Skip to Main Content
Back to Table of Contents

Should you set a Score Goal?


In this lesson, I'm gonna show you, I'm gonna walk you through the process of how you might set your first score goal for the ACT. And the title is, Should you set a score goal? I'll tell you right of the bat, I'm gonna answer yes. Although there might be some exception for instance if you're really still just learning, you're just getting the hang of the structure of the ACT.

And you feel like you really haven't had the chance to have a practice test where you've been in a good testing mode. And you've understood the structure of the test. Then it might be too early to set a goal. But overall I think setting a goal is motivating. And I do think it results in more studying and more effective studying.

Here at Magoosh we found that a lot of students want to raise their score by five to ten points. And that is a great goal, a great long-term goal to have. And it is absolutely do-able for a lot of students. However, I don't think it's the best initial goal to set. I think because the ACT has so few numbers, you know the top score's a 36, that's not really a big number.

The students don't realize how much of a difference three points actually makes to your percentile rank. So let's look what happens when we add three points to each of these scores and we will just pretend that this is composite scores. I started at 11 because through 1 through 10 are pretty rare, less than a percent and just to be fair you'll see I knocked out 36 also.

So we are looking at what 99 point something percent of students are going to score. Okay, so let's pretend I'm a student, I've taken two practice exams maybe and my composite score so far looks like it's gonna be a 20. And adding 3 points to that, I decide that I want my first score goal to be 23. So the question I'm posing here is, is that going to lead to much of a percentile increase?

And I'll be showing that in the third column here. I'm not gonna be showing you the percentiles. I'm going to be showing you how much of a climb in percentiles we're looking at. A score of 20 is about the 50th, a little below the 50th, hIgh 40s. So what happens when it goes up to 23? Well, it climbs about 18 percentile points and that's pretty big.

If we'll say we had a 48th percentile ranking before, now we're looking at a 66th percentile ranking. Only added 3 points, really put myself in a new strata of scores are pretty impressive accomplishment. It doesn't mean that I have to stop there. If I have time, I should keep setting higher and higher goals.

But a percentile increase of 18 is nothing to sneeze at. And one other thing I will point out, just partly because it's interesting. And partly because it might be relevant to some of you who are in the very highest or maybe very lowest score ranges. Is that when you add three points to scores that are on the low side or on the high side, you'll see that the percentile change isn't nearly as large.

So why is that? Well, it's because populations are clustered in the middle. People who do score very high or very low, those people are pretty spread apart but a whole lot of people score in the high teens and the twenties. And so just taking a couple little steps in that range is going to move you past a bunch of people.

Whereas if you have a very high score, or very low score, moving a couple points you're not going to be crossing over that many more people. So what's a good goal? Well, I do think that three points is one good goal, to just keep it simple. But a couple other suggestions I have, and you might just do what sounds right for you is you could set goals for each subject.

And if so, I would say that you should aim for three to five points rise in each subject. And that would be about a four-point increase in your total or composite score. That just gives you that many more targets, that many more things to work towards. And specifically I encourage you to aim for larger gains in your weak areas and more modest gains in your strong areas.

Let's pretend that these are the initial score based on a pre-test or maybe a test that's already been taken in actually testing environment. The student's going to retake the ACT, once to raise their score. And you can see the stronger areas for this student, were English, and Reading. The weaker,were Math and Science. So a nice technique is to try and add three points, a three point goal, in your strong areas.

And a five point goal, in your lower areas. And so that would be what this student would now be shooting for 32, 25, 30, 28. And what if your scores aren't that different, if they're all pretty similar? Maybe you could add four, you could add four to each one. But the reason I encourage you to do this and to set larger score goaled gains in your weaker areas, it's two-fold.

First, if you're weak in an area there's probably a lot more you can learn. You have more room to grow. For instance, maybe you're weak in math because you haven't seen geometry in two years. It won't take that much review to boost your test scores. So from that angle, it's just the realistic thing to do.

You have more room to improve. Second and probably more important schools and scholarship committees tend to favor students who have more balance between their sections. Not a lot, I mean it's not something to lose sleep over but it does look good to be well rounded. And unfortunately, what a lot of students do, and we know this from talking to students after take the test, is they tend to over study their strong areas.

Often that's because it's more enjoyable, it's less confusing. And so by setting a higher goal for your weaker areas, you're trying to attain a little bit more balance. And you're also trying to kind of discipline yourself to focus more on your weak areas. It's gonna be harder to blow off the science just knowing that you've set this pretty ambitious goal.

Now there are cases where sometimes students do this to a fault and it's not typical but I did have one student for instance. And she was very low in math. On all the pretests she was the 11th percentile in math. And she really wanted to get into some competitive schools. She was in the 70th percentile for reading.

I actually chose to have us pretty much ignore reading. We did a little bit of review. We focused 80% of our effort on math. And what happened was, and this was really cool to see. She actually got her math up above the 50th percentile, from the 11th percentile to the 55th percentile.

And so that was phenomenal, that was great, unfortunately she lost a couple points in reading. And so if I could go back and advise her differently I would have just put a little bit more emphasis in reviewing her strong areas. But I use that example because it's actually an atypical example. It's very rare that I've seen students who over study their weaknesses that was one case.

It totally paid off to go from 11 to 55 and I mean she was elated. And what she and I did it together and like encouraging you to do here is we just set small, incremental goals. We didn't initially set goals that would put her in the 55th percentile we just kept bumping up. Again, really push yourself in your weak areas.

And do remember that our student help team can lend a hand if you need guidance. Whenever our written explanations or video explanations just aren't doing it for you, let us know, for two reasons. Number one, for me as a teacher, I want to know so I can go back and fix whatever the problem is. Number two, we want to be able to help you directly.

Right now as I am recording this in 2018, we have over 40 student help specialists who are able to help ACT students. They enjoying helping students. We want you to have that experience. So anyway, I'm probably driving this point home more than I need to. But definitely reach out and ask for help if the video explanations aren't giving you as much information as you need.

Lesson takeaways. Set an initial goal of adding about three to four points to your composite score. And then set more ambitious goals, likes five points, for your weak areas. And then as you improve, keep bumping up your goal and I would recommend about two point increments. And that could be either for your subject goal or for your composite.

You'll just have to gauge how quickly you're making progress and where you think you still have room to improve. Keeping two point increments after you make that three to four point gain.

Read full transcript