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David Recine

The New Scoring System for the ACT Essay

new scoring system act essay
You probably already know about the “new” ACT essay — it was released September 2015. But did you know the ACT Essay scoring system changed in late 2016?

Meet the New ACT Essay Score Range, Same as the Old ACT Essay Score Range

OK, admittedly, that’s not quite as catchy as the “meet the new boss, same as the old boss” lyrics that I’m referencing. But bear with me, because the new score ranges have something in common with The Who’s song “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” Both the song and the score ranges are classics.

When I say the new ACT Essay score range is classic, I mean it’s a throwback to the score range on the old format of the ACT Essay. The old ACT Essay was graded on a scale of 2-12; two scorers would each grade an essay on a scale of 1-6, and the two ratings would then be added together. When the new ACT Essay was unveiled in the fall of 2015, it came with a new, more complicated score range. At that time, the ACT essay was first rated on a scale of 2-12 in four different categories: Ideas and Analysis, Development and Support, Organization, and Language Use and Conventions. Then, the four different 2-12 ratings were converted into a 36 point range scaled score, similar to the 36 point score range for the main ACT exam.

Needless to say, test-takers found this new way of scoring the essay to be confusing. So after a year under the new ACT Essay score ranges, the ACT went back to the old way of scoring its essays: two scorers who rate the essay on a 1-6 scale, and a 2-12 score range.

Bear in mind that only the score range has changed back from the original. The new-as-of-2015 ACT Essay has not changed in format. In fact, even the four categories I mentioned above are still part of the official rubric for the New ACT Essay. Speaking of this new rubric….

The Contradictions Between the Scoring Rubric and the ACT Essay Instructions

There is a weird apparent contradiction between the ACT Essay requirements in the official ACT Essay score guide, and the requirements that appear in the sample ACT essay prompt on the official ACT website.

Remember how the new ACT Essay prompt presents an issue and three opinions on the issue? Well, in the instructions for the sample ACT Essay prompt on the ACT website, it says you need to “analyze the relationship between your perspective and at least one other perspective.” Therein lies the contradiction. The official ACT Essay score guide emphasizes the importance of analyzing “multiple perspectives.”

So which is it? To find out, I contacted ACT customer service. The representative I spoke with said that the online essay prompt mentions “at least one perspective” because you need to analyze at least one of the three perspectives to have a chance at a score of more than 2. She then informed me that you need to analyze two or three of the given perspectives to have any chance at a score of 10 or higher. From there, ACT Customer service emphasized that including all three perspectives gives you the best possible chance at the full 12 points.

The customer service rep’s argument in favor of analyzing all three perspectives is supported in The Official ACT Prep Guide, 2016-2017. Interestingly, the ACT Prep Guide’s prompts do not indicate that one perspective may be enough. Unlike the essay prompt on the ACT website, the writing instructions in the ACT OG tell you “evaluate multiple perspectives” and “evaluate perspectives given.”

So, if you want the best possible score (and who doesn’t?), you should include all three given perspectives — along with your own — in the new ACT Essay.

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About David Recine

David is a test prep expert at Magoosh. He has a Bachelor of Social Work from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and a Masters in Teaching English to Speakers of other Languages from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. He has been teaching K-12, University, and adult education classes since 2007 and has worked with students from every continent. Currently, David lives in a small town in the American Upper Midwest. When he’s not teaching or writing, David studies Korean, plays with his son, and takes road trips to Minneapolis to get a taste of city life. Follow David on Google+ and Twitter!

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