Everything You Need to Know About Scoring a 34+ on the ACT

Okay, let's break it down:

Let's say you wanna go to the best college in the world.

What kind of score are you going to need on the ACT to get in?

Well, out of the Class of 2016, 2,090,342 took the ACT. The average composite score was 20.8 out of 36. That means any score 21+ puts you above average.

But above average ain't gonna cut it when it comes to the elite US colleges, like the Ivy League.

You want to aim for the top.

The 80th percentile is solid.

A score that means you scored better than 80% of test takers.

While that's good, it's still not admission worthy for elite colleges like Harvard and MIT.

You wanna be aiming for the creme de la creme. You want to be the cherry on top!

While you don't need a perfect score of 36, that should be your goal.

Scoring anything from 34+ will put you in a position to catch the attention of college admissions officers.

Here's why:

An ACT score of 34+ places you in the 99th percentile. The top 1%.

That is worthy of some attention.

Now that you know what the top 1% of scores on the ACT consists of, let's take a look at the minimum scores required to gain admission into your dream college.

Here's just a few:


Average score: 34

Minimum score: 32

UC Berkeley

Average score: 32

Minimum score: 29

University of Texas, Austin

Average score: 29

Minimum score: 26

University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill

Average score: 29

Minimum score: 27


Average score: 34

Minimum score: 32

To find out where you sit, the best approach is to take practice tests.

The ACT consists of four key sections (plus the optional fifth section, writing): English, maths, science, and reading.

Each of these sections require a different set of knowledge and they each have an allocated time, with a total of ACT Test length of 2 hours and 55 minutes (or 3 hours and 35 minutes long if you add the optional essay).

If you've sat some practice tests before and aren't getting the score you desire, here are some red hot tips from our expert tutors to help you improve your score to 34+.

1. Preparation time is key

The first step is to allow yourself time to improve. Make a schedule and stick to it.

This is not a quick fix blog post. Reading this won't make you magically better at the ACT (though it will help).

Acing your ACT test requires effort. If you're not willing to put in the time and effort first, then there's no point in sitting the test.

No matter how long there is until you sit the test, one year, one month or even one week, make a commitment to study at regular intervals and stick to it.

Even if it's just 15 minutes a night, your score will improve out of sight.

2. Sit practice tests under real test conditions

No better way to improve than by doing.

If there's only one tip you take from this blog post, this is the one.

I believe it was the infinitely wise Confucius who said:

" I hear and I forget,

I see and I remember,

I do and I understand."

Now this needs to be confirmed, but I believe Confucius was referring to ACT preparation when he stated this.

And boy, was he on the money.

Sitting ACT practice tests is the best way to improve your grade.

You'll learn about the structure of the test, understand where your strengths and weaknesses lie and improve your ability to ace the test under the time pressure.

Most importantly, study with a friend.

Working with people on improving your score is the ultimate way to measure your growth.

Plus it's fun.

So, buddy up!

3. Identify your weaknesses

As mentioned above, the ACT is made up of four sections with the optional fifth section of writing.

The main four sections are: maths, reading, English and science

One easy tip to help increase your overall score is to pinpoint the section(s) you require help in and focus on them.

There's no point receiving intensive tutoring for your maths if you're achieving a perfect or near-perfect marks with each practice test.

This is a super easy way to improve your mark in a short period of time.

The key to this is sitting practice tests and identifying where you're struggling.

However, do not neglected your strengths.

If you feel you could get a perfect score in the science section, get to work on it.

Playing to your strengths will also improves your score.

4. Work out a time strategy

You have an allocated time to each section of the ACT:

English: 75 multiple choice questions, 45 minutes.

Maths: 60 multiple choice questions, 60 minutes.

Science: 40 multiple choice questions, 35 minutes.

Reading: 40 multiple choice questions, 35 minutes.

Writing (optional): 1 essay, 40 minutes.

Based on these numbers, you have an allocated time per question of:


About 40 seconds per questions.


One minute per question

Science and Reading:

Just under a minute per question.

