Highest Essay Score Act
It's approximately one month after your ACT test date. You get your ACT score report and see your ACT Writing score. But what does that number actually mean? Did you do better than average? Worse? Exactly average? Learn what an average ACT Writing score is in this article.
Note: The information in this article includes average scores both for the current ACT Writing test (on a scale of 2-12, where the total ACT Writing score is an average of the four domain scores) and for the ACT Writing test as it was scored September 2015–June 2016 (on a scale of 1-36).
Feature image credit: meet average! by Maria Ly, used under CC BY 2.0/Cropped and modified from original.
What Is the ACT Writing Score Range?
ACT Writing scoring differs from the other test sections in three important ways. Unlike your scores for English, Math, Reading, and Science, your ACT Writing score...
On your ACT score report, you'll see subscores in each of four domains (scored from 1-6). Because two graders score your essay, you'll receive a total score out of 12 in each domain. Your four domain scores are then averaged to get your total ACT Writing score, also out of 12. The four domains your essay is scored across are as follows:
#1: Ideas and Analysis
Do you discuss all three perspectives provided? What's your perspective on the topic? [How] Do you compare the perspectives to one another?
#2: Development and Support
Do you use logical reasoning or employ detailed examples to support and explain your ideas?
Is your essay organized? Are ideas separated into their own paragraphs? Is your writing organized within each paragraph as well?
#4: Language Use
Do you use standard English written grammar? Are your sentences clear and varied in structure? Do you use appropriate vocabulary?
For more about what goes into each domain score, read my article on the ACT Writing Rubric.
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What’s an Average ACT Writing Score?
The average ACT Writing score on the 2-12 averaged-domain-score scale is between 6/12 and 7/12 (based on the most recent data from ACT, Inc). The following table has a more detailed breakdown of Writing test percentiles:
Because your total ACT Writing score is the average of your four domain scores, the average domain scores (Ideas & Analysis, Development & Support, Organization, and Language Use) are also likely around 6/12 or 7/12, although ACT, Inc. doesn't provide specific information about the cumulative percentiles of the domain scores.
1-36 ACT Writing Scoring
For students who received essay scores on the 1-36 scoring scale (all tests taken September 2015-June 2016), the average ACT Writing score was 18-19 out of 36.
How do I know this? Take a look at the following table, which I created by combining the information ACT, Inc. released about the scaling of the Writing test scores with information ACT, Inc. released about percentiles on the Writing test.
Writing Raw Score
The two highlighted rows in the above table cover the 50th percentile of students. As the third column shows, 44.39 percent of all students who took the ACT with Writing from 2015-2016 got a 18 or below, while 52.34 percent of students got a 19 or below. Because this data was only gathered after the fact, however, the percentiles students saw on their initial score reports were quite different.
The final column to the right shows the cumulative percentiles that were used for score report purposes. We've included this information in this article because it's unclear whether ACT, Inc. will update the percentiles of students who took ACT Writing in fall 2015 with the data gathered after the fact, especially considering the issues there have been with the new ACT Writing test scoring. In the "one special study" the percentiles reported on score reports were based on, 44 percent of all students who took the ACT with Writing got a 16 or below on Writing, while 52 percent of students got a 17 or below.
How Much Does My Essay Score Matter?
Does your essay score even matter? While there are many colleges that require or recommend ACT Writing scores, most don't give an ACT Writing score range they want to see.
For students applying to humanities programs, colleges might consider the new English-Language Arts subscore, which combines English, Reading, and Writing section scores; in that case, you'd want your Writing score to be close to (or higher than) your English and Reading scores. Otherwise, my best advice is to make sure your ACT Writing score percentile isn’t drastically (>20 percentage points) lower than your other ACT section scores—that kind of discrepancy might raise a red flag for admissions staff.
Now that you know what an average ACT essay score is, what's a good essay score for you? Read our article on how to calculate your target ACT Writing score.
What strategies can you use to make sure your ACT Writing score is better than average? Take a look at our full analysis of the ACT Writing scoring rubric.
How long does your ACT essay need to be? Find out how essay length affects your score here.
Confused about the domain scores? Get the inside story on ACT Writing scoring with our complete guide.
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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.
ACT Essay Grader
Before we talk about good ACT Writing scores, it’s important to know what score you’re working with.
If you’re coming to this post after taking your first ACT practice test, you might be wondering how the heck you’re supposed to even grade your essay. You’re thinking, “What even IS my ACT Essay score?”
To start, let your essay sit for a day or two before grading it (it’s helpful to get some distance). Then, follow the official scoring rubric from ACT, and ask a trusted friend/teacher/parent to do the same. Be as objective as possible as you grade—you won’t do yourself any favors by inflating your score!
Then, use our handy ACT Essay Grading tool to find your score:
ACT Writing Test Scorer
Click the button below to get started:
All right, now you know what your ACT essay score is. Let’s try to figure out how your essay ranks.
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?
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.
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:
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.
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!
This post was originally published in February, 2016 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.
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!
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