How Much Can You Improve Your ACT Score?

Not every student achieves their perfect ACT score the first time they take the test. According to the ACT’s official website, 45% of students retested at least once before graduating in 2015. Of the retesters, 57% improved their Composite scores the second time around.

If you didn’t achieve the score you wanted on your first round of testing, it may have been because you were underprepared or had other commitments that interrupted your ability to study. Either way, you can improve your ACT score by taking it a second or third time!

In this article, we will help you define realistic expectations for your next ACT score and outline several of the most effective strategies that you can use to reach your full test-taking potential.

Improving Your ACT Score: What to Expect

Before you can decide on your goal score, you need to first make sure you understand how the ACT is scored. Your overall ACT score is known as the Composite score. It is a number between 1 and 36 and represents the average of your individual scores on each section of the test.

Depending on whether or not you opt to take it with the optional Writing section included, there are 4 to 5 sections to the ACT. Aside from Writing, the other 4 sections are English, Mathematics, Reading, and Science. In each of these sections, you will receive a score between 1 and 36. These are scale scores that have been converted from your raw score (the total number of questions you answered correctly in that section) to account for things like changes in difficulty between different versions of the ACT.

Since the maximum Composite score for the ACT is 36, improving by 2 or 3 points is a much more commendable feat than you might think at first. Unlike on the SAT, which has a total score ranging between 400 and 1600, a few points can make a huge difference on the ACT, especially when trying to get into your dream school, earn a scholarship, or join a competitive program.

If you want to understand your ACT score in more detail, check out our full guide to the ACT Score Range which breaks down other sections you might find on your score report, including reporting categories that can help you figure out your strengths and weaknesses on different sections of the test.

How to Set a Realistic ACT Score Goal

There are several factors to keep in mind as you think about your target ACT score. You need to consider how long you have before the actual test day, how much time you can dedicate to studying each day, and how you learn. Let’s take a moment to break down each of these considerations and how you can approach them.


Have you set your next ACT test date yet? If you have, count out the number of days you have left until test day. You will need to create a study plan that fits into this timeline without putting too much strain on your mind or interrupting your other commitments.

If you have not yet set your next ACT test date, take some time to first consider how many points you would like to add to your score. All students learn at their own pace, but a good baseline measurement for improving your score over time is to equate 10 hours of study to 1 additional point. So, theoretically, if you wanted to improve your score by 2 points, you may need to spend 2 weeks studying 2 hours per day, 5 days a week.

Planning ahead and choosing a test date far in advance may allow you to better space out your studying to avoid cram sessions that could wear you out before exam day.

Establishing a Study Plan

How much time can you realistically spend studying each day? It’s important to work hard while preparing for your test, but you should also try not to overload your brain or wear yourself out.

Let’s say you want to improve your ACT score by 3 points. Based on the rule we established earlier, you will need to study for a total of at least 30 hours. With that goal number in mind, you can create a study plan that fits your schedule and learning habits.

Students who learn better through a more laidback study routine may want to start studying earlier. For example, maybe you can only spend 1 hour studying each day. Studying a small amount every day for a month may be effective for you.

Some students find they learn better through a more rigorous routine. In that case, you may choose to study 3 hours a day over a 10 day period. Either way, you should make your plan adaptable to changes in your schedule to ensure you have plenty of time to meet your study requirements before test day rolls around even if you need a day off here and there.

Strategies to Achieve Your Target ACT Score

Here are a few studying and test-taking strategies you can use to boost your ACT score.

Set Your Motivation

It may be helpful to start by defining one or more clear reasons why you want or need to improve your ACT score. Do you need a higher score to get into your dream school? Do you feel that your current score does not reflect the true extent of your academic abilities? Did you have other commitments that prevented you from studying as much as you could or should have? These can all be viable reasons to motivate yourself to study hard and improve your score to reach your life goals.

Practice, Practice, and Practice Again

Practice tests are your best friend when studying for any type of standardized test, and the ACT is no exception. You can find official ACT practice tests and study guides online through the ACT website. 

Use these tests often throughout your study schedule to check your progress and make adjustments to your plan. The official practice tests often provide convenient score reports along with your results to help you understand where you made mistakes and focus on improving your weaker subjects.

Let ACT Prep Experts Help You

Whether you’re lost and looking for a little extra guidance or just want to ensure that you’re making the most of your valuable study time, you may want to try enrolling in an ACT prep course. Instructors can help you build or stick to your study schedule, answer last minute questions about the material, and teach you important test-taking strategies that will give you a major advantage on test day.

With self-paced courses, 6 to 8 week prep guides, and weekend reviews, PrepExpert offers tons of ACT online prep at the click of a button that will fit any student’s study style or schedule. Check out our comprehensive list of courses and let our expert instructors help you start closing the gap between you and your target ACT score.