For science, it's six to seven passages with five to six questions each, which equates to roughly six minutes per passage and one minute per question.

For reading, you're looking at eight minutes per passage, four passages, 10 questions each.

When it comes to sitting the test, try to stick to these numbers.

Don't spend too long on any question.

If you can't figure out the answer, move on after your allocated time and start crushing the next questions.

This strategy is not only good for time management, but it's also good for your confidencemoving forward in the test. Getting bogged down on one difficult question can ruin your strategy moving forward.

Best case scenario, you can work a strategy that leaves you with enough spare time at the end of each section to re-check your answers.

This way, anything you've missed or spent too long on, you can return to and answer, even if it's an educated guess.

You don't want to be doing the mad scramble in the dying moments of your test where you just select random bubbles in the hope you may get a few right.

Before you can worry about this, though, you want to make sure you're leaving enough time to answer every question, which leads us to our next step:

5. When sitting the test, read every question carefully and answer every question!

Reading each question carefully is imperative.

Like any "good" test, there's always a few questions in there to catch you out. The incorrect multiple choice answer will be designed to match the misread question.

I know, how annoying!

So make sure you're reading each question slowly and understand exactly what it's asking before you answer.

In saying that:

On the ACT, there's no penalty for incorrect answers.

How good is that?

So even if you don't have a clue as to what the answer may be, just give it a crack.

Because each question is multiple choice, by picking A, B, C or D at random, you have a 25% chance of choosing the correct answer.

Each question, however, usually has two obviously wrong answers, improving your odds of guessing right to 50%. I like those odds!

Although not exact a strategy, educated guessing is better than leaving an answer blank.

Essentially, filling in a circle is more likely to improve your score than leaving it blank.

Set realistic targets

Getting 34+ on the ACT is no small feat.

The actual work you'll need to put in is staggering, particularly if you're starting from somewhere in the 20s.

This blog is trying to show you that improving your score breaks down to:

  • Developing a test strategy.
  • Managing your time effectively.
  • Bolstering your weaknesses, while perfecting your strengths.
  • Work with a friend, failing that find a tutor. 

However, you should aim for scores that a relevant to you.

Plus, you can use these score brackets as an improvement ladder - moving from one rung to the next as you progress.

For example:

If you're projecting a score < or =19

Aim to boost your score into the twenties first. This small goal is achievable and will lay the foundation for future growth.

If you're projecting a score between 20-28

You need to do everything you can to turn that into a 29. An ACT score of 29 mean you're in the top 10% of test takers and positions you excellently for college applications.

At the same time, showing a prospective college you turned a 20 into 29 on the ACT show's academic growth and determination, which colleges look upon extremely favourably.

If you're projecting a score above 30

First of all: you're sitting in an extremely envious position and are academically suited to hundred of top-200 ranked US Universities.

If you wish to proceed, it means you need to go to those elite institutions, such as Harvard, Stanford and MIT.

Then, it's time to fire all engines toward 34.

This may mean investing in a high-quality tutor or sacrificing time in different areas of your life, whether it be extracurriculars or socialising - FOR THE SHORT TERM! Don't suffer too much for your score.

As your score moves past 30, you move into the elite percentiles.

For example, going from 31 to 33 moves you from the top 5% of test-takers to the top 2% of test takers.

Yale, Stanford, Harvard, MIT all like those kinds of numbers.

But to make your application "safe" - it's best to submit a score of 34+ (as seen above with the average scores)

So get to work.

Final Thoughts

Acing the ACT takes time, strategy, effort, efficiency and practice!

You need to research the test before you make the commitment to sitting it and know all the ins and outs.

Before you sit, you should know:

  • The score you're aiming for to get into your dream university.
  • What's in each section.
  • What your weak areas on the test are.
  • How much time you've got for each question and your time strategy.
  • Most importantly, the date, time and location of the test. 

No one is capable of acing the ACT without practice. So make sure you're putting in the time and following these tips to gain your confidence with the ACT.

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