Information Brief 2014-3

ACT National Curriculum Survey®: High School and College Educators’ Estimates of the Number of Long Writing Assignments in Their Courses

Average Number of Long Writing Assignments (>5 Pages) Given in Various High School and College Courses by Course Subject Area

SubjectHigh SchoolCollege
Writing3.143.92
Reading (Language Arts)1.953.48
Reading (Social Studies)2.325.1
Mathematics0.060.76
Biology2.151.05
Chemistry0.860.72
Earth Science0.671.62
Physics1.484.15

Note: Average results from all subject areas were summed and statistically adjusted to account for the relative representation of various types of courses within each subject area.

In the aggregate, high school teachers surveyed in the 2012 ACT National Curriculum Survey reported assigning relatively few writing tasks longer than five pages.1 As shown in the figure, most of these long assignments occurred in English language arts, social studies, and biology. Further, that some of the high school averages are below 1 indicates that in some high school subject areas, especially mathematics, students are almost never asked to write at length.

By contrast, instructors of credit-bearing first-year college courses reported assigning long writing tasks with greater average frequency in more subject areas than did the high school teachers. (This contrast may be even more pronounced given that college courses are typically about half as long as high school courses.) The most dramatic increases are seen in social studies, physics, reading, and Earth science, but even the very small average in college mathematics represents a more than twelvefold increase over the high school average. Overall, these results suggest that some first-year college students may be encountering long writing assignments for the first time in their academic careers.


1 ACT, Inc., ACT National Curriculum Survey 2012: English Language Arts (Iowa City, IA: Author, 2013). http://www.act.org/research/policymakers/pdf/NCS-EnglishLangArts.pdf.


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