What is the Highest ACT Score? And How Can You Earn it?

Not many students achieve the highest score you can earn on the ACT—a 36. However, if you’re aiming to apply to competitive universities like the Ivies or MIT, Duke, or other highly selective college programs, you’ll need to earn as close to a 36 as possible.

Earning a nearly perfect score can be intimidating—but it doesn’t have to be. Read below to learn about ACT scoring, the highest score you can earn on the ACT, and how you can maximize your ACT score and get that much closer to achieving admission to your dream college.

How is the ACT scored?

The ACT is scored on a scale of 1-36. Your composite score (the score you’ll actually send to schools to show how you performed on the ACT) is an average of each individual score from the four sections on the ACT: English, Math, Reading, and Science. You’ll receive a score for each section on a scale of 1-36, and then your scores will be averaged to give schools a picture of how you performed overall.

But how is each section scored? The ACT counts up the amount of questions that you answer correctly, with no deduction for any incorrect answers. What does that mean? It means you should try your best to answer every question!

Since it won’t count against you if you get answers wrong, but you might guess correctly, it’s worth trying to fill out an answer for every question. You might end up picking up some extra points that you weren’t expecting.

After all your correct answers are counted up, you’ll receive a raw score—the amount of correct answers on the test you took. After that, raw scores are converted into something called a “scale score.”

You’ll receive a scaled score—which is a score between 1-36—on English, Math, Reading, and Science. After that, like we mentioned, you’ll receive a Composite score, which is an average of all four sections. Fractions of a point that are less than one-half will be rounded down to the Composite score below; fractions one-half or more are rounded to the Composite score above.

Does this all sound confusing? It doesn’t have to be! Check out our other post, ACT Scoring: Your Complete Guide for 2023 to learn more about how the ACT is scored.

What about the optional writing section?

If you opted into the ACT Writing section, you may be wondering if this will count in your composite score. It doesn’t, though you do still receive a score for the writing section. Two expert readers will score your essay from 1-6, which means the highest score you can receive for your writing section is a 12, and the lowest you can receive is a 2.

This score won’t be averaged into your Composite score, but it’s still a good idea to do the ACT Writing, in case you find out down the line that one of your target schools requires it. You don’t want to skip the Writing section only to have to go back and take the entire ACT again.

Since you can’t take individual “parts” of the ACT, if one of your target schools requires the Writing section and you opted out, you’ll have to take the entire test over.

What is the highest score a student can earn on the ACT?

The highest score a student can earn on the ACT is a 36. That would mean you received a 36 (or nearly a 36, averaged up) on every section!

To receive a perfect score of 36 on the ACT, you would need to really minimize the amount of questions you got wrong. You’d also have to make sure you were well-rounded academically, because you would need to perform just about equally well on English, Math, Reading, and Science.

Want to learn how you can earn a high score on every section of the ACT? Check out our posts below for your comprehensive guide to each ACT subject section:

Is it common to earn a perfect score of 36 on the ACT?

No, it’s not common to earn a 36! Only about .33 % of students get a 36 on the ACT. The average score in 2021 was 20.3. Learn more about average ACT scores in our post here: Average ACT Scores: The Latest Data

That means if you score above about a 20 on the ACT, you’ll be considered “above average” when it comes to your ACT score. However, “above average” might not be a competitive score, depending on your target schools. You will need to find out what’s the minimum score you should aim to earn for your target schools, then try to shoot for a little higher than that!

Want to learn more about what’s considered a “good score” on the ACT? Check out our other post, Your Guide to a Good ACT Score in 2023

For example, if you’re targeting Ivy League schools, you’ll want to score as close to a 36 as possible. The “average” scores (or 50th percentile of scores)  for accepted students for Harvard University are usually between 33 to 36, while Princeton University and Yale University has an average ACT of 33 to 35 for its admitted students.

How can you earn a 36 on the ACT?

In order to get a 36 on the ACT, you can’t score below 34 on any one section. For example, you could earn two scores of 36 and two scores of 35, and with the ACT’s system of averaging your scores, you’d still get a 36 once your score is rounded up. You could also earn three scores of 36 and one score of 34. However, once you score a 33 on any one section, you no longer have a chance to earn a 36 on the ACT.

