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Act Essay Scoring Chart

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?

Will colleges use ACT’s concordance or calculate the average domain score? Will the results always be the same?

By trying to give a variety of ways of thinking about Writing scores, ACT seems to be confusing matters more in its “5 Ways to Compare 2015–2016 and 2016–2017 ACT Writing Scores” white paper. If there are so many ways to compare scores, which one is right? Which one will colleges use? Why don’t they all give the same result?

Most students are familiar with the concept that different raw scores on the English, Math, Reading, or Science tests can produce different scaled scores. The equating of forms can smooth out any differences in difficulty from test date to test date. When ACT introduced scaling to the Writing test, it opened up the same opportunity. In fact, we have seen that the same raw score (8-48) on one test can give a different result on another test. Not all prompts behave in the same way, just as not all multiple-choice items behave in the same way. This poses a problem, though, when things are reversed. Suddenly ACT is saying to “ignore all that scaling nonsense and just trust our readers.” Trusting the readers helped get ACT into this mess, and ignoring the scaling is hard to do when an estimated one million students have already provided scaled Writing scores to colleges.

Because of the peculiarities of scaling and concordances, the comparison methods that ACT suggests of calculating a new 2-12 score from an old score report versus using a concordance table can produce differing results.

On the April 2016 ACT, a student with reader scores of {4, 3, 4, 3} and {4, 4, 4, 3} would have a raw score of 29 and would have received a scaled score of 21. In order to compare that score to the “new” score range, we could simply take the rounded average of the domain scores and get 7 (29/4 = 7.25).

An alternative provided by ACT is to use the concordance table (see below). We could look up the 21 scaled score the student received and find that it concords to a score of 8.

Same student, same test, same reader scores, different result. Here is where percentiles can give false readings, again. The difference between a 7 and an 8 is the difference between 59th percentile and 84th percentile. That’s a distressing change for a student who already thought she knew exactly where she had scored.

It would seem as if directly calculating the new 2-12 average would be the superior route, but this neglects to account for the fact that some prompts are “easier” than others — the whole reason the April scaling was a little bit different than the scaling in September or December. There is no psychometrically perfect solution; reverting to a raw scale has certain trade-offs. We can’t unring the bell curve.

Below is the concordance that ACT provides to translate from 1-36 scaled scores to 2-12 average domain scores.

Scaled 1-36 ScoreConcorded 2-12 Score
12
22
32
43
53
63
73
84
94
104
115
125
135
146
156
166
176
187
197
207
218
228
238
248
259
269
279
2810
2910
3010
3111
3211
3311
3412
3512
3612

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