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Elizabeth Peterson

What is a Good ACT Writing Score?

What is a Good ACT Writing Score-magoosh

The ACT Writing section (new as of September 2015) is the only optional part of the ACT. However, optional does not mean unnecessary. A number of colleges do require it to be included with the rest of your ACT scores as part of their application process (if you want to check if your dream school is one of them, you can use the ACT’s own College Writing Test Requirements search tool to find out). If any of the schools you’re considering require you to take the ACT Writing Section, you definitely need to know what constitutes a good ACT Writing Score.

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Note: This post has been updated to reflect the changes announced for the September 2016 ACT and beyond, released by the ACT in June 2016.

What’s Considered a Good ACT Writing Score?

This is always a tricky question, because the easy answer is that you should try to get the highest score you can. But that isn’t really helpful, is it?

What is a good ACT Writing score?-magoosh

Of course, a lot depends on the schools to which you apply (see ACT scores for the top 100 universities to learn more). Generally, the more selective the school, the higher your score should be to be competitive. Those universities that require the ACT Writing will almost always have an average score range on their admissions website, so make sure you do your research. Most schools do not provide a cut-off score, so theoretically a below-average score will not eliminate you from being considered for admission. Then again, it won’t help you either.
 

Liam got a 35 on the act. Get a higher act score.

Okay, But Really…I Want Numbers!

All right, all right, let’s talk numbers.

What’s a good ACT Writing score? First off, remember that the ACT Essay is now scored from 1-6 in four categories by two graders. This gives you four scores from 2-12. You then receive a final ACT Essay score from 2-12 that is the average of these four scores. This is the score you will be reporting to colleges. For more detail on how the essay is scored, make sure you check out Rachel’s article on ACT Essay scores.

This is a change from September 2015 to June 2016, when the ACT essay scoring scale was 1-36. If the old scoring scale applied to you, you should have received notice from the ACT about how to convert your score to the new 2-12 range. The ACT also has a good resource to help you convert 2015-2016 ACT essay scores to 2016-2017 essay scores. To understand your percentile, you can use this “Norms Chart”.

That’s a Lot of Numbers… So What Is a Good ACT Writing Score?

If you took the test after September 2016, you’re using the 2-12 scale. And what’s a good ACT Writing score now, using this scale? Shoot for a minimum of 8 on the essay. This will be enough to not raise any eyebrows amongst college admissions officers. For extremely competitive schools, aim for a score of 10+.

ACT Writing: Essay Percentiles

If you’re still wondering just how good your scores are, here’s the breakdown for ACT essay scores and percentiles:

ACT Score Percentile
21
32
47
517
638
758
882
991
1097
1199
12100

As you can see from this table, the mean, or average, score on the ACT Writing section falls slightly below 7. It’s a good idea to aim for the 75th percentile, so in this case a good ACT writing score would be an 8 or above (16 or above on the old ACT). A 10 or above would put you in the 97th percentile, which is great! If you aspire to Ivy League or other highly-selective schools, a 10 is the threshold you should try your best to reach to be safe.

How Have People Been Doing on the New ACT Writing?

Last year, the Washington Post reported that ACT Writing scores after the essay change were lower than people expected. And honestly, this is exactly why the ACT decided to go back to a separate 2-12 scale: too many students were comparing their essay scaled score from 1-36 to their multiple choice scaled scores from 1-36, when in reality the percentiles were very different.

If you are ever concerned that your essay score is inaccurate, however, you can ask for your essay to be re-scored. The $50 fee for the re-score will be refunded if you do get a higher score.

Recap

So what’s the takeaway from all of this? Really, a few key points:

  • Research the schools you plan to apply to, and see which of them require the ACT Writing test.
  • At the least, shoot for an 8+ overall score for a “good” ACT Writing score.
  • A score of 10+ is an ideal score for applications to selective schools.
  • If you believe your essay has been mis-scored, you may request a re-score for a fee.
  • Don’t panic!