While you can get a wrong answer here or there and still get a score of 36 on the ACT, it’s important to get as few wrong answers as possible if you’re aiming for this high achievement. You need to get as many questions correct as possible for the chance to earn a 36!

Ready to get started prepping for the ACT and to learn your highest score yet? Check out our FREE Step by Step Guide To Making an ACT Prep Plan

Is it important to earn a 36 on the ACT?

Colleges and universities don’t expect you to earn a 36 on the ACT. After all, if they only admitted students who got scores of 36 on the ACT, they’d only be admitting around 5,000 students a year! Most colleges accept a variety of score ranges for admission to their school.

However, a 36 on the ACT can set you apart from other applicants. It’s very impressive (and rare) to earn a 36 on the ACT! Combined with other positive aspects of a college application, such as good grades and strong extracurricular activities, a score of 36 on the ACT could mean admission to your dream school.

A 36 on the ACT (or a near-perfect score) can also help make up for other elements in your admissions portfolio that you might be worried about, like a less-than-perfect GPA.

How can you improve your ACT score (and maybe even earn a 36?)

Unless you’re lucky enough to earn a perfect score of 36 on your first try, there’s always room to improve on the ACT! Even if you don’t plan to aim for a 36, you should still decide what your target score will be so that you can set concrete score goals. Once you’ve set your ACT goal score, we have some tried-and-true ways for you to improve your ACT score:

1. Take a practice test. To even set your goal score, you’ll need to first see where you stand. Use your practice test to set a personal goal and then measure your progress as you study. To read more about how to proctor your own practice test, check out our post, How to Proctor Your Own ACT Test.
1. Start early. We suggest starting to study for the ACT at least 6 to 8 months before you plan to take your first test. Many students start a year ahead of their final admissions application deadline, to make sure they earn the score they want. To learn more about when you should take the ACT and other ideas for your ACT timeline, check out our post, When should you take the SAT or ACT.
2. Come up with a strategic prep plan. Your practice test will not only show you where you stand, it will also help you to identify your weak spots. You might need to review certain academic concepts, or maybe you need help with standardized testing strategy.

Fortunately, you don’t have to do this alone! Hiring a private tutor is a great way to create the best strategic prep plan possible. A private tutor will help you identify any weak spots you have on the ACT and help you come up with a personalized study plan to conquer those weaknesses. Our private tutors have helped hundreds of students achieve their target ACT score and get into the schools of their dreams. Contact us today to learn more about how a private tutor might be right for your ACT prep plans.

1. Learn important standardized testing strategy. There’s lots of ways you can make the ACT easier for yourself. Because there are a finite number of concepts tested on the ACT, you could conceivably learn all the academic concepts on the test. However, using standardized testing strategy, such as process of elimination, and avoiding the most common ACT testing mistakes, will help you maximize your score.

Again, this is another instance where a private tutor can help you—our private tutors have tons of experience in standardized testing, especially the ACT! They can help you learn the most common mistakes students make when taking the ACT, and what standardized testing strategies can help.

By avoiding the most common mistakes students make on the ACT, you can maximize your score and get closer to admission to the school of your dreams!

1. Stick to a plan. Make sure you’re setting aside dedicated study time for the ACT. Each student is different, but you’ll need to devote a good amount of time if you want to see a real score improvement. Choosing regular times and days when you’ll not only study concepts, but try out different ACT practice problems, can help you organize your study plan for maximum success.

Next Steps

Not many students earn a perfect 36 on the ACT. But if that’s your goal, then one of our highly qualified private tutors can help. Our tutors have years of experience getting hundreds of students to their ACT score goals and into the universities of their dreams.

Contact us today to learn how we can get you closer to a perfect 36 on the ACT!

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Alexis

Alexis graduated from Princeton University and holds a Masters in Music from Mannes College. She was a Fulbright scholar to Austria and a research fellow at the Morgan Library & Museum in New York. She is enrolled in a doctoral program at City University New York, where she is on a prestigious Five-Year Fellowship. She has over a decade of subject tutoring and test prep (SSAT / ISEE / SAT / ACT) experience.