fbpx Skip to main content


Students who plan to take the ACT this fall should be advised that the ACT has instituted a change in how the writing test scores will be reported.

In the fall of 2015, ACT unveiled a new format for the optional writing test: students would be given forty minutes to read a short prompt that includes three different perspectives and write an essay that offers their own viewpoint while also analyzing the provided perspectives. Each student’s essay would be read by two graders, who would assign it a score from 1 to 6 in each of four categories (for a raw score of 24 from each grader). The two scores would then be added together for a total score out of 48, and then the ACT would scale the score so that it was out of 36, like the reporting for the other domain scores.

As a result, students who took the ACT writing test during the 2015-2016 school year received writing scores out of 36 that could be easily compared to their other domain scores (English, Math, Reading, and Science). However, this newly streamlined comparison caused distress and concern for many. As reported by the Washington Post, students across the country were surprised and frustrated by receiving writing scores that were significantly lower than their other main scores.


Should the writing test score be compared to your other scores?

By changing the writing test score to the same 36-point scale, the ACT purposefully made it easier for students to compare their writing scores to their other scores. But some students who earned significantly lower scores on the writing exam than they had on the English exam felt baffled by the disparity.

In response, ACT released a lengthy report explaining their new scoring system. The report analyzed score data for two fall administrations of the test and noted, “It is true that scores on the writing test were on average 3 or more points lower than the Composite and English scores for the same percentile rank during September and October 2015.”

However, ACT explained that this did not reflect a flaw in the test, as the scores for the different domains are not intended to be equivalent with one another. For example, a score of 30 on the Math section does not reflect the same percentile rank as a score of 30 on the Reading section. ACT asked students to focus more on their percentile rank for the writing exam, rather than the score itself.


Back to the 12-point scoring system

However, most likely because the 36-point scale seemed to invite exactly those comparisons, the confusion and concern continued. As a result, ACT recently announced another revision to their scoring system for the writing exam. In a statement released on their website on June 28, 2016, ACT Chief Commercial Officer Suzana Delanghe said, “Our customers have spoken, and we have listened.” She added that “[c]onverting the writing results to a 1-to-36 scale made sense conceptually, but in practice it created confusion among some students. We clearly understand that now, and we are making this change to eliminate the confusion.”

The ACT plans to return writing scores to students this fall on a 2 to 12 point scale, as was done before the 2015 redesign. However, the writing test format itself will not change (the ACT is keeping the three perspective design for now), and ACT will continue to use their new rubric (which assesses students on the categories of ideas and analysis, development and support, organization, and language use and conventions) instead of the holistic grading system that was used prior to the 2015-2016 school year.

The new score will be the average of the four rubric sub-scores. Rather than being scaled on a 36-point continuum, the two graders’ scores for each rubric category will be combined, and then the four sums will be averaged together. Last year, a student who received 4s from each of the two graders in every category would have a raw score of 32, which might have then been curved to a reported score of 25. Now, the student will receive a score of 8 (4 + 4) in each of the four rubric categories, and their reported score will be an 8 (out of 12).

Hopefully this revision to the scoring system will reduce student stress and confusion. The ACT has continued to recommend that students focus on the percentile rank of their writing exam, rather than the score itself, for the best assessment of their skills in relation to their peers.


What’s a good score on the new writing test?

It’s a little hard to say at this point, as we will have to wait until the test administrations begin again in September in order to see what percentiles are associated with the scores on the new 2 to 12 point scale.

But in general, students who are interested in attending competitive universities should aim for a writing test score of at least a 9, with scores of 10, 11, and 12 being increasingly beneficial. Practice is extremely helpful with timed writing exams. For more information and help on how your student can write a high-scoring essay on the ACT, please contact us at mindfish!