Information Brief 2001-1

Facts About Scoring the ACT Assessment

The scoring of the ACT Assessment—from counting the number of correctly answered questions to reporting a final set of scale scores—often seems a confusing process to people who are unfamiliar with this particular test or with standardized tests in general. Such confusion can lead to misunderstandings about ACT scores. This brief, written primarily for counselors and students, is intended to clarify some of these misunderstandings by providing information about the scoring of the ACT.

There are four ACT subject area tests (English, Mathematics, Reading, and Science Reasoning); each is scored on a scale that ranges from 1 to 36. Subscores are reported for all subject area tests except Science Reasoning. Subscores are reported on a 1-to-18 scale.

Are Subscores Added Together To Produce a Subject Area Score?

Sometimes, the ACT English score appears to equal the sum of the Usage/Mechanics and Rhetorical Skills subscores. Similarly, the Reading subscores may look like they are added together to produce the Reading test score. Although such occurrences are strictly coincidental, they sometimes lead students and others to believe that ACT computes subject area scores for the English, Mathematics, and Reading tests by adding their respective subscores.

The subject area (e.g., English) score scale is mathematically independent of the subscore score scale. This means that the subscores cannot be added together to produce their respective subject area scores. Moreover, there are no other procedures for calculating subject area scores from subscores, or vice versa. For example, some students multiply each subscore by 2, thinking that this will put the subscores on the 1-to-36 subject area score scale. The students then try unsuccessfully to produce the subject area scores by averaging the "re-scaled" subscores.

Then how is the test scored? When ACT scores the ACT Assessment, we first count the number of questions that were correctly answered on each subject area test and in each subscore area. These numbers are called raw scores. There are 11 raw scores altogether, one for each of the 4 subject area tests, and one for each of the 7 subscore areas. We then convert the raw scores into scale scores, using conversion tables that are unique for each different form of the test. By "form," we mean a unique set of test questions. Scale scores are the scores that we report to students, high schools, and colleges. We do not report the raw scores. The table below contains an example of a few raw score to scale score conversions for a particular form of an ACT subject area test.

Raw score (number correct) Scale score
50, 51, or 5222
48 or 4921
45, 46, or 4720

The process of counting correct questions and converting the resulting raw scores to scale scores is performed separately for each of the four subject area tests and for the seven subscores. The only time ACT combines scores is when we compute the Composite score: We add together the English, Mathematics, Reading, and Science Reasoning scale scores, divide the resulting number by four, then round to the nearest whole number. (The Composite score is the rounded average of the four subject area scores.) Here is an example of how we compute the Composite score:

Scale scores Eng. Math Read. Sci. Reas.
20 25 22 24
Step 1: Add the scores. 20 + 25 + 22 + 24 = 91
Step 2: Divide the result from Step 1 by 4. 91 ÷ 4 = 22.75
Step 3: Round the result from Step 2 to the nearest whole number. 22.75 rounds to 23 (the Composite score)

Are ACT Scores Adjusted for Grade Level?

Years ago, ACT scores were adjusted for grade level. It was believed that, because the ACT measured educational development that changes over time, students who tested later in high school would have a slight advantage over those who tested earlier. To compensate for this advantage, "growth adjustments" were made to the scores. In 1970, for example, one particular form of the ACT yielded an English scale score of 18 for 11th graders who correctly answered 35 of the 75 English questions. Twelfth graders, in comparison, had to correctly answer a larger number of questions (37 or 38) to earn this same scale score.

The practice of applying growth adjustments to ACT scores was discontinued on the former ACT in the mid-1980s, for such reasons as changes in college admission practices (e.g., early admission). Growth adjustments are not used on the current ACT.1

Can students do well on the ACT even if they take it relatively early in high school? Yes, they can. Performance on the ACT is directly related to the academic knowledge and skills that students acquire in school. This suggests that students can do well on the ACT when they have completed a considerable portion of the college-preparatory course work that it covers. For many students, this point is reached in the spring of the junior year.

Is There a Penalty for Testing Several Times?

Some people believe that ACT scores from recent administrations are somehow adjusted downward if the test is taken many times. For example, students who have already taken the ACT twice might be concerned that, if they test again, their scores on the third testing will be automatically lowered.

There is no penalty or score adjustment for taking the ACT more than once. Students can take it as many times as they want. The ACT is scored using exactly the same procedure (described earlier), regardless of how many times students take it.

Will Students Score Higher by Testing in the Spring (or Fall)?

Some people believe that it is possible to get a higher score by testing on one national test date than on another. They think that on certain national test dates, easier forms of the ACT are routinely administered, thereby making it possible to get a higher score simply by choosing to test on one of those "easy" test dates. Likewise, they may think that there is an advantage to testing on one of the less popular national test dates, when fewer students take the ACT. These beliefs are not true. The ACT is designed, administered, and scored in such a way that there is no advantage to testing on one particular date or another.

It is true, however, that different forms of the test are administered on different test dates. Recall that each form of the test consists of a unique set of test questions. Different sets of questions are used on the ACT to prevent students from benefiting, on retaking the test, merely because they have seen the questions before.

Are some forms easier than others? In the process of developing new test forms, ACT makes them as equal as possible in terms of their overall difficulty by carefully selecting questions and by using a mathematical procedure called equating. We can therefore be confident that when the same scale score is earned on two different forms of the ACT, it represents the same level of educational development. For example, a Mathematics scale score of 23 earned on Form A in April and a Mathematics scale score of 23 earned on Form B in October both represent the same level of educational development, even though the two forms consist of different sets of questions and might differ slightly in the number of correctly answered questions.

Do Some Questions Count More than Others?

People sometimes wonder whether relatively difficult ACT questions are "weighted" or somehow awarded extra points. For example, is a difficult trigonometry question worth more than a moderately difficult algebra question? The answer is "no."

The classroom tests that students take in high school are sometimes scored by assigning extra points to certain questions, and so it seems reasonable that the ACT would be scored similarly. This is not true, however. We do not assign extra points to certain questions on the ACT. When we score this test, we award one raw score point for every correctly answered question, as described earlier.

When interpreting ACT scores, it is helpful to know as much as possible about the process used to determine them. It is ACT's hope that this brief will clarify the ACT Assessment scoring process. There are other ACT publications that provide additional information about ACT Assessment scores. Counselors may find the ACT Assessment User Handbook helpful; a copy can be obtained by contacting ACT Publications. Students can find information on interpreting ACT scores in the 556-page preparatory guide Getting into the ACT, which can be ordered through local booksellers. Other sources of information include our website and ACT's Research Division (319/337-1077), which can provide score interpretation assistance.

1The former ACT Assessment was revised in the late 1980s, and the Enhanced ACT Assessment was first administered in October 1989. This new version is currently in use, but the word "enhanced" is no longer included in its title.