Liam got a 35 on the act. Get a higher act score.

This post was originally published in February, 2016 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.

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About Elizabeth Peterson

Elizabeth holds a degree in Psychology from The College of William & Mary. While there, she volunteered as a tutor and discovered she loved the personal connection she formed with her students. She has now been helping students with test prep and schoolwork as a professional tutor for over six years. When not discussing grammar or reading passages, she can be found trying every drink at her local coffee shop while writing creative short stories and making plans for her next travel adventure!


22 Responses to “What is a Good ACT Writing Score?”

  1. Dorian Sharpe says:

    I have a 24 on the written portion of the act. is that good?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert Magoosh Test Prep Expert says:

      Hi Dorian,

      Good question! 🙂 The quality of a score depends a lot on what you are comparing it to–if you only need an 18+ then a 24 is awesome! If you are supposed to get at least a 30, then a score of 24 would present a challenge to your application. A 24 is in about the 84th percentile, which means you are strong in the general pool of test takers. 🙂

      If you know what you might need for the universities you like, that should be your guiding information, more than anything else. But good job! 🙂

  2. sujata gautam says:

    My score is 8 out of 12.how much value do this score gain?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert Magoosh Test Prep Expert says:

      The new 1-12 scoring scale for the ACT Essay hasn’t been out long enough for there to be any official percentiles for the score ranges. But for the time being, you can still get a good idea of percentile by looking at this chart of percentiles for the original 36-point essay scale.

      Because the maximum number of ACT Essay points is 1/3 of what it used to be (12 is 1/3 of 36), you can multiply your score by 3 to get the equivalent under the old scoring system. 8*3 = 24, and on the old chart linked above, a 24 puts you in the 88th percentile. This means you scored higher than 88% of all ACT Essay test-takers. This is pretty respectable. Congratulations!

  3. Nicole says:

    How do I request a rescore on the writing section?

  4. Sherry says:

    My son scored a 5 out of 6 on the writing. How can that be. His ACT score was a 32. I do not understand the writing grade.

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert Magoosh Test Prep Expert says:

      First off, congratulations on your son’s 32 on the general ACT. That’s a really good score! 🙂

      As for the ACT, it sounds like your son actually got a 10 out of 12? Since he would have received a rating from two separate scorers who both looked at his essay, that 5 out of 6 figure should be doubled, I think. (See our post on the new scoring system for the ACT Essay.)

      Your son actually does have a pretty good ACT Writing score. If you were to put his score on the ACT’s regular 0-36 scale, his essay score is equivalent to about a 30. That’s very close to the 32 your son got on the rest of the test. The reason his ACT Writing score is in the single digits isn’t because it’s bad. Instead, his score shows a 5 out of 6 because the ACT recently changed the scoring scale for ACT Writing, so that it’s not in the same 36 point range as the rest of the exam.

  5. Lisa Moorehead says:

    My daughter is in 8th grade. She scored a 32 on her ACT Exam (36 in English, 35 in Reading, 30 in Science, 26 in Math). I was familiar with all of those scores and understand that she did pretty well. However, I have no experience with the writing score. She scored a 9 on the writing. I am not sure how good this is. Should she retake it? She doesn’t really know her future college plans, but she does want the option to attend an Ivy League school. Does she need to retake the writing portion again?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert Magoosh Test Prep Expert says:

      Hello Lisa,

      A 9 is strong! That puts your daughter above the 90th percentile in writing, and seems in line with the rest of her score. If she wanted to improve the writing for whatever reason, there is room to do so, and it may be necessary just to pull the science/math scores up to the level of her English/reading scores, too. But this is an amazing outcome for an 8th grader. The ACT is meant to showcase knowledge obtained through all of high school, so she will likely improve just by dint of having completed more years of school. 🙂

  6. Sarah Andres says:

    HI there

    My daughter got a 27 and a 10 on the writing for her first test. Can she keep the Writing score and then only re-take the ACT portion? So, she would be submitting results from two different tests.

