M. Shields Photos—Alamy
By Kaitlin Mulhere
August 26, 2015

Note to high schoolers: If you want to do well on your ACTs, and then go on to succeed in college, take four years of English and at least three years each of math, social studies, and science. That’s one of the suggestions in a new report issued today by ACT, Inc., the nonprofit organization behind the test.

It also reported that students who participate in high-school activities (but not too many of them) tend to do better on the test. An optimal number of activities was about four.

The “Condition of College & Career Readiness 2015” report found that less than half of ACT test takers last year earned scores that showed what it termed “strong” readiness for college. Only 40% percent met its readiness benchmarks in at least three of the four subject areas: English, math, reading, and science.

The benchmarks are defined as the minimum score students need to get on ACT subject tests to have a 75% chance of earning a C or higher in a typical first-year college course in that subject area. Students who meet the benchmarks should do better in college courses and graduate at higher rates, the organization says. The share of high school graduates who met three out of four benchmarks has changed little in the past five years.

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The highest number of students met the benchmark in English (64%), while the smallest share met it in science (37%). But at least 10% of test takers were within two points of the benchmark score in reading and science, meaning a slight increase in their scores would have made a big difference.

The benchmark scores are: 18 in English, 22 in math and reading, and 23 in science.

Overall, the average composite ACT score was 21, unchanged from the previous year. More than 1.9 million students in the Class of 2015 took the ACT, up by almost 20% since 2011. Three years ago, the ACT surpassed the SAT as the most common college entrance exam.

Check out MONEY’s 2015-16 Best Colleges rankings

The annual release of entrance exam results often draws criticism from opponents of the tests who argue they aren’t effective at predicting a student’s ability to succeed in college. That’s one reason more colleges have announced test-optional policies; they’ll accept scores from applicants but don’t require them. (Here are 10 great colleges that are now test-optional.)

For more advice on applying to college, check out the Money College Planner, including our Find Your Fit tool to help you choose right school.

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