Exploiting the ACT Composite

If you are one of the nearly 2.1 million students who took the ACT in 2016, then you (hopefully) know that your composite score was the average of your English Test score, Math Test score, Reading Test score, and Science Test score. You know how take to calculate an average, right? If not, get a tutor! For example, if you scored 36 (the highest score) English, 36 Math, 36 Reading, but 34 Science, then your composite score would still be 36: the average of 36, 36, 36, and 34 is 35.5, which rounds up to 36. If you scored 36 English and 36 Math, but 1 Reading and 1 Science, then your composite score would be 19: the average of 36, 36, 1, and 1 is 18.5, which rounds up to 19. That’s right, when necessary the ACT composite score is rounded to the nearest integer. You know what an integer is, right? If not, get a tutor!

So what? Who cares if the ACT composite score is an average? Well, look back at the second hypothetical example: 36 English, 36 Math, 1 Reading, 1 Science. A score of ONE on any test of the ACT means that the student answered NONE of the questions correctly: the big O-fer. Zippo. Yet, in that hypothetical example, the student’s composite was still 19, just under the national average of 20.8.

“Yeah, but he got a 36 English and a 36 Math!”

Exactly! That’s why you should care about your composite. You can use a higher score to offset (or even hide) a lower score. Now that example is obviously impossible; 36 English and 1 Reading? But, exploiting the ACT composite is quite possible. Students do it all the time.

For example, let’s imagine a student who loves math and science but hates reading and writing (math and science still require reading).

“Ew. I hate math and science!”

I said let’s imagine a student not you. So, this imaginary student scores the following on the ACT: 22 English, 27 Math, 16 Reading, and 28 Science. So, his composite is 23.

“Whoa! He can’t read!”

That’s not the point. And, I never said that this student was male. Let’s just say it is a boy. Reading is obviously not his strength. And, he needs to improve his Reading a lot. Or, does he? Let’s say this student wants a composite score of 25. He’s close. It seems obvious that he should work on Reading: his lowest score. If he can get that Reading to 21, then he would have a composite score of 25 [(22 + 27 + 21 + 28) ÷ 4 = 24.5]. Easy.

Actually, NOT easy. Someone scoring a 16 Reading will probably struggle scoring a 21 Reading.

“But, what if he practiced every day?”

HAHA. He won’t. Now, before I go on, it is possible to improve 5 points in Reading. You just need a plan. In fact, to improve on any and all of the tests of the ACT, you need a plan. You do have a plan, don’t you? If not, go get a tutor.

In any case, there are other ways to a composite score of 25 for our hypothetical student. Let’s focus on his strengths not weaknesses. Let’s say his English and Reading stay the same, but his Math score increases by 3 points and his Science increases by 2 points. If he can get Math to 30 and Science to 30, then he would have a composite score of 25 [(22 + 30 + 16 + 30) ÷ 4 = 24.5].

The point is that some students find it easier to improve on something they are already good at than improve on something they are bad at.

Of course, the best case scenario is to improve everything: English, Math, Reading, and Science. Better go get a tutor.

“Unless we progress, we regress.” – Dwight Eisenhower

This blog post was written by A-List Director of Staff & Curriculum Development, John Oh.