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Writing Test Scores

Taking the ACT with writing will provide you and the schools to which you have ACT report scores with additional scores. You will receive a total of five scores for this test: a single subject-level writing score reported on a range of 2-12, and four domain scores, also 2-12, that are based on an analytic scoring rubric. The subject-level score will be the rounded average of the four domain scores. The four domain scores are: Ideas and Analysis, Development and Support, Organization, and Language Use and Conventions. 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:

  • clearly state your own perspective on the issue and analyze the relationship between your perspective and at least one other perspective
  • develop and support your ideas with reasoning and examples
  • organize your ideas clearly and logically
  • communicate your ideas effectively 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.

 

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 analysis, development and support, organization, 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.

 

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 essay that establishes your own perspective on a given issue and analyzes the relationship between your perspective and at least one other perspective. 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 writing test is scored.

Writing Scores Compared

Compare ACT writing scores from 2015-2016 and 2016-2017.

 

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 (PDF)

 

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  
112345678 91011
223456678 91011
323456789101112
4345678910111213
54567891011121213
65677891011121314
756789101112131415
8678910111213141516
97891011121313141516
108991011121314151617
1189101112131415161718
12910111213141516171819
131011121314141516171819
141011121314151617181920
151112131415161718192021
161213141516171819202021
171314151616171819202122
181314151617181920212223
191415161718192021222324
201516171819202121222324
211617171819202122232425
221617181920212223242526
231718192021222324252627
241819202122232324252627
251819202122232425262728
261920212223242526272829
272021222324252627282829
282122232424252627282930
292122232425262728293031
302223242526272829303132
312324252627282930303132
322425252627282930313233
332425262728293031323334
342526272829303132333435
352627282930313132333435
362627282930313233343536

 

Enhancements to the ACT Writing Test

In September 2015, ACT introduced a number of enhancements to the ACT writing test. Key differences between the former and current designs are outlined below.

Writing Prompts

Many elements of the writing prompts 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 ModificationsFormer Design
(Through the June 2015 Test Event)
Current Design
(September 2015 Test Events and after)
A broader range of engaging subject matterPresents controversies around school-themed issuesPresents conversations around contemporary issues
Prompt offers different points of access to the issueGives positions for/against the issueOffers three diverse perspectives that encourage critical engagement with the issue
Writing task more clearly resembles real-world argumentationAsks students to take a position on the issueAsks students to develop an argument that puts their own perspective in dialogue with others
More structure for planning and more time for composing30 minutes to plan and compose

Blank space for planning
40 minutes to plan and compose

Guidance and structure for planning and prewriting

Writing Scores Updates

Scoring and reporting for the ACT writing test have also been updated. Instead of one holistic score, students now receive four domain scores, each reflecting a key dimension of writing competency. They also receive a subject-level Writing Score.

Former ACT Writing Scores
(Through the June 2015 Test Event)
Current ACT Writing Scores
(September 2015 Test Events and after)
Holistic Writing Score2–12Subject-Level Writing Score2–12*
 Individual Domain Scores
 Ideas and Analysis2–12
 Development and Support2–12
 Organization2–12
 Language Use and Conventions2–12
Combined English/Writing Score1–36ELA score (average of the English, reading and writing test scores)1–36

*Students who took the writing test between September 2015 and June 2016 received a subject-level Writing score reported on a 1-36 scale.

Additional Resources

Linking the Current and Former ACT Writing Tests (PDF, 4 pages)

ACT Research Explains New ACT Test Writing Scores (PDF, 13 pages)