The ACT Writing section is a beautiful work of an evolving college admissions process. Indeed, it has found a way to stamp another number on students' heads. The question then becomes, what is a good number? What is a good essay score?
The ACT reports that any essay at a score of 10 or above is in the 99th percentile. An essay at the score of 9 is at the 94th percentile. An essay at the score of 8 is at the 86th percentile. An essay at the score of 7 is about where the average would be.
Now, many of you, I am sure, are worried that an 8 is "merely" the 86th percentile. Don't try to admit otherwise: I know how ambitious college confidential goers are. However, I would argue that the subjectivity of ACT scoring and the dynamics of writing an essay in 30 minutes are known by college admissions counselors, helping to remedy the "horror" of an 8 (which I would argue is actually a very impressive score).
Below, I have posted the mid-range ACT essay scores from a few, top universities: Princeton, MIT, and Duke. All have mid-ranges of 8 to 10. While these three schools all admit mostly students who are in the top 1 to 5 percent of their classes, the range of essay scores for many of these students stretch down into lower percentiles. While the bottom of the composite mid-range for these schools hovers around a 31 (at the 97th percentile), the bottom of the essay mid-range is an 8 (down at the 86th percentile). From this, I think it can be inferred that the an essay score in the general range of 8 or above is acceptable for top insitutions and that these top institutions don't weigh the essay as heavily. It is simply not feasible to expect all intelligent students to be able to write a stellar essay in a mere thirty minutes.
On the otherhand, an essay score of 6 or 7 brings you down into the 37th to 51st percentile. If you are a student aiming for a top institution, you may want to consider retaking with a score of 6 or 7 (or below). I think then that it could be reasoned that the "threshold" for a strong score rests at an 8. From this, you are demonstrating sufficiently strong essay writing skills relative to the general population, but there is so much elasticity in essay scores because of the time aspect and the subjective and skewed nature of the grading that anything higher isn't going to boost admissions chances significantly.
Hope this helps.
From the ACT:
National Percentiles for Each Essay Score...
12 - 99
11 - 99
10 - 99
9 - 94
8 - 86
7 - 51
6 - 37
5 - 11
4 - 7
3 - 2
2 - 1
All From Each School's Common Data Set:
On the Writing Alone...
Princeton Mid-50%: 8 to 10
MIT Mid-50%: 8 to 10
Duke Mid-50%: 8 to 10
On the English-Writing Composite...
Stanford Mid-50%: 29 to 32
UC Berkeley Mid-50%: 26 to 31
Post edited by Seriwe on
0· Reply·Share on Facebook
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.
Want to improve your ACT score by 4 points? Tired of wasting time prepping in ways that don't work?
We have the industry's leading ACT prep program. Built by Harvard grads and ACT full scorers, the program learns your strengths and weaknesses through advanced statistics, then customizes your prep program to you so you get the most effective prep possible. It's the best prep program available right now.
Best of all, we guarantee your money back if you don't improve your score by 4 points or more.
Check out our 5-day free trial today:Improve Your ACT Score by 4+ Points, Guaranteed
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.
Want to improve your ACT score by 4 points?
Check out our best-in-class online ACT prep program. We guarantee your money back if you don't improve your ACT score by 4 points or more.
Our program is entirely online, and it customizes what you study to your strengths and weaknesses. If you liked this ACT Writing lesson, you'll love our program. Along with more detailed lessons, you'll get your ACT essays hand-graded by a master instructor who will give you customized feedback on how you can improve. We'll also give you a step-by-step program to follow so you'll never be confused about what to study next.
Check out our 5-day free trial: