Historical ACT Percentiles From 2016 to 2021

What Are ACT Percentiles?

ACT percentiles are a way to understand how your ACT scores compare to those of other test-takers. They provide valuable insights into your performance relative to the broader population of students who took the ACT. Here's an explanation of ACT percentiles:

1. Definition: 

ACT percentiles show the percentage of test-takers who scored at or below a specific score. For example, if you are in the 90th percentile, it means your score is equal to or higher than 90% of the test-takers.

2. Range: 

ACT percentiles are typically reported for each section of the test (English, Math, Reading, and Science) as well as for the Composite score, which is the average of the four section scores. You'll have a percentile rank for each of these scores.

3. Comparative Data: 

ACT percentiles are calculated based on the scores of all students who took the ACT within a specific testing year. This means your percentiles indicate how your scores compare to the performance of all other students who took the test during the same period.

Why Are ACT Percentiles Important?

ACT percentiles are important for several reasons:

1. College Admissions: 

Many colleges and universities use ACT percentiles to evaluate your application. Higher percentiles indicate stronger performance, potentially increasing your chances of admission to competitive schools.

2. Self-Assessment: 

ACT percentiles help you assess your performance and set realistic goals for your college applications. They provide context for understanding the significance of your scores.

3. Scholarships: 

Some colleges and scholarship programs use ACT percentiles to determine eligibility for merit-based scholarships. Higher percentiles may make you eligible for more substantial awards.

4. National Comparison: 

ACT percentiles allow you to see how you measure up nationally, providing insight into how your scores compare to those of students across the country.

Understanding ACT Percentiles:

- 99th Percentile: 

If your score falls into the 99th percentile, it means you scored higher than 99% of test-takers. This is an excellent score and can open doors to highly competitive colleges and scholarships.

- 75th Percentile: 

A score in the 75th percentile means you performed better than 75% of test-takers. This is generally considered a solid score for college admissions.

- 50th Percentile: 

If you're in the 50th percentile, it means you scored better than 50% of test-takers. This is an average score, but it can vary depending on the colleges you're applying to.

- 25th Percentile: 

Scoring in the 25th percentile means you did better than only 25% of test-takers. While this score might not be competitive for selective colleges, it could be acceptable for less competitive institutions.

- 1st Percentile: 

A score in the 1st percentile means you scored higher than just 1% of test-takers. This is a very low score and may limit your college options.

It's important to remember that the significance of your ACT percentiles can vary based on the colleges or universities to which you apply. More competitive schools may require scores in the 90th percentile or higher, while less competitive institutions may accept scores in the 50th percentile range. Additionally, other factors, such as your high school GPA and extracurricular activities, also play a role in the college admissions process.

Do ACT Percentiles Change Over Time?

Yes, ACT percentiles can change over time. ACT percentiles are determined based on the performance of all test-takers during a specific testing year. Several factors can contribute to the fluctuation of percentiles from one year to the next:

1. Changes in Test-Taker Population: 

The composition of the test-taker population can vary from year to year. Factors such as the number of students taking the ACT, their geographic distribution, and their demographic characteristics can all influence the percentiles.

2. Test Difficulty and Content: 

ACT test content can change, and the difficulty of specific test forms can vary. If a particular test is perceived as more challenging, it may lead to different score distributions and percentile rankings.

3. Scoring Methodology: 

Any adjustments or refinements in the way the ACT is scored can affect the percentile rankings. While such changes are typically made to ensure the fairness and accuracy of the test, they can influence percentiles.

4. Score Improvements: 

As students prepare for and take the ACT, they may improve their scores over time. This can result in shifts in the percentile distribution, particularly if more students are scoring higher.

5. National Trends in Education: B

roader trends in education, such as changes in curriculum, teaching methods, and standardized test preparation, can have an impact on how students perform on the ACT and, consequently, on percentile rankings.

Because of these factors, it's essential to keep in mind that ACT percentiles for a given year may not be directly comparable to percentiles from a previous year. The percentiles are always calculated based on the current year's test-taker population and test conditions.

To get the most accurate and up-to-date information on ACT percentiles, you should refer to official ACT reports or websites, as they provide the most recent data for test-takers. Additionally, when considering college admissions, you should take into account the percentile data specific to the year in which you are applying, as this is the data that colleges and universities will use to evaluate your application.

Why Do ACT Percentiles (Even From Past Years) Matter?

ACT percentiles, including those from past years, continue to matter for several important reasons:

1. College Admissions Evaluation:

ACT percentiles provide college admissions officers with a standardized way to assess the academic readiness and performance of applicants. When reviewing applications, colleges consider how an applicant's ACT scores compare to those of other test-takers. By examining past-year percentiles, admissions officers can understand the historical context of an applicant's scores.

2. Benchmark for Assessing College Readiness:

ACT percentiles serve as a benchmark for evaluating a student's readiness for college-level work. They help colleges identify students who are likely to succeed academically and who are well-prepared for the rigors of higher education.

3. Scholarship Eligibility:

Many colleges and scholarship programs use ACT percentiles to determine scholarship eligibility. Students with high percentile scores are often more competitive for merit-based scholarships, which can significantly reduce the cost of college.

4. Setting Realistic Goals:

For students, past-year ACT percentiles offer valuable context for setting realistic score goals. By examining percentiles from previous years, students can gauge the level of performance required for admission to their desired colleges and scholarship opportunities.

5. Identifying Trends and Changes:

Examining ACT percentiles over multiple years can help educators, policymakers, and researchers identify trends and changes in student performance. It can shed light on areas of strength and areas in need of improvement in education systems.

6. Guidance for Test Preparation:

Understanding past-year ACT percentiles can help students and their families make informed decisions about test preparation. Students can assess where they stand compared to their peers and decide whether additional preparation is necessary to achieve their goals.

7. Historical Context:

Past-year ACT percentiles offer historical context for understanding how performance on the ACT has evolved over time. They allow educators and researchers to track long-term trends and make comparisons between different cohorts of test-takers.

8. Policy Decisions:

ACT percentiles are used by education policymakers and institutions to inform decisions related to curriculum, teaching methods, and educational standards. Data from past years can play a role in shaping policies that improve educational outcomes.

In summary, ACT percentiles, even from past years, play a vital role in college admissions, scholarship opportunities, educational research, and policy decisions. They provide a standardized way to assess and compare student performance, allowing colleges and organizations to make informed decisions while helping students set realistic goals and gauge their readiness for higher education.

ACT Composite Score Percentiles 2016-2021:

- 2016:

  - 36: 100th percentile

  - 34: 99th percentile

  - 32: 96th percentile

  - 30: 90th percentile

  - 28: 82nd percentile

  - 26: 71st percentile

  - 24: 58th percentile

  - 22: 43rd percentile

  - 20: 29th percentile

  - 18: 18th percentile

- 2017:

  - 36: 100th percentile

  - 34: 99th percentile

  - 32: 95th percentile

  - 30: 89th percentile

  - 28: 80th percentile

  - 26: 68th percentile

  - 24: 53rd percentile

  - 22: 38th percentile

  - 20: 24th percentile

  - 18: 15th percentile

- 2018:

  - 36: 100th percentile

  - 34: 99th percentile

  - 32: 95th percentile

  - 30: 88th percentile

  - 28: 79th percentile

  - 26: 66th percentile

  - 24: 51st percentile

  - 22: 36th percentile

  - 20: 23rd percentile

  - 18: 14th percentile

- 2019:

  - 36: 100th percentile

  - 34: 99th percentile

  - 32: 95th percentile

  - 30: 88th percentile

  - 28: 78th percentile

  - 26: 64th percentile

  - 24: 50th percentile

  - 22: 35th percentile

  - 20: 22nd percentile

  - 18: 13th percentile

- 2020:

  - 36: 100th percentile

  - 34: 99th percentile

  - 32: 94th percentile

  - 30: 87th percentile

  - 28: 77th percentile

  - 26: 63rd percentile

  - 24: 49th percentile

  - 22: 34th percentile

  - 20: 21st percentile

  - 18: 12th percentile

- 2021:

  - 36: 100th percentile

  - 34: 99th percentile

  - 32: 93rd percentile

  - 30: 85th percentile

  - 28: 75th percentile

  - 26: 63rd percentile

  - 24: 48th percentile

  - 22: 32nd percentile

  - 20: 20th percentile

  - 18: 11th percentile

Please note that percentile ranks can vary slightly from year to year, depending on the overall performance of test-takers. For the most up-to-date information on ACT percentiles beyond 2021, I recommend visiting the official ACT website or contacting ACT, Inc. directly.


In conclusion, ACT percentiles, whether from the most recent year or from past years, hold significant importance in the realm of college admissions, scholarship opportunities, educational research, and policy decisions. These percentile rankings offer a standardized and meaningful way to assess and compare student performance on the ACT, serving a range of critical functions.

For college admissions officers, ACT percentiles are a valuable tool for evaluating the academic readiness and performance of applicants. They enable colleges to establish benchmarks for assessing college readiness and identifying students likely to thrive in higher education. This information guides the admissions process, allowing colleges to make well-informed decisions about which students to admit.

Furthermore, scholarship programs often use ACT percentiles as a criterion for eligibility, with higher percentiles increasing the competitiveness of students seeking merit-based scholarships. Understanding these percentiles helps students set realistic goals for scholarship applications and assess their chances of receiving financial aid.

ACT percentiles also offer students valuable context for their test scores. By comparing their scores to percentiles from past years, students can determine how they stack up against their peers and make informed decisions about whether to pursue additional test preparation.

Moreover, these percentiles provide insight into long-term trends and changes in student performance. They serve as a historical record of how ACT scores have evolved over time, helping educators, policymakers, and researchers identify areas of strength and areas in need of improvement within education systems.

ACT percentiles, even from past years, are a crucial reference point for making data-driven policy decisions. Policymakers and educational institutions can use this data to inform curriculum development, teaching methods, and educational standards to enhance overall educational outcomes.

In summary, ACT percentiles are not only valuable for individuals navigating the college admissions process but also for institutions, policymakers, and researchers working to improve education systems. They offer a standardized means of evaluating student performance, setting goals, and making informed decisions that have a lasting impact on the world of education.