About the ACT Writing Test

The ACT writing test is a 40-minute essay test that measures your writing skills. The test consists of one writing prompt that will describe an issue and present three different perspectives on that issue.

The ACT writing test complements the English and reading tests. The combined information from these tests tells postsecondary institutions about students’ understanding of the conventions of standard written English and their ability to produce a direct sample of writing.

You are asked to evaluate and analyze the given perspectives, state and develop your own perspective, and explain the relationship between your perspective and those given. You may adopt a perspective from the prompt, partially or fully, or you may generate your own. Your score will not be affected by the point of view you take on the issue.

The ACT® test with writing is available on all six national test dates in the United States, US territories, Puerto Rico, and Canada; on five international test dates in other locations; and for Special or Arranged Testing during six designated three-week testing windows (five if testing outside the United States, US territories, Puerto Rico, or Canada).

Some colleges require the ACT writing test. You should decide whether or not you should take it based on the requirements of the colleges you are applying to or considering.

Register Now

Follow the link below to learn more about registering for the ACT with writing.

Why the ACT Writing Test Is Optional

Because postsecondary institutions have varying needs, we offer the ACT writing test as an option.

  • Postsecondary institutions are making their own decisions about whether to require the results from the ACT writing test for admissions and/or course placement purposes.
  • Students will decide whether to take the writing test based on the requirements of the institutions they are considering.

Students are not required to take a test that they do not need to take, thus incurring unnecessary expense, and institutions have the freedom to require the tests that best meet their information needs.

Writing Test Scores

Taking the ACT with writing will provide you and the schools to which you have ACT report scores with additional scores. When you take the writing test, you'll receive a writing test score on a scale of 1-36 and four writing domain scores (Ideas and Analysis, Development and Support, Organization, and Language Use and Conventions), each scored on a scale of 2-12. An image of your essay will be available to your high school and the colleges to which you have ACT report your scores from that test date.

Taking the writing test does not affect your subject area scores or your Composite score. However, without a writing test score, no English Language Arts (ELA) score will be reported.

Your essay will be evaluated based on the evidence that it provides of your ability to:

  • Analyze and evaluate multiple perspectives on a complex issue
  • State and develop your own perspective on the issue
  • Explain and support your ideas with logical reasoning and detailed examples
  • Clearly and logically organize your ideas in an essay
  • Effectively communicate your ideas in standard written English

Two trained readers will score your essay on a scale of 1-6 in each of the four writing domains. Each domain score represents the sum of the two readers' scores. If the readers' ratings disagree by more than one point, a third reader will evaluate the essay and resolve the discrepancy. Your writing score is calculated from your domain scores and is reported on a scale of 1-36. Your domain scores do not necessarily add up to your reported writing score.

Sample Essays

 

You might be a little unsure of what to expect from a writing prompt and what kinds of responses score the highest. We took the guesswork out of it and created one sample prompt and six possible responses, ranging from weak to strong, that give you an idea of how to achieve your best score.

Remember that your scores for the four individual domains—ideas and analysisdevelopment and supportorganization, and language use and conventions—will be communicated on a scale of 2–12. These domain scores are derived by adding together the individual scores, on a 1–6 scale, from each of two readers. 

 

VIEW SAMPLE WRITING PROMPTS AND ESSAYS

Writing Test Scoring Rubric Overview

Scoring your writing test

This analytic scoring rubric presents the standards by which your essay will be evaluated. The following rubric overview will help you to better understand the dimensions of writing that this assessment evaluates.

This task asks you to generate an argument that establishes a perspective on a given issue and brings it into dialogue with other perspectives. In evaluating your response, trained readers will use an analytic rubric that breaks the central elements of written argument into four domains: Ideas and Analysis, Development and Support, Organization, and Language Use and Conventions. As you review these domains, think about the role each plays in a written argument that accomplishes its purpose.

Ideas and Analysis—Scores in this domain reflect the ability to generate productive ideas and engage critically with multiple perspectives on the given issue. Competent writers understand the issue they are invited to address, the purpose for writing, and the audience. They generate ideas that are relevant to the situation.

Development and Support—Scores in this domain reflect the ability to discuss ideas, offer rationale, and bolster an argument. Competent writers explain and explore their ideas, discuss implications, and illustrate through examples. They help the reader understand their thinking about the issue.

Organization—Scores in this domain reflect the ability to organize ideas with clarity and purpose. Organizational choices are integral to effective writing. Competent writers arrange their essay in a way that clearly shows the relationship between ideas, and they guide the reader through their discussion.

Language Use and Conventions—Scores in this domain reflect the ability to use written language to convey arguments with clarity. Competent writers make use of the conventions of grammar, syntax, word usage, and mechanics. They are also aware of their audience and adjust the style and tone of their writing to communicate effectively.

Scoring Rubric

Learn more about how the ACT writing test is scored.

