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 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 do so.
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 exactly is a good ACT Writing score?
This is always a tricky question, because the easy answer is “You should try to get the highest score you can.” But that isn’t really helpful, is it?
Of course, a lot depends on the schools to which you apply. 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.
Okay, but really…?
Alright, let’s talk numbers.
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 Catrina’s article on ACT Essay scores.
This is a change from September 2015 to June 2016, when the ACT essay was scored on a scale from 1-36. If this applies to you; you should be receiving notice from the ACT about how to convert your score to the new 2-12 range. Or you can use this “Norms Chart” to understand your percentile. The mean, or average, score on the new ACT Writing section from the last year is about a 17 out of 36. What this tells you is that your scaled score should ideally be an 18 or above if you are part of the 1-36. Being above average puts you in a solid position for many schools. A 30 or above would put you in the 98th percentile, which is great! If you aspire to Ivy League or other highly-selective schools, a 30 is the threshold you should try your best to reach to be safe.
Beginning September 2016, when we are back to the 2-12 scale, I would recommend shooting for a minimum of 8 on the essay. This will be enough to not raise any eyebrows amongst college admissions officers.
ACT Writing: Essay Percentiles
The ACT has a good resource here that can help you convert 2015-2016 ACT essay scores to 2016-2017 essay scores.
Here’s the breakdown for ACT essay scores and percentiles:
|ACT Essay Scores 2015-2016||ACT Essay Scores Sept 2016 moving forward||Score Percentile|
How have people been doing on the new ACT Writing?
Recently, 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.
So what’s the takeaway from all of this? Really, a few key points:
- Do your research to find out which of the schools you plan to apply to require the ACT Writing test.
- At the least, shoot for an 8+ overall score.
- A score of 10+ is ideal 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!