Is the ACT graded on a curve?

Many students and parents don’t know much about how the ACT is scored. Is there a fixed number of questions you need to get right in order to get a certain score, or does that number of questions vary from test to test? Is a 31 on one test equivalent to a 31 on another test? Is it normal for your score to fluctuate one or two points? In this article, I’ll explain whether or not the ACT is graded on a “curve” and what it means for students hoping to improve their ACT scores with ACT prep, whether 1-on-1, at home, or in a small group class.

First of all, it’s important to know that the ACT is not graded on a curve, so other students’ performances on the ACT will NOT affect your own score. If every student in the world took the ACT and got a 21, the ACT would NOT be raising anybody’s scores to account for that fact. The ACT score that you receive after taking the ACT, then, is your score, and it’s neither been bumped up nor decreased, no matter how well or poorly everyone else who took the ACT did.

So how DOES the ACT get scored?

The ACT uses a process called statistical equation in order to tabulate your score and ensure that your score is comparable to what you would have scored on any past administration of the ACT. The ACT notes that this process is designed to mean there is no advantage or disadvantage to taking the test one month to the next or one year to the next.

A score of 27 on the Reading section, then, will ALWAYS equal a score of 27 on the Reading section, no matter what month or year you took the test. This means that there is no “easier” or “harder” version of the test. Even if a test contains “harder” questions than another, the scoring process will reflect that discrepancy.

The ACT is composed of four multiple-choice tests in English, Math, Reading, and Science. It’s scored on a scale of 1-36, with 36 being the best possible score. Your composite score is the average of all four scores rounded to the nearest whole number.

How the ACT tabulates your scaled score out of 36 depends on your RAW SCORE, which is the number of questions you got correct.

The reason people believe there is a curve on the ACT is that the relationship between raw scores and scaled scores is not set in stone. For example, a raw score of 39 on the Science test might get you a 34 on one test and a 35 on another.

Although the relationship between raw scores and scaled scores on the ACT is not set in stone, it is still fairly predictable, and thus, we are able to make a reasonable prediction of your score by consulting various scoring tables provided by the ACT for tests over the years. When you consult such tables, you will be able to see for yourself how sometimes you have to get every question right in order to get a perfect score, and other times you’re allowed to miss one question. You’ll see how missing one more question might knock you down 2 points or only 1 point.

How has the ACT scaled scoring system changed over time?

It actually hasn’t changed that much. Even when you look at tests from more than 10 years ago, the scale score conversion tables are remarkably similar and only vary by one or two raw points across tests. These variations reflect “easier” or “harder” questions in their respective tests.

What can students do with this information?

Students can rest assured that the ACT is not curved. Other students’ performance on the ACT will not affect your score. When you take official practice tests, make sure to use the scale score conversion table associated with that practice test. Know that it is normal for your official ACT score to vary by a point or two depending on the day you’re taking the test, and ESPECIALLY if you are taking practice tests at home. Students should also take advantage of ACT prep, whether 1-on-1, at home, or in a small group class. Students who practice for the ACT once a week tend to improve significantly, especially compared to their peers who don’t practice.

Hopefully this information helped debunk the rumor of the ACT curve!

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That’s it! For more SAT and ACT prep tips, check out the rest of our blog. Looking for 1-on-1 ACT or SAT prep tutoring to give you an edge during the college application process? Want to join an SAT or ACT group class? Contact us today!  We’re perfect-scoring tutors with years of experience helping students achieve the SAT and ACT scores they need to make their dreams a reality!

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