Scoring Rubric Prior to September 2015: Overview

These are the descriptions of scoring criteria that the trained readers will follow to determine the score (1–6) for your essay. Papers at each level exhibit all or most of the characteristics described at each score point.

Score = 6

Essays within this score range demonstrate effective skill in responding to the task.

The essay shows a clear understanding of the task. The essay takes a position on the issue and may offer a critical context for discussion. The essay addresses complexity by examining different perspectives on the issue, or by evaluating the implications and/or complications of the issue, or by fully responding to counterarguments to the writer's position. Development of ideas is ample, specific, and logical. Most ideas are fully elaborated. A clear focus on the specific issue in the prompt is maintained. The organization of the essay is clear: the organization may be somewhat predictable or it may grow from the writer's purpose. Ideas are logically sequenced. Most transitions reflect the writer's logic and are usually integrated into the essay. The introduction and conclusion are effective, clear, and well developed. The essay shows a good command of language. Sentences are varied and word choice is varied and precise. There are few, if any, errors to distract the reader.

Score = 5

Essays within this score range demonstrate competent skill in responding to the task.

The essay shows a clear understanding of the task. The essay takes a position on the issue and may offer a broad context for discussion. The essay shows recognition of complexity by partially evaluating the implications and/or complications of the issue, or by responding to counterarguments to the writer's position. Development of ideas is specific and logical. Most ideas are elaborated, with clear movement between general statements and specific reasons, examples, and details. Focus on the specific issue in the prompt is maintained. The organization of the essay is clear, although it may be predictable. Ideas are logically sequenced, although simple and obvious transitions may be used. The introduction and conclusion are clear and generally well developed. Language is competent. Sentences are somewhat varied and word choice is sometimes varied and precise. There may be a few errors, but they are rarely distracting.

Score = 4

Essays within this score range demonstrate adequate skill in responding to the task.

The essay shows an understanding of the task. The essay takes a position on the issue and may offer some context for discussion. The essay may show some recognition of complexity by providing some response to counterarguments to the writer's position. Development of ideas is adequate, with some movement between general statements and specific reasons, examples, and details. Focus on the specific issue in the prompt is maintained throughout most of the essay. The organization of the essay is apparent but predictable. Some evidence of logical sequencing of ideas is apparent, although most transitions are simple and obvious. The introduction and conclusion are clear and somewhat developed. Language is adequate, with some sentence variety and appropriate word choice. There may be some distracting errors, but they do not impede understanding.

Score = 3

Essays within this score range demonstrate some developing skill in responding to the task.

The essay shows some understanding of the task. The essay takes a position on the issue but does not offer a context for discussion. The essay may acknowledge a counterargument to the writer's position, but its development is brief or unclear. Development of ideas is limited and may be repetitious, with little, if any, movement between general statements and specific reasons, examples, and details. Focus on the general topic is maintained, but focus on the specific issue in the prompt may not be maintained. The organization of the essay is simple. Ideas are logically grouped within parts of the essay, but there is little or no evidence of logical sequencing of ideas. Transitions, if used, are simple and obvious. An introduction and conclusion are clearly discernible but underdeveloped. Language shows a basic control. Sentences show a little variety and word choice is appropriate. Errors may be distracting and may occasionally impede understanding.

Score = 2

Essays within this score range demonstrate inconsistent or weak skill in responding to the task.

The essay shows a weak understanding of the task. The essay may not take a position on the issue, or the essay may take a position but fail to convey reasons to support that position, or the essay may take a position but fail to maintain a stance. There is little or no recognition of a counterargument to the writer's position. The essay is thinly developed. If examples are given, they are general and may not be clearly relevant. The essay may include extensive repetition of the writer's ideas or of ideas in the prompt. Focus on the general topic is maintained, but focus on the specific issue in the prompt may not be maintained. There is some indication of an organizational structure, and some logical grouping of ideas within parts of the essay is apparent. Transitions, if used, are simple and obvious, and they may be inappropriate or misleading. An introduction and conclusion are discernible but minimal. Sentence structure and word choice are usually simple. Errors may be frequently distracting and may sometimes impede understanding.

Score = 1

Essays within this score range show little or no skill in responding to the task.

The essay shows little or no understanding of the task. If the essay takes a position, it fails to convey reasons to support that position. The essay is minimally developed. The essay may include excessive repetition of the writer's ideas or of ideas in the prompt. Focus on the general topic is usually maintained, but focus on the specific issue in the prompt may not be maintained. There is little or no evidence of an organizational structure or of the logical grouping of ideas. Transitions are rarely used. If present, an introduction and conclusion are minimal. Sentence structure and word choice are simple. Errors may be frequently distracting and may significantly impede understanding.

