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States with the Highest and Lowest ACT Scores in 2023

Wondering which states produce top-performing students? Look no further. We’ve found the states with the highest ACT scores and how your state compares.
States with the Highest and Lowest ACT Scores in 2023
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The ACT is a pivotal test taken by millions of high school students as part of the college admissions process, and states with the highest ACT scores help convey where everyone stands. These scores indicate how well students understand high school subjects and play an important role in college acceptance and scholarship awards.

With so much riding on the ACT, it's helpful to know how your state compares to the rest, so we've compiled a list of the states with the highest (and lowest) ACT scores. Whether you're a parent or a student looking for assistance with the college admissions process, we'll cover everything you need to know about the ACT and how your state ranks.

Top 10 States with the Highest ACT Scores: 

  • 1. District of Columbia - 26.9
  • 2. California - 26.5 (Tie)
  • 2. Massachusetts - 26.5 (Tie)
  • 4. Connecticut - 26.3
  • 5. New Hampshire - 25.7
  • 6. New York - 25.3
  • 7. Rhode Island - 25.2
  • 8. Maine - 25.1
  • 9. Delaware - 24.9
  • 10. Michigan - 24.6 (Tie)
  • 10. New Jersey - 24.6 (Tie)
  • 10. Virginia - 24.6 (Tie)
  • 10. Washington - 24.6 (Tie)

Bottom 10 States with the Lowest ACT Scores:

  • 1. South Carolina - 18.9
  • 2. Hawaii - 18.8 (Tie)
  • 2. Arkansas - 18.8 (Tie)
  • 4. Tennessee - 18.6 (Tie)
  • 4. Kentucky - 18.6 (Tie)
  • 6. North Carolina - 18.5
  • 7. Arizona - 18.4
  • 8. Louisiana - 18.1
  • 9. Alabama - 18
  • 10. Oklahoma - 17.9

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Interesting Data Findings

  • Nationally, high school students averaged 19.8 on the ACT, with scores of 19 in English, 19.3 in math, 20.4 in reading, and 19.9 in science.
  • The East Coast is home to nine of the ten states with the highest ACT scores, including five in New England alone (Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Maine).
  • The average ACT score for District of Columbia high school students was 26.9–the highest in the country and more than seven points above the national average. DC also has the best ACT scores in English (27.4), reading (28.2), and science (26).
  • Nevada high school students received an ACT score of 17.3, about two and a half points lower than the national average. Nevada ranked last in all four ACT components: English (16.1), math (17.1), reading (17.8), and science (17.6), making it the state with the lowest overall composite score.


We analyzed ACT testing scores for the graduating class of 2022 in all 50 states and District of Columbia to determine which have the highest and the lowest scores in the nation.

RankingStateAverage Composite ScorePoints Above/Below National Average
1District of Columbia26.97.1
4New Hampshire25.75.9
5New York25.35.5
6Rhode Island25.25.4
9New Jersey24.64.8
17South Dakota21.51.7
20West Virginia20.50.7
24New Mexico19.80
27North Dakota19.2-0.6
29South Carolina18.9-0.9
32North Carolina18.5-1.3

What is the ACT?

The ACT is a standardized test that assesses high school students' academic proficiency in English, math, reading, and science. Colleges and universities in the United States use test results to make admissions and scholarship decisions, along with GPA, extracurricular activities, and personal essays. The ACT takes approximately three hours to complete, plus an additional 40 minutes if the optional writing section is taken. Test scores range from 1 to 36, with most students scoring between 19 and 20.

The ACT is one of two major standardized tests that high school students can take near the end of their four years, the other being the SAT. While not all colleges require an ACT score, many encourage, if not require, students to take it.

How can you raise your ACT score? 

Throughout the ACT, students demonstrate their understanding of several academic subjects, so staying in good academic standing and learning the core topics of each high school subject remains the best way to score highly on the test. On the other hand, students who require additional reinforcement and guidance can rely on an ACT prep tutor to help them achieve their full potential on test day.

Working with an ACT tutor can help you identify key opportunities to boost your score because they understand how the test works and what to expect. Even if you are well-versed in the subject matter, ACT tutors can help you navigate the rules and develop a strategy for success. 

What is the difference between the ACT and SAT?

The ACT and SAT are two common standardized tests colleges and universities use for admissions purposes, but most don't have a preference as to which one to take. The SAT has approximately 60 fewer questions than the ACT, but both tests take roughly the same time to complete (excluding the ACT's optional writing portion). Because of the additional questions on the ACT, students have less time to answer each one, about under a minute, whereas on the SAT, they have more than a minute per question.

The SAT's section order varies from test to test, but the ACT always uses the same four sections. In addition, unlike the SAT, students can use a calculator throughout the entire math section on the ACT. While the SAT is the more popular test among students, many find the ACT more appealing due to its differences and predictability.

What is a good ACT score?

Good ACT scores vary by college or university, but generally, high school students should aim for a score of at least 24 to place them above the 75th percentile. Top schools, such as Harvard, Columbia, and Yale, will typically only admit applicants with a score of 31 or higher. The ideal ACT score depends on the desired college, so looking at each school's admissions history and academic requirements is best.

Does your high school require the ACT for graduation?

Some states require high school students to take the ACT to graduate, including: 

  • Alabama
  • Hawaii
  • Kentucky (writing section not required)
  • Louisiana (writing section not required)
  • Mississippi (writing section not required)
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Utah (writing section not required)
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming (writing section not required)

Other states make the SAT a requirement before graduation, and some don’t require standardized testing at all. 

Which schools require the ACT?

US colleges and universities commonly accept the ACT or SAT, but none require only the ACT. If a school accepts the SAT, it will likely accept the ACT. CollegeBoard, the company that created the SAT, lists all schools requiring SAT scores, but the ACT does not.

However, it is safe to assume that most US schools will accept an ACT score, and most of the time, they will superscore your attempts (or use the best score for each section attempt). The following are some well-known schools that accept the ACT:

  • Carnegie Mellon University
  • Florida State University
  • Georgetown University
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
  • Rice University
  • Syracuse University
  • United States Air Force Academy
  • United States Military Academy at West Point
  • United States Naval Academy
  • University of Georgia

To better understand which schools require the ACT, check with the school’s admissions office or website. In some cases, they won’t ask for a standardized test score but will still accept it. 

Do other countries accept the ACT?

The ACT is accepted in several countries; in fact, over 200 international universities either require or accept an ACT score. Every international school, like US colleges and universities, will have different admissions requirements and minimum ACT scores. So, it's best to check with each individually to see if they accept it and what you need to score.

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About the author:

Mike developed his passion for education as a math instructor at Penn State University. He expanded his educational experience launching and running an Executive Education business - training over 100,000 students per year. As the CEO of Learner, Mike focuses on accelerating learning and unleashing the potential of students. 

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