Students can opt to take the ACT with a writing component to showcase their reasoning and critical-thinking skills. But what is considered a good score? More importantly, how do colleges and universities evaluate a ACT writing score? Is it really worth the extra effort and time for students?
These are excellent questions to serve as a guide. Read on to determine what is the best decision for your specific situation.
Writing Score Basics
As mentioned above, the ACT offers an optional writing section. Unlike the other multiple-choice sections, the writing portion is scored a bit differently.
It is scored by two graders across four different domains or categories. Each category is scored from 1 to 6 points. With two individual graders, you will receive anywhere from 2 to 12 points per domain. The overall writing score is the rounded average of the four domains.
Judges will analyze the essay based on how well you clearly state your own perspective and contrast it with other viewpoints. Below are the four domains for a written argument to be evaluated:
1. Ideas and Analysis
- What perspectives and ideas can be created?
- Does the writer understand the issue and write with purpose to their audience?
2. Development and Support
- Did you clearly state your perspective on the issue and weigh it against the other(s)?
- Does the essay have concrete examples or provide details to support the central thesis?
- Does the essay have an organized and coherent structure?
- Do the paragraphs have a consistent and logical flow?
4. Language Use and Conventions
- Is correct and conventional English grammar used?
- Does the vocabulary make sense?
Ultimately, the judges are looking to see a clear understanding of the task at hand. Make sure to take a clear position on the issue in the essay prompt and offer a broader context for discussion and evaluation. Remember to write clearly and concisely. Use specific examples and references to bolster your point.
Remember that each domain will be scored by adding the two scores together (one from each judge). This will result in a score of 2 through 12 per domain. The average is then calculated across the domains to reach at a final score.
One of the most common questions that we receive from students and parents is, what is an average score? Usually it hovers around around 6 or 7 points. Here are the national norms for ACT writing and ELA scores for the 2019-2020 year.
A perfect score of 12 is attainable. Though hard to achieve as it is in the 99th percentile.
Not every school will require a writing score as part of their admissions process. Which means where you apply will ultimately affect your target range of scores. Make sure to do your research diligently and see if a writing score is required before you start your application.
For students eyeing elite schools, a strong score would be considered at least 8 points or higher. For top schools, a high writing score will help your overall profile. Though, it is important to confirm the writing score does not impact your composite score.
Even if schools don’t require it, there are other benefits, too. For example, some schools will take your ELA subscore into consideration for placement in English classes your freshman year. In these situations, a high score now can save college credits later.
The writing test is an exercise in argumentative writing. Showcasing your strong persuasive and analytical chops can be advantageous. One of the reasons some colleges still keep the ACT writing as a requirement is to test your critical-thinking and examination skills under pressure. Unlike your personal statement and other supplemental essays, you must write your ACT essay on the spot.
Even if a school doesn’t have a ACT writing requirement, did you know you can still submit your essay? This gives you the chance to use your ACT writing sample as another strong factor in your application.
It is true that some schools have notably dropped their ACT writing requirements. At this point, none of the Ivy league schools require ACT writing — this includes some top public schools, too. With more colleges becoming test-optional, it is hard to predict what the future holds for ACT writing requirements.
Regardless, there are still obvious advantages for completing the essay portion. With a good score, it is possible to edge out other applicants, save costs from unnecessary English courses, and ultimately be more competitive for colleges.