No Score

Blank, Off-Topic, Illegible, Not in English, or Void

WRITING NORMS FOR TEST EVENTS PRIOR TO SEPTEMBER 2015

Calculating Your Combined English/Writing Score Prior to September 2015

Complete these steps to calculate your Combined English/Writing score:

  1. Find your scale score for the English Test down the far-left column.
  2. Find your Writing subscore across the top row of the table.
  3. Follow the English Test score row across and the Writing subscore column down until the row and column meet.
  4. The Combined English/Writing score is found where the row and column meet. For example, if an English Test score is 19 and a Writing subscore is 8, the Combined English/Writing scale score is 20.
    2  3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10    11    12  
1 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8  9 10 11
2 2 3 4 5 6 6 7 8  9 10 11
3 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
4 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13
5 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 12 13
6 5 6 7 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14
7 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15
8 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16
9 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 13 14 15 16
10 8 9 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17
11 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18
12 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19
13 10 11 12 13 14 14 15 16 17 18 19
14 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20
15 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21
16 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 20 21
17 13 14 15 16 16 17 18 19 20 21 22
18 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23
19 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24
20 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 21 22 23 24
21 16 17 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25
22 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26
23 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27
24 18 19 20 21 22 23 23 24 25 26 27
25 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28
26 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29
27 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 28 29
28 21 22 23 24 24 25 26 27 28 29 30
29 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31
30 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32
31 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 30 31 32
32 24 25 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33
33 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34
34 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35
35 26 27 28 29 30 31 31 32 33 34 35
36 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36

Enhancements to the ACT Writing Test

Starting in September 2015, ACT will introduce a number of enhancements to the ACT writing test. Key differences between the former and the enhanced designs are outlined below.

Writing Prompts

Many elements of the writing prompts will remain the same. For example, the test is still an exercise in argumentative writing, and it continues to measure core competencies that are linked to college and career success.

Modifications to the writing prompt will build on the former design in a few important ways:

Design Modifications Former Design
(Through the June 2015 Test Event)
Enhanced Design
(Beginning in the September 2015 Test Events)
A broader range of engaging subject matter Presents controversies around school-themed issues Presents conversations around contemporary issues
Prompt offers different points of access to the issue Gives positions for/against the issue Offers three diverse perspectives that encourage critical engagement with the issue
Writing task more clearly resembles real-world argumentation Asks students to take a position on the issue Asks students to develop an argument that puts their own perspective in dialogue with others
More structure for planning and more time for composing 30 minutes to plan and compose

Blank space for planning
40 minutes to plan and compose

Guidance and structure for planning and prewriting

Writing Scores

Scoring and reporting for the ACT writing test have also been updated. Instead of one holistic score, students will receive four domain scores, each reflecting a key dimension of writing competency. They will also receive a subject-level Writing Score and an English Language Arts (ELA) Score on the familiar 1–36 scale. This allows for precise evaluation of student writing and a more detailed score report.

Former ACT Writing Scores
(Through the June 2015 Test Event)
New ACT Writing Scores
(Beginning in the September 2015 Test Events)
Holistic Writing Score 2–12 Subject-Level Writing Score 1–36
  Individual Domain Scores
  Ideas and Analysis 2–12
  Development and Support 2–12
  Organization 2–12
  Language Use and Conventions 2–12
Combined English/Writing Score 1–36 ELA score (an average of the English, reading and writing tests) 1–36

 

Additional Resources

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I take the writing test by itself, without taking the multiple-choice tests?
No. The writing test cannot be taken without first taking all four multiple-choice tests in the same session.

Where can I take the writing test? 
The ACT writing test is offered at every national and international test center.

Will I write my essay on paper or on a computer?
The ACT writing test is a paper-and-pencil test. You will write your essay in pencil (no mechanical pencils or ink pens) on the lined pages of an answer folder that will be provided to you. The only exception is for approved students with diagnosed disabilities who cannot hand write the essay. (See Services for Students with Disabilities.)

Is the ACT writing test coachable?
The writing test is designed as a curriculum-based test, just like the multiple-choice tests. This means that it measures the knowledge and skills taught in high school that are important to be ready for college-level work. In this sense, all the ACT tests are coachable, because the best preparation for any student taking the ACT is rigorous college preparatory courses in high school. Students do not need to take commercial test preparation courses to do well on the ACT. Taking the right courses in high school, and working hard and doing well in these courses, is enough.

Can the ACT writing test be scored with accuracy?
ACT has many years of experience developing, administering, and scoring writing tests. Readers are carefully screened and trained so they are very familiar with the type of writing that merits each particular score. Readers must pass a test after training to be certified to score the writing test.

ACT has an established record of high accuracy in scoring performance assessments.

Is 40 minutes long enough to test writing skills?
The ACT writing test is designed so that the prompts can be properly answered in the time allowed. The test is a different type of assignment than a college paper, but it measures skills students use when writing a college paper—such as the ability to focus on a topic, to develop ideas, and to write logically and coherently, with proper sentence structure and sound reasoning.

