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How the ACT Works

Scoring the ACT

The ACT scoring system is a bit convoluted. First, they add up all your correct answers in each section. It's very important to note that they don't subtract points for incorrect answers. Therefore, if you don't know the answer to a question, always take a guess. You can usually eliminate some of the choices as obviously incorrect, greatly increasing your odds of a successful guess. Also, some ACT practice guides recommend picking one letter and always guessing that same letter. This supposedly increases your guessing odds.

The number of correct answers is called your raw score. Your raw score is then converted to a scale score, a number from one to 36 (it's actually just about impossible to get a scale score below 10). The exact conversion process isn't really important -- what matters is your composite score. Your scale score for each section will have a fraction. For example, you might have a 22.4 on your math section. Your scale scores on the four sections are averaged and rounded, giving you a single whole number, known as your composite score, which also ranges from one to 36 [source: ACT].

There are also subscores, which range from one to 18. This can be confusing, because the subscores don't add up or contribute to your composite score. They simply reflect how well you did at a certain type of question in the test. For example, the math subscores are separated by the different kinds of math questions. Your subscores might show that even though your math scale score was only average, you're really good at trigonometry and did poorly on the intermediate algebra questions.

ACT conducts extensive studies to place their test within the context of a student's ability to be successful in college. As part of the research program, they release "benchmark scores." An ACT benchmark score is the minimum score that indicates a student has a 50 percent or greater chance of getting a B, or a 75 percent or greater chance of getting a C in a college course in a given subject. For example, the English benchmark score is 18, so a college can look at a student who scored a 19 and know that he or she has a 50 percent or greater chance of getting a B when they take English courses in college.

The benchmark scores for the high school graduating class of 2007 were:

English --18

Math -- 22

Reading -- 21

Science -- 24

[source: ACT]

We know that it's important to answer every question and get as high a score as possible. What's the best way to prepare for the ACT and maximize that score? Find out in the next section.