Like the new SAT, the ACT makes its essay section optional and charges an extra fee to students who choose to complete a scored essay on test day. The ACT Essay option costs $17 extra and must be taken with the other sections of the test, it can’t be taken individually in a separate test session. The ACT Writing task itself is very similar to the kinds of writing assignments that students will be expected to complete in first and second year college writing classes.
Since the ACT Writing is optional, many students wonder if they should take it. Whether or not you should take the ACT with writing depends on a number of factors.
One obvious thing to look at is whether or not the university or universities you are applying to require an ACT essay. Some universities do and some don’t. Generally, top schools will require ACT Writing. Middle tier schools (which still offer a lot of great degrees) often don’t ask for this extra section of the ACT. However, many schools that don’t require an ACT essay will still consider an optional ACT Writing score in their admissions decisions. A good essay score can help you even if the ACT Writing test wasn’t absolutely necessary. The flip side, of course, is that a bad ACT essay score can hurt you when you’re applying to a mid-tier school.
Another thing to consider is your own writing skill. If you’re very weak in writing and not sure you can get your writing skills to where they need to be by test day, doing the essay could drag down your combined English/Writing score (for schools that consider this score) and reflect poorly on your overall scores. On the other hand, if you’re strong in writing but less confident in math or science, a high-scoring essay could make your ACT scores look better overall.
Reasons to take the ACT with Writing
- You are applying to universities that require it or might be applying to universities that require it.
- Writing is a strength of yours.
- You are stronger in writing than you are in math or science.
- You want the option to transfer to a top university in the future.
- You want to practice all university academic skills during your test prep, including essay writing.
Reasons not to take the ACT with Writing
- You are absolutely sure of the university or universities you’ll apply to, and none of them require the ACT with writing.
- You struggle with writing and may not be able to boost your skills sufficiently in time for the exam.
- You are very strong in the other ACT sections and don’t need an extra section to boost your score.
- You’re being careful about budgeting and feel the $17 fee for the exam could be better spent on other things.
All in all, I do recommend taking the ACT with writing if you can spare the fee and feel you can get a good score, a decent ACT Writing score opens a lot of doors to you. It certainly doesn’t hurt your odds of being accepted into any school, but of course, every test-taker has different needs and realistically there are some situations where taking the ACT Writing Test may not be practical.