Test Prep

What’s a Good ACT Score?

Standardized test scores can be confusing. Is a 26 a good score? How does a 1080 on the new SAT compare to the old SAT? What score is good enough?

Standardized test scores can be confusing. Is a 26 a good score? How does a 1080 on the new SAT compare to the old SAT? What score is good enough? Unless you have spent considerable time reading and researching current admissions trends for standardized tests, the numbers can seem overwhelming. Typically students aren’t defining “good” based on their academic strengths and weaknesses, test taking experience, and the averages at the colleges they are considering. Instead, there is some mythical “good score” which seems to be a one size fits none number.

How to Measure Success

I always tell students there are two things you must consider to determine if your scores are “good”:

  • The average scores at the colleges on your list
  • The improvement from where you started

A 680 on SAT math (out of a maximum of 800 points) is an above average score. In fact, a 680 would put me in the top 10% of test takers nationwide. But I can’t declare victory (or defeat) just yet. I need to personalize my analysis.

Get the Facts

How does my 680 in SAT math compare at the colleges on my list?

I used the college search feature on the College Board website to get some quick numbers. Colleges report the range for the “middle 50%” which means 25% of admitted students scored higher and 25% scored lower. This just gives me an idea if I’m close to the range for each school.

I found the middle half of admitted students had the following scores:

  • Rice University (TX) 750-780
  • Harvard College (MA) 750-800
  • NYU (NY) 650-780
  • UCLA (CA) 600-760
  • Auburn (AL) 560-660
  • Queens University (NC) 510-590
  • West Texas A&M (TX) 470-560

Here’s what I learned:

My 680 (a top 10% score) is still going to place me in the bottom quarter of admitted scores at Rice and Harvard. I need to either retake the test or understand the odds are not in my favor.

My 680 puts me in the middle 50% at NYU and UCLA. I may want to re-test to see if I can get a few more points, but I know my scores are in the “realistic possibility” range here.

My 680 starts feeling like a good score when I look at Auburn, Queens, and West Texas A&M. A 680 is in the top quarter and I know my scores are good for these schools.

As you do this type of quick analysis, keep in mind that ACT and SAT scores are only one part of the admissions puzzle.

Acknowledge Your Testing Potential

The second component in measuring scores is how a particular number compares to your potential and past experience. This is why one score can be disappointing for one student and incredibly high for another. But too often we aren’t making realistic comparisons.

Better Means of Comparison

To help my clients better understand the concept of realistic comparison, I’ve started talking about ACT and SAT scores in terms of class rank. If we can take that same understanding and apply it to the ACT or SAT, students and parents would have a more realistic understanding of test scores.

Rank                         SAT                    ACT

Top 10%                   680R/680M            28

Top 25%                   620R/610M             24

Top 50%                   540R/530M             20

Top 75%                   470R/470M              16

Bottom 10%            400R/400M              13

Realistic Goals

Remember the SAT and ACT are hard tests. They are designed to make sure a majority of students score in the middle. (How would Harvard know who to let in if all students had top scores?) These are not simple tests of content. They are timed exams with challenging material requiring critical thinking and college-based analysis.

A student who has done all he can and ranks in the second quarter of his class should be satisfied. No, he’s not going to be valedictorian, but he has solid grades and has done his best. If he takes the ACT and scores a 24 after weeks of studying, should he be disappointed? If he has put honest effort into preparation and the 24 is a personal best, I’d remind him that his score puts him in the top quarter of test takers—not a bad place to be.

College Admissions Expert |

Megan Dorsey is a college admissions expert and savvy SAT prep instructor who has helped thousands of students prepare for college admission. For more information visit CollegePrepResults.com

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