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ACT Scores

The ACT has always been touted as one of the best tests to predict college success. However, in the last few years, ACT scores have been markedly declining, especially among minority population

Why is this?  the makers of the test and various academic analysts cite the fact that more students are taking the test. You would think that this would be a good thing — and on the surface it is. But unfortunately, the demographic that has been cited for this increase in test takers is students who have had little preparation for the test. These students usually only take it because more states are adopting the ACT as a required examination for high school juniors.

The average composite score for those who graduated from high school this year was 20.8, down 0.2 points from last year and representing a five-year low. (The highest possible score on each part of the ACT is 36, and the composite is an average of the four scores.) ACT data show that 64 percent of high school seniors in the Class of 2016 took the test this year, up from 59 percent last year and 52 percent in 2012. Generally, when a larger share of students take a test — in some cases encouraged by state requirements more than the students necessarily being college ready — scores go down. Score drops were the largest in states that have just started to require all students to take the ACT.

Average ACT Scores and Number Tested, 2012-2016

Year Number English Math Reading Science Composite
2012 1,666,017 20.5 21.1 21.3 20.9 21.1
2013 1,799,243 20.2 20.9 21.1 20.7 20.9
2014 1,845,787 20.3 20.9 21.3 20.8 21.0
2015 1,924,436 20.4 20.8 21.4 20.9 21.0
2016 2,090,342 20.1 20.6 21.3 20.8 20.8

The ACT has also been known for its indicators and benchmarks for predicting college success for each section of the test.  Unfortunately, these too are showing declines.

This year, 38 percent of test takers met the benchmarks in at least three of the four subject areas tested (English, math, reading and science), shows that they have “strong readiness for college course work” — according to the ACT parameters. This number is down from 40 percent in 2015. The percentage of test takers who did not meet any of the benchmarks increased to 34 percent from 31 percent.

Many educators have stated concerns that the racial gap in test success in continuing to widen, and that low-income students are steadily at a disadvantage for doing well on the test.

Here is a breakdown of average test scores among various ethnicities for test-takers in 2016.

ACT Score Average by Race and Ethnicity, 2016

Group English Math Reading Science Composite
Black 15.8 17.0 17.4 17.2 17.0
Native American 16.3 17.7 18.2 18.1 17.7
White 21.9 21.7 22.8 22.1 22.2
Latino 17.6 18.8 19.2 18.9 18.7
Asian 23.3 25.0 23.7 23.6 24.0
Native Hawaiian 17.4 18.9 18.9 18.6 18.6
Two or more 20.4 20.5 21.6 20.9 21.0
No response 19.3 20.0 20.6 20.0 20.1


How to raise your ACT Scores

So, since more and more students are being required to take the ACT, how do they actually raise their scores?

  • Master Algebra, Geometry and Pre-calc.  The test covers a myriad of math topics, but almost all of them are based on simple algebra, geometry, and trigonometry. So students who practice these three key areas in math have a much better chance of increasing their ACT score.
  • Grammar is Key. The ACT English section will test students on several grammar topics. Over a third of those grammar topics will involve punctuation. So students need to make sure they understand comma usage, semicolon usage, and colon usage. Also, they need to have a firm grasp of independent and dependent clauses as well as misplaced modifiers. These are all of the English conventions that we often take for granted as English speakers, but are topics that will be formally tested on the ACT.
  • Brush up on that literature and history. If you want to improve your reading skills and give yourself an advantage on the essay, make sure you brush up on that literature and history from your high school classes. Not only will these complex reading topics help you with passage analysis on the reading section, using specific examples is incredibly advantageous for getting a good essay score.   

Take a Prep Course

Test prep courses aren’t always viable for everyone, but for those who have the option, a test prep course will often teach you all of the tools that you will need in order to maximize your chances of getting a great score on your ACT.

Let’s Reverse the Trend of ACT Scores

Although the general trend of ACT scores is declining, you don’t have to be a part of this statistic. if we Empower students to understand what to expect from the test, and to make strides to prepare, perhaps we will be able to reverse the trend together.