Test Prep

You Got Your ACT Scores Back -- Now What?

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Earlier this year, many high schools across the country offered the ACT for free to their 11th grade students. If you were one of those students, you've probably just received your scores back.

But what now? How do you know if your scores are good? Should you retake the test? How do you send out your scores to target colleges? Read on below to find the answers to these and other important questions.


Q: How do I figure out the details of my score reports?

A: Your ACT score report packs a lot of information into a couple pages, but there are some parts that are more important and relevant than others. If you want to go into more detail, the ACT website offers a free ebook to help you explore your ACT score report and your college plans. For now, let's take a closer look at first page, where you'll find all of the numbers that matter most:

On the top of the first page, you'll see your Composite Score broken down into section scores. The section scores are divided into STEM and ELA areas, each of which has a color-coded bar graph to show you how you scored compared to the national average.

Below this, you'll find a section with two-color coded bar charts: US Rank and State Rank. All this really does is give you some perspective as to how you compare to other students who took the ACT.

In the bottom half of the first page, you'll find the Detailed Results section, where you'll find just that – detailed results of how you did in each of the five sections of the test, broken down by the type of question. You can see the percentage of correct and incorrect answers in every subsection. This is probably one of the most useful pieces of information in your score report – if you want to retake the ACT, this will help you determine the areas you should focus on when you study.

When you see purple lines on the bar charts, this denotes the ACT College Readiness Benchmarks. As explained in your score report, “If your score is at or above the Benchmark, you have at least a 50 percent chance of obtaining a B or higher or about a 75 percent chance of obtaining a C or higher in specific first-year college courses in the corresponding subject area. There is currently no Benchmark for writing.”

Q: How do I know whether to retake the test?

A: In general, you'll need to take a look at the most important components of your score report, as described in the previous answer. Check the first page of your score report to see your composite score and your section scores. Then, go to the admission page of your target schools, and find the ACT composite score range and section score range of their freshman year students. How do you measure up?

Break down your composite score into its components, with a focus on Reading and Math. Is there a large discrepancy among your section scores? If so, you might benefit from retaking the test, especially if you're applying to a competitive school. Some colleges may view those discrepancies as a weakness in a certain subject area.

Your percentile for each section score and for the total score allows you to compare your scores to those of other students who took the same test. The number is the percentage of test-takers who scored lower than you did on the test. Some universities, for instance, say they typically accept students who are in the 90th percentile or above. You can check the ACT's most recent list of percentile rankings and matching composite scores to determine what score you should aim for to achieve a certain percentile ranking.

Q: Will these scores be automatically sent to colleges, or will I need to send them?

A: When you registered to take this free ACT, did you fill out the form that asked if you wanted to send your test score to four different colleges for free? If you can't remember, log into your ACT account and check for the score report form. If you did submit the form, then your score report will be sent out automatically to those four colleges you selected.

If you discover that you did not submit this form when you registered for the test, it's fine – you can still send in your score report from this test to the colleges of your choice. However, it will not be free. All you have to do is log into your ACT account, fill out the online request form, and pay the $13 for each college that should receive your report. Your request is typically processed within one week, and the college should receive your score report within about two weeks. You can also call 319.337.1313 to order a score report.

Q: I can't afford to retake the test – do I have to go with these ACT scores?

A: No, not necessarily. You might qualify to take the ACT for free with an ACT fee waiver. To be eligible, you usually must meet one or more of the following criteria:

- Be enrolled in a federal free or reduced-price lunch program at school, based on US Department of Agriculture (USDA) income levels;

- Be enrolled in a program for the economically disadvantaged, like a federally funded program such as GEAR UP or Upward Bound;

- Reside in a foster home, are a ward of the state, or are homeless;

- Your family receives low-income public assistance or lives in federally subsidized public housing;

- Your family’s total annual income is at or below the USDA levels for free or reduced-price lunches.

Once your counselor determines you are eligible, he or she will apply for it, and if approved, you will get the fee waiver card before your planned test date. You can use the fee waiver to register for a total of two tests.

Contact your counselor to apply for a fee waiver as soon as possible -- the ACT has a limited number of waivers that it gives out. Also, each fee waiver is only valid through Aug. 31, so if you want to take the ACT again in your senior year, you will have to apply for the waiver again.

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