How can ACT writing test results be used?
Writing test results provide colleges with additional information that can be used to make college admissions and course placement decisions. The writing and reading test scores complement scores from the ACT English test. The high school and colleges to which a student has ACT report writing scores can also view an image of the essay.

Practice Your Writing Skills

Read. Write. Repeat.

There are many ways to prepare for the ACT writing test that don't even include writing at all. Reading newspapers and magazines, listening to news analyses on television or radio, and participating in discussions and debates about issues and problems all help you build a foundation for your writing skills. These activities help you become more familiar with current issues, with different perspectives on those issues, and with strategies that skilled writers and speakers use to present their points of view.

Of course, one of the best ways to prepare for the ACT writing test is to practice writing. But you don’t have to sit at a desk and fill a notebook with essays. Practice writing for different purposes, with different audiences in mind. The writing you do in your English classes will help you. Practice writing stories, poems, plays, editorials, reports, letters to the editor, a personal journal, or other kinds of writing that you do on your own—including, yes, essays.

The ACT writing test asks you to explain your perspective on an issue in a convincing way, so writing opportunities such as editorials or letters to the editor of a newspaper are especially helpful. Practicing various types of writing will help make you a versatile writer able to adjust to different writing assignments.

Finally, don’t forget you only have 40 minutes on test day. Get some practice writing within a time limit. This will not only give you an advantage on the test, but also will help you build skills that are important in college-level learning and in the world of work.

Build Your Writing Skills

Everyday ways to improve your writing

You can strengthen your writing skills just about anywhere, anytime. Read below for some ideas to make writing, responding, and organizing your thoughts part of your daily routine:  

  • Read and write frequently. Read as much as you can from a variety of sources, including plays, essays, fiction, poetry, news stories, business writing, and magazine features.
  • Become familiar with current issues in society and develop your own opinions. Think of arguments you would use to convince someone of your opinion. Taking speech and debate classes can help you think through issues and communicate them to others.
  • Practice writing in different formats and in as many real situations as possible. Write letters to the editor, or letters to a company requesting information.
  • Try some writing in extracurricular activities. School newspapers, yearbooks, and creative writing clubs offer opportunities to express ideas in writing.
  • Share your writing with others and get feedback. Feedback helps you anticipate how readers might interpret your writing and what types of questions they might have. This can help you anticipate what a reader might want to know.
  • Learn to see writing as a process—brainstorming, planning, writing, and then editing. This applies to all writing activities.
  • Listen to the advice your English teacher gives you about your writing.
  • Strive for well-developed and well-organized writing that uses precise, clear, and concise language.
  • Remember that everyone can improve their writing skills. Confidence and skill will grow with the more writing you do. Practice and work lead to achievement.

 

Tips for Taking the ACT Writing Test

Pace Yourself

The ACT writing test contains one question to be completed in 40 minutes. When asked to write a timed essay, most writers find it useful to do some planning before they write the essay, and to do a final check of the essay when it is finished. It is unlikely that you will have time to draft, revise, and recopy your essay. 

Plan

Before writing, carefully read and consider all prompt material. Be sure you understand the issue, its perspectives and your essay task. The prewriting questions included with the prompt will help you analyze the perspectives and develop your own. Use these questions to think critically about the prompt and generate effective ideas in response. Ask yourself how your ideas and analysis can best be supported and organized in a written argument. Use the prewriting space in your test booklet to structure or outline your response. 

Write

Establish the focus of your essay by making clear your argument and its main ideas. Explain and illustrate your ideas with sound reasoning and meaningful examples. Discuss the significance of your ideas: what are the implications of what you have to say, and why is your argument important to consider? As you write, ask yourself if your logic is clear, you have supported your claims, and you have chosen precise words to communicate your ideas.

Review Your Essay

Take a few minutes before time is called to read over your essay. Correct any mistakes. If you find any words that are hard to read, recopy them. Make corrections and revisions neatly between the lines. Do not write in the margins. Your readers know you had only 40 minutes to compose and write your essay. Within that time limit, try to make your essay as polished as you can.

Practice

There are many ways to prepare for the ACT writing test. These include reading newspapers and magazines, listening to news analyses on television and radio, and participating in discussions and debates.

One of the best ways to prepare for the ACT writing test is to practice writing with different purposes for different audiences. The writing you do in your classes will help you. So will writing essays, stories, editorials, a personal journal, or other writing you do on your own.

It is also a good idea to practice writing within a time limit. Taking the practice ACT writing test will give you a sense of how much additional practice you may need. You might want to take the practice ACT writing test even if you do not plan to take the ACT with writing, because this will help build skills that are important in college-level learning and in the world of work.

PRACTICE AND VIEW SAMPLE PROMPT

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