Your Baseline ACT Score

Your baseline ACT score is important to establish before you embark on any type of ACT prep. In order to create your ACT prep plan, you’ll need to know where you are right now. To do that, you’ll take a REAL practice ACT. Real means it’s from, the makers of the ACT. Any other test won’t give you an accurate reading. Having worked for a big box test prep company, I know the games they play. Basically, their questions are harder and/or their scoring rubrick is more severe. Here is an article from the Wall Street Journal calling out test prep companies about this practice.

ACT Dates 2021/2022

In any case, you’ll want to take a REAL Practice ACT. You have 3 options for this.

Baseline Score: Best Option

Best Option: Buy The Official ACT Guide. You can buy it via Amazon.

Free SAT Practice Tests

This option is best as you can work from a printed version of the test. You’ll likely prefer a printed version as that’s what you’ll have when you take your Real ACT. It’s also handy as you’ll feel comfortable showing your work, drawing diagrams, or just doodling on the printed page.

Another advantage of this option is that you’ll have 4 more REAL practice tests to use during prep. That’s helpful as you’ll always know which test to take next. And which test(s) you’ve already taken.

If you want to take test #1, keep in mind it starts on p.41.

Baseline Score: Second Best Option

Download a copy of the first practice test here. You can print this if you like. Keep in mind that it’s about 45 pages of questions to print out. Definitely look over the PDF before you print. This way you’ll know which pages you need to print.

Having a printed copy allows you to show work, draw diagrams and doodle. The drawback is that it’s a lot of loose pages to keep together. At least it’s a printed copy.

Baseline Score: Third Best Option

Third Best Option: Download a copy of your first REAL practice ACT here.

If you don’t print it, you can still view it from a computer screen. This has the distinct disadvantage of not replicating test conditions. Also, it tends to dissuade you from jotting down notes on questions. A tangible copy of your test is always preferred. Yet, this is the least expensive (free) and fastest. Remember that you’ll still have to print out a blank answer sheet.

What To Do

Obviously, you’ll want to replicate test conditions. To do so, you’ll want to be in a room where you’ll be undisturbed for the duration of the test. The timing of the test is according to the table below. Follow it closely as you’ll want to establish an accurate baseline score, not one in which you’ll have extra time per section. You will be allowed a 10 minute break after the math section. If you’re taking the ACT with essay, you’ll be allowed a 5-minute break after the multiple choice section.

*If you do have an IEP or 503, please speak with your high school guidance counselor regarding particulars. There are specific cases when will allow you time accommodations for your act. Please discuss details with your guidance counselor. You’ll need to start this process sooner than later. If that causes you anxiety, have your parents start the process. Now.

Some Important Notes:

-You’ll be allowed a water bottle in your bag while you take the test. You can sip between sections. Best to wait for breaks, though.

-Take a break only when you’re allowed to take a break. You want an accurate gauge of your score. Your strict adherence to ACT protocol insures that your baseline ACT score will be accurate.

-You’re allowed the use of a calculator during the mathvsection. As I’ve been asked this question at least 100 times, yes, you can use a TI 84 graphing calculator.

Here is a screenshot from the College Board Site of the prohibited calculators on the ACT (note that no version of the TI 84 is prohibited):

baseline act score

How to Score Your Practice ACT

ACT Scoring Chart

*If you do have an IEP or 503, please speak with your high school guidance counselor regarding So far, there is no app that can scan and score your ACT. So, you’ll have to check your printed answers with the answer key. Your raw score will be the number correct per section. There’s no penalty for guessing. This means you’ll answer every question. To do otherwise is to miss out on points.

Once you have your raw score per section, scan to check your scaled score. That is your score per test.

*The ACT uses funky nomenclature: they use the term test for each section. What normal human beings refer to as a section of the ACT, the ACT refers to a test of the ACT. Please keep this in mind so as to avoid confusion.

Final Notes

Thanks for reading this. It’s a small price to pay for a free, or extremely low cost method of establishing your baseline ACT score. Really, you can do this on your own. No need to pay for it.

If you don’t feel comfortable about timing yourself, you can have a friend or family member set a timer to make sure you stay true to testing conditions. You can also have them read the instructions so that there’s another person to help you maintain protocol.

Good luck. May your baseline score help you to gauge where you are now relative to where you want to be by your final ACT!


By Martin

Martin McSweeney is a National Merit Finalist, Pomona College Graduate, and member of MENSA. He has worked at the Center for Talented Youth (Loyola Marymount University campus); Upward Bound (Harvey Mudd campus); various test prep companies; and Whittier High School. Now, Martin helps students of all abilities improve their relationship with math.