For many students, the ACT is a months-long event: from studying, taking, and receiving a score back from the exam, the ACT can be a big source of stress. If you’ve gotten your score back and are wondering if a 31 is a good ACT score for your goals, read on!
What is the ACT?
The ACT is a multiple-choice, 3-hour long, college entrance exam that ranges in score from 1-36. ACT scores are usually included in college applications, and can be an important factor in helping a student get into their dream school.
The ACT consists of 4 different sections, including English, mathematics, reading, and science; there is also an optional writing test that ranges in score from 2-12. The ACT scoring is scaled based on several factors pertaining to that test, including level of difficulty of the questions and the overall performance of the students taking it.
Because the test is weighted to such a unique score range, it can be difficult to assess whether or not your score is a “good score” based on what you know about test taking — but there are ways to see if a 31 on the ACT is a good score for you.
How Does ACT Scoring Work?
It is important to note that no points are deducted for incorrect answers from the ACT. This means that you should not leave any answers blank!
If you are running out of time on the ACT, fill in random multiple choice bubbles instead of leaving the questions you didn’t answer blank. This will help earn some points, even for ones you didn’t solve.
How Does the ACT Calculate my Score?
Raw scores measure the number of correct answers on each test, which are converted to scaled scores. These scaled scores ensure that the test remains standardized against all of the different forms of the ACT test.
Each of the 4 categories of the ACT receive a score between 1 and 36, and then the average of those 4 scores makes up your composite score.
What is “Superscoring” my ACT?
If you take the ACT more than once, you may “superscore” your scores to obtain your highest possible score!
Superscoring means that you take your best section scores across all of your attempts at the test and average those 4 top section scores for an overall best composite score. Most U.S. universities and the Common App recognize superscores.
If the college you want to attend takes super scores, it can help to have multiple attempts so your best sections can be added together.
What’s a Good ACT Score?
Determining a “good” ACT score is a very subjective measurement and can vary between any test taker. It is difficult to determine a baseline score that can be identified as good or bad.
Instead, students should set personal goals based on what they hope to attain from taking the ACT, and then gauge their achievement from there. Most universities have score ranges that their admitted students tend to score. Choosing which schools are a good fit for you as a student is a great first step in deciding a goal score for taking the ACT.
It might be difficult to interpret what a good score means on the ACT, since you are most likely used to 100% scales. However, the ACT provides percentile rankings which can be used as the best measurement of your performance on the exam.
These national percentile rankings indicate what percent of other students scored lower than you did. For example, a student who scored a 36 as their composite score would be in the 100th percentile for the overall test because they had a better score than almost 100% of the other students who took the ACT.
How Good is a 31 on the ACT?
As we talked about earlier, determining whether or not your score is “good” is very relative.
That being said, based on national averages, benchmark scores, and national percentiles, a 31 is a very good ACT score. The national percentiles of composite scores fluctuate by the year and by the test, but earning a composite score of 31 usually ranks you in the 95th-97th percentile of all test takers in the nation.
This means that earning a 31 is better than around 96% of all other students’ scores, which sounds pretty good to me!
Percentiles are an excellent way to determine your success on the test, but looking at overall averages can also be a good indicator of how well you did. In comparison to the national averages (both on individual sections and overall composite) in the U.S., a 31 is significantly above average. A score of 31 is 5 whole points higher than the highest individual state average of 26 in Massachusetts.
Average ACT Scores by Section
As you can see above, not a single individual section score (or overall composite) came close to reaching 31 for this past year. Although the national averages fluctuate by year, they remain relatively similar to the current average of 20.6 on the composite.
Based on these averages, it can be said that anything above a 21 is an above average score, but scoring at a 30 or above is extremely above average and highly difficult to attain. That being said, a 31 is a great score on the ACT.
Understanding what the average ACT score is can help you gain better insight into how it affects your college admissions chances.
Can I Get Into an Ivy League School with a 31?
Although a 31 is an extremely competitive score and can increase your chances of acceptance at many highly acclaimed institutions, in general, a score that is closer to 33 will significantly increase your odds of being accepted into a top 10 university.
The middle 50% for most Ivy League schools spans in the 32-35 score range. Although Ivy League schools prefer to accept students with slightly higher scores than 31, that doesn’t mean that a 31 is an automatic rejection from a top tier university. You don’t necessarily need a perfect score to get into your dream school!
Regardless, if one of the Ivies are your dream school, it can only help to do some extra test prep and retake the ACT to see if you score higher in one or more sections. Even looking over a few additional ACT practice tests at home can help improve your score.
How do Ivy League Schools Evaluate Applications?
Ivy league schools have a holistic application process, meaning that they consider several factors outside of test scores.
In fact, for the fall 2021 application pool, 7 of the 8 Ivies, excluding Princeton, made their application test optional. Most of these universities extended their test optional policy into the 2022 school year application process, meaning that they will not require a standardized test as a part of the application, but if a student scores well they may still submit their scores to supplement their application.
A strong ACT or SAT score will definitely show top schools that you are a competitive applicant, but you should always remember that college admissions boards are looking to evaluate you as a whole — your application is so much more than just one part of it.
