If you’ve chosen to do the ACT essay, your ACT Writing score is important. Today, we’ll answer the common question “what is a good ACT Writing score?”
What Is a Good ACT Writing Score: How it's Scored, Understanding Percentiles, and University Standards for Writing
Before we get too deep into discussing what a good Writing score is on the ACT, let's first understand that the ACT Writing is scored separately—and differently—from the rest of the exam. From there, we will be able to tell you what is a good ACT Writing score and what's not.
How the ACT Writing Section is Scored
Let's quickly review how the ACT Writing section is scored. Unlike the rest of the test, ACT Writing is not scored on a 36 point scale. Instead, ACT writing scores are calculated on a scale of 2 to 12.
Here's how it works: two separate scorers are shown your ACT essay. Each person who scores your essay scores it on a scale of 1 to 6. Then the two separate scores are added together. This allows for a minimum score of 2 and a maximum score of 12.
What is a Good Writing Score on the ACT, In Terms of Percentiles?
One way to tell if you have a good ACT Writing score is to look at your percentile. Your ACT percentiles tell you how well you did compared to other test-takers. For example, if your ACT Writing is in the 90th percentile, that means that 90% of all test takers got a lower score than you did. So basically, the higher your ACT Writing percentile is, the better your score is.
Once you actually receive your ACT Writing score, your percentile will appear on the score report. But you don't have to wait that long to see what the ACT Writing percentiles are. Right below is a chart that converts ACT Writing scores to percentiles, based on current, official ACT data. You can use this chart to determine a good target score for your ACT Essay.
What is a Good Writing ACT Score, by University Standards?
For schools that require or recommend an ACT Writing score, it's easy to know what a good score on ACT Writing is. Just make sure you meet or exceed the requirement.
Now, suppose you're applying to one of the many schools that don't require you to take the ACT essay. When the essay isn't required, a good ACT Writing score should match the percentile the school has set for the general exam. Suppose, for instance, that a school asks for a general ACT score of at least 30. This is a 95th percentile score. In that case, you'll want a comparable percentile on your ACT Writing test, a score of at least 9 or 10.
Want to learn more about ACT percentiles and what a good score on the ACT is? Read on:
Understanding the ACT Percentiles: How do You Compare?
What is a Good ACT Score?
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.
Start improving your ACT writing score (and everything else) today with Magoosh!
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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