ACT Scores Drop

All racial and ethnic groups -- except for Asian Americans -- see declines.

October 22, 2018

The average composite score on the ACT for high school seniors who graduated in 2018 was 20.8, down from 21.0 the prior year.

All four of the subject tests showed declines. More than 1.9 million students in this cohort took the ACT, down a bit from the previous year, and back to the level of two years prior. The decrease is notable because testing groups generally say that surges in test takers are likely to result in declines in average scores, as a wider cross-section of students is tested. That was not the case this year.

ACT's annual report on college readiness notes that, judging by courses completed as well as test scores, most high school graduates are not prepared for college. Generally, students who have completed recommended college preparatory courses do better than others on the ACT.

Here are the most recent scores, with averages over the last five years. (A perfect score is 36 on either a subject test or the composite.)

Average ACT Scores, 2014-2018

Year English Mathematics Reading Science Composite
2014 20.3 20.9 21.3 20.8 21.0
2015 20.4 20.8 21.4 20.9 21.0
2016 20.1 20.6 21.3 20.8 20.8
2017 20.3 20.7 21.4 21.0 21.0
2018 20.2 20.5 21.3 20.7 20.8

Data released by ACT also show a widening gap between the average scores of Asian Americans and everyone else. All racial and ethnic groups saw declines in their scores compared to the previous year, except for Asian Americans, who were already the top scoring group.

This rising gap may be increasingly significant in light of the lawsuit charging Harvard University with discriminating against Asian American applicants (a charge Harvard denies). Critics of affirmative action cite the average scores of those who apply and are admitted to competitive colleges as evidence of what they see as discrimination. And these gaps are cited by the growing number of colleges that are going test optional, in many cases seeking a more diverse applicant pool.

Average Composite ACT Scores, by Race and Ethnicity, 2017 and 2018

Group 2017 2018
Black 17.1 16.9
Native American 17.5 17.3
White 22.4 22.2
Hispanic/Latino 18.9 18.8
Asian 24.3 24.5
Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander 18.4 18.2
Two or more races 21.2 21.1
No response 20.3 19.8

The College Board is planning to release results on SAT scores for the last year this week.


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