College admission boards are interested in who you are at your high school: they’ll consider your GPA, extracurriculars, personal essays, and more to get a better sense of your personality and achievements.
ACT Scores for Admission to Top Schools
The nation’s top universities prefer higher standardized scores on average. Many of the highest ranked schools have average scores in the high 90th percentiles.
Listed below are the ACT scores in the middle 50% range for the top 10 national universities as ranked by U.S. News and World Report.
Ideally, if you are aiming to gain admission into an Ivy league school, a 34 would be a good target score for the ACT. If you are aiming to attend a state school, scoring at or above your state’s national average would be an ideal start.
What ACT Scores do the Top 10 US Universities Want?
Below are the scores listed as the middle 50% of the currently ranked top 10 universities in the nation scores of their accepted students in 2020.
- Princeton University: 33-35
- Harvard University: 33-35
- Columbia University: 33-35
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT): 33-35
- Yale University: 33-35
- Stanford University: 32-35
- University of Chicago: 33-35
- University of Pennsylvania: 33-35
- California Institute of Technology (Caltech): 35-36
- Johns Hopkins University: 33-35
As you can see, selective colleges like Princeton have pretty high expectations for ACT scores from potential students.
National ACT Score Percentiles
Taking a closer look at the national percentiles is an awesome tool to determine how good your score is. Below is a chart of the national percentiles for the individual ACT sections as well as the composite scores from the 2020-2021 academic year.
As you can see (as of 2020), in terms of individual sections, scoring a 31 on the English test would place you in the 91st percentile for that section; a 31 in math would place you in the 96th percentile, a 31 in reading lands you in the 89th percentile, and a 31 in the science section puts you in the 95th percentile! Almost all of these percentiles mean the student scored better than 90% of other test takers, which is very impressive.
What is the SAT Score Equivalent to a 31 on the ACT?
There is no direct conversion rate between the ACT scoring system and the SAT scoring system, but there are good approximations.
The SAT is scored on a spectrum of 400 – 1600, with two subsections that range from 200-800 each. This shows that the SAT is scaled incredibly higher than the ACT is on a much more inflated spectrum.
In 2018, ACT released a conversion table that best reflects the score comparisons for that year between the ACT and SAT. In that year, the 31 translated to between a 1390 and a 1410 on the SAT.
According to College Board, in 2021 a 1390 placed the scoring student in the 93rd percentile and a 1410 scored the student in the 94th percentile nationally. This comparison shows that a 31 translated to the SAT is slightly lower scoring than it represented by the ACT as a 31 on the ACT ranks a student in around the 96th percentile.
What Schools Can I Get Into with a 31 ACT?
A 31 can help you gain admission to several high ranking universities. Many top 50 universities have score ranges that include a 31 on the ACT in the middle 50%.
For example, Tulane University is ranked 46th in the nation by U.S. News and has a middle 50% ACT range of 31-34. Pepperdine University is ranked 49th in the nation, and has a middle 50% range of 29-33 on the ACT.
Boston University is ranked 42nd nationally and averages admitted students with ACT scores of 30-34. The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) ranked 20th in the nation and has a middle 50% score range of 29-32 for their 2021 freshman class. Several other top tier schools, including NYU, UC Berkeley, and UCSB also contain scores of 31 in the average admitted student population.
Again, you should keep in mind that ACT scores aren’t everything for high schoolers applying to college. Chances are, if a 31 falls within your dream school’s preferred ACT score range, your ACT score will add to your appeal as an applicant.
How do I Know Which Schools Prefer a 31 ACT Score?
Luckily, information about the ideal score range for ACT composite scores is available for many colleges. A simple search online can help you get a sense for what scores specific universities are looking for. Talking with graduated students from your high school is also a good way to know which ACT composite scores can help get you into different colleges.
Should I Retake the ACT if I Scored a 31?
Many students who take the ACT once decide that it would be best for them to take it a second, third, or even more times. Deciding whether to retake the ACT depends on your personal goals, but it’s very common to take the exam multiple times.
In 2015, 45% of ACT test takers took the test multiple times. There was an increasing trend in that percentage over the years, so by 2021 this number could have gone up. On average, students who retake the ACT score between 0.6 and 2.7 points higher on their second attempt in comparison to their first attempt.
Again — you should look at your ACT score percentile to understand how you did compared to everyone else. Percentile scores can help you understand if you really need to boost your ACT score for the colleges you are applying to, and can also give you a sense of how much you need to improve by.
How Can I Boost my ACT Score?
With ACT tutoring and extra practice, this average increase goes up from the first to second attempt. Improving your score on standardized tests like the ACT and SAT is all about practice! Continued ACT prep will help you understand the concepts they’re testing you on and will help you increase your score.
Even without tutoring, overall familiarity of the test from the first attempt can help students increase their scores on a second attempt. Looking at ACT tips and tricks before retaking the exam can also help boost your score.
The ACT also releases information about your test when you receive your score report. Understanding what kinds of questions you missed and which sections you struggled in will also help you target specific concepts and cut down on prep time.
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About the Author
Catie Mullin is a sophomore at the University of Southern California studying Psychology. She is an expert tutor with SoFlo Tutoring and scored a 33 on her ACT. While she’s from Boise, Idaho, she was actually born in Germany!