States, the ACT typically proves itself the test of choice in the Midwest.

To accurately interpret test results and make well-reasoned decisions thereafter -- as well as set appropriate target scores at the onset of their test prep -- ACT test-takers must know how to read and understand their ACT score report ( see sample here).

You can expect to encounter the following sections on an ACT score report:

-- Composite and section scores

-- Detailed results

-- National and state ranks

[Read: Why Standardized Tests Matter Beyond College Admissions.]

Composite and section scores. Your composite score is another word for your total score, and it is calculated by averaging and rounding your four section scores. The lowest composite score you can receive on the ACT is a 1, while the highest is a 36. Very few students earn a 1 or a 36 -- in 2017, the average score was a 21.0.

You will also see scores for each individual section on the test: English, Mathematics, Reading and Science. The same scale of 1-36 applies to these sections. The Writing test is optional, and is scored from 2 to 12.

It is not entirely possible to say what constitutes a good or bad score on the ACT, as these terms are relative to you and your college admissions goals. However, most high school students aim for 21 or higher, given the national average. Students who are applying to highly competitive schools generally look to score above 30.

Detailed results. As you move down the page, your score report becomes even more specific. The four ACT sections are further broken down into question type and the percentage of correct answers. For instance, under Math, you would see a percentage value for algebra, functions, geometry and other subsections.

Each question type is also displayed with its respective ACT Readiness Range, or the score range that suggests a student is prepared for college-level work in that field. A purple check mark indicates that you have scored within the ACT Readiness Range.

If you have not reached this benchmark in more than one entire section, you should stop and consider whether you have enough time to further prepare for and retake the ACT, and whether your scores might be too low for your schools of interest.

[Read: 3 Questions to Help Decide Whether to Retake the ACT, SAT.]

National and state ranks. Your ACT score report will also include your national and state rank, both for your composite score and your scores on the four individual sections. Your ranks are a percentage which indicate the proportion of students who scored the same or lower than you. A rank of 70, therefore, would mean you outperformed or performed equal to 70% of test-takers.

You will also see a rank for your STEM and ELA category scores. Your STEM score is a rough average of your performance on Math and Science combined, while your ELA score is a rough average of your performance on English, Reading and Writing combined.

While a low state or national rank may be upsetting for students, it is essential to keep your results in perspective. A lower-than-average ACT score is not automatic grounds for rejection. Remember that college admissions counselors evaluate your profile holistically, appraising all components in a fair manner.

[Read: 3 Ways to Tackle the ACT a Second Time.]

Deciding whether to retake the ACT or accept your latest score starts with interpreting your performance, and comprehending your ACT score report is a key step in the testing process. By making proper sense of your results, you can take the best course of action for your future.