ACT Writing Section

ACT Writing Test Outline

The ACT Writing test includes a prompt for one essay, which test-takers are given 40 minutes to write. This portion of the ACT is optional in the sense that students do not have to complete it in order to receive scores for the test's other four sections (a student who skips the Math test, for example, will not receive any scores for the Reading, English, and Science tests). The Writing test evaluates writing skills taught in high school English courses. Scoring is from 2-12 for each of four domains: Ideas and Analysis, Development and Support, Organization, and Language Use and Convention. The final Writing test score, also 2-12, is the average of the four domain scores. This scoring system has been in place since September of 2016; earlier ACT administrations used a scale of 1-36. The ACT Writing test is always taken after the four multiple-choice sections of the exam have been completed.

ACT Writing Test Essay Prompt and Essay Task

Essay prompts present test-takers with three different perspectives on some issue of contemporary importance. Students must assess the value of each given opinion, articulate their own opinion on the contemporary issue, and connect their views with the perspectives provided. Student essays may agree or disagree in part or entirely with the assertions included in the essay prompt. Test-takers should focus primarily on completing the essay task rather than obsessing over a specific length or wordcount. Although essays should obviously be substantive, length is not one of the assessment criteria.

ACT Writing Test Skills and Assessment Areas

The Ideas and Analysis assessment area is based on how well students present their opinions on the issue associated with the essay prompt, how thoroughly they analyze the other provided opinions, and their understanding of the issue at hand. The Development and Support category includes explanation of student reasoning, persuasiveness, and strength of argument. The Organization assessment criterion considers essay unity, grouping of ideas, sequencing, and transitions. Language Use and Convention scores are drawn from issues such as word choices, sentence structure, writing style, and writing technique (grammar, punctuation, syntax, etc.). All four of these assessment areas contribute equally to the final ACT Writing test score (2-12), and the Writing test is a component of test-takers' English Language Arts (ELA) score (1-36).

ACT Writing Test Scoring Process and Score Descriptions

Writing test essays are evaluated by two human graders using a scoring rubric designed by ACT. Each reader scores the four domains on a scale of 1 to 6, and these two scores are added together to produce the final domain score (2-12). If there is significant disagreement between the readers on a domain score (more than one point), a third reader is consulted. The Writing test scoring rubric characterizes the highest domain score of 6 as "effective skill in writing an argumentative essay." Lesser scores are described as follows: 5 ("well-developed skill"), 4 ("adequate skill"), 3 ("some developing skill"), 2 ("weak or inconsistent skill"), and 1 ("little or no skill").

ACT Writing Test and ELA Scoring and Benchmark Data

Published ACT data indicate that the mean Writing test score for the two most recent classes of tested high school graduates is 6.7. Scores of 8, 9, and 10 are in the 87th, 95th, and 98th percentiles respectively. About 1% of all test-takers receive ACT Writing scores of 11 or 12. There is no official College Readiness Benchmark for the ACT Writing test, but the benchmark for ELA (which includes the Writing test) is 20. Roughly two-thirds (68%) of students who take the ACT receive ELA scores of 23 or below, and the median ELA score is 20 (mean of 20.6). An ELA score of 28 is in the 89th percentile, and only 1% of test-takers achieve ELA scores of 32 or higher (data are based on about 1.61 million students who took the ACT with the Writing test).

ACT Writing Test Scores at Highly Selective Universities

Some top postsecondary institutions choose to report a range of ACT Writing test scores for their accepted students. Princeton University, for instance, has a middle-50% (the 25th through the 75th percentiles) Writing score range of 8-10 (54% of first-year Princeton students submitted ACT scores with their applications). The University of Virginia also has a middle-50% ACT Writing score range of 8-10. At the University of California-Berkeley, the latest class of first-year students had ACT Writing scores of 10 (25th percentile) to 11 (75th percentile). For applicants to universities in the highest tier, the ACT Writing test should clearly not be neglected and should not be considered optional.

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