    Thanks!

    Sarah

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert Magoosh Test Prep Expert says:

      Hi Sarah,

      Unfortunately it is almost never possible to submit portions of separate test sessions. I can only think of one time ever that this has been allowed, so your daughter will almost certainly need to retake the entire test.

  7. Jojo Avav says:

    I got a 10/12, but I felt like I did terrible on it. My thoughts were unorganized, decentralized, and incoherent.
    How is it possible that I scored within the top 3%?
    Also, does the percentile only include those who decided to take the writing portion, or was the sample from students from all demographics?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert Magoosh Test Prep Expert says:

      Hi Jojo,

      On the bright side, this appears to be a situation in which you did better than you thought! Perhaps, your writing was not as incoherent as you thought. Great job! 😀

      With regard to sample, please note that the score is only reported when the student takes the optional writing portion. I hope this helps a little! Again, great job. 🙂

  8. Dominique Mel says:

    Hi I got a 22 on the test portion and an 8 for the writing. I feel like my scores are pretty low and I’m taking the SAT this Saturday so hopefully that will look better. What do you think about my scores? Good, bad, moderate?

    • David Recine David Recine says:

      Your score for the four-section multiple choice portion of the ACT is definitely not competitive. In terms of ACT percentiles, this only puts you in the 63rd percentile. However, your 8 in ACT Writing is relatively good. That would be an 82nd percentile score.

      Different test-takers will find either the ACT or SAT to be easier. So trying your luck with the SAT might not be a bad idea. However, you should also be open to retaking the ACT. Your Writing score indicates that you have strong language arts skills, and there may be ways you can build on those skills to greatly improve in Reading on either the SAT or ACT. And of course, strong writing skills can be used to improve your accuracy in either ACT English or SAT Writing & Language.

      As you consider which of these to tests is best, I recommend reading our post on ACT vs. SAT.

  9. Kinnxe says:

    I got an 8 on the reading and a 24 overall composite score…is that good or should I retake?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert Magoosh Test Prep Expert says:

      Hi Kinnxe,

      Do you mean 8 on the reading or 8 on the writing? If you got an 8 (out of 46) on reading, I would absolutely retake the test to raise that score. If you got an 8 (out of 12) on the writing, that is more in like with your 24 overall. I will say that aiming for 27+ is often better, but the score you really need should be determined based on the schools you want to attend. If you haven’t done research into that yet, I highly recommend you do. 🙂

  10. Lisa says:

    Hi,
    My son took the Feb ACT and got a 33 (35, 33, 32, 31) but didn’t take the writing. So he retook the test in April and received a lower score of 30 (27, 33, 32,31) but received a 12/12 in the writing. Will schools superscore his ELA score; so taking the 35 Eng/32 Reading from Feb test and the 12 (36) from April writing for a superscore of 34? Not sure you can superscore with only taking the writing one time? Thanks in advance. Lisa W.

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert Magoosh Test Prep Expert says:

      This will depend heavily on the individual schools, but it is worth sending the full applicant profile to show that there is relative consistency in abilities and a strong writing ability. That said, the most common way to handle scores is to just take one single session/date rather than pick and choose higher outcomes. It may be word contacting some admissions committees to get their take on the matter, too. I hope that helps!

  11. Franklin says:

    I got a 35 on the test: 36 math, 35 english, 34 reading, and 34 science. that’s great and all, but I completely potatoed the writing with a 9. How much weight does the writing have in applications for ivy league colleges?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert Magoosh Test Prep Expert says:

      Hi Franklin,

      Oh no! I have potatoed a part of a test before, and it’s super frustrating. Unfortunately, my answer is going to be a little frustrating, too, because the answer is “it depends.” I would investigate the admissions pages and, if they don’t give you enough details, email admissions directly to ask how much the ACT writing versus the application essays count. In some cases, you will likely be fine, but there will be others where both matter. Good luck!

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