The Act Test Essay Changed 2015

As of September 2015, the ACT has changed. Many of the changes to the test don't impact how students test or the types of questions they'll need to answer, but rather how their scores are reported and the kind of information they'll be able to gather from their results. Don't be caught off guard. Learn more about what's changed before you take the test.

Overall, the changes to the ACT don't impact the difficulty of the test, how each question is scored or how students should approach the test. Instead of viewing the new scores as something to worry about, students should see them as tools for gaining more insight into their performance in each area and how they can harness their strengths in college and in their future career.

If you're worried about how you'll score on the test or the types of questions you'll see, try taking a FREE ACT practice test. Our practice test will give you an idea of how you may score on the real thing without the stress of sitting for the official exam.

While the number of questions and concepts on the ACT hasn’t changed, there are four new subscore categories in addition to the existing scores from each test and the composite score. ACT believes that these new subscores give students better insight into their strengths and how those strengths can be harnessed for success in college and their future career. It’s important to note that the composite is still the most valuable score on the exam.

In addition to the 1–36 score in each of the existing tests and composite score, students will now see score breakdowns in the following categories.

  • A STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) score based on a student's overall performance on the Math and Science Reasoning sections. The goal of this new score is to help students better understand their strengths in the fields of math and science and find out how they might be able to use those strengths to guide their college and career goals.
  • An English language score based on a student's scores in the English, Reading and Writing sections of the test. This will allow students to see and compare their performance to others who have taken the test.
  • A Progress toward Career Readiness Indicator. The purpose of this score is to help students view their progress towards career readiness and give an indication of their future performance on the ACT National Career Readiness Certificate (ACT NCRC ® ).
  • A Text Complexity Progress Indicator that will help students understand if they are making progress towards preparedness for the complex texts they are likely to encounter both in college and in their future careers. This score will be based on a student's performance on all of the writing passages.

In 2015, the ACT Writing Test changed to a format that asks students to come up with their own analysis and evaluate multiple perspectives of complex issues. Their analysis needs be based on reasoning, experience and knowledge. The timing of the Writing Test has increased from 30 minutes to 40 minutes, but remains optional and doesn’t have any impact on the composite score. Students receive a breakdown of their scores in the areas of ideas and analysis, development and support, organization, and language use.

On the new Writing Test, students are given a single prompt which provides context, as well as three perspectives on the issue raised in the prompt. The student is then asked to analyze the perspectives, develop his or her own opinion, and explain how that opinion relates to the perspectives given. Students can view a sample of the new Writing Test prior to taking the ACT.

Want to stay up to date on changes to the ACT? We've got you covered. Check back here often to see the most up to date information on changes to the exam, or register with us to receive information and promotions right to your inbox. If you're ready to tackle the ACT, we have prep options to fit any learning style.

Test names are the trademarks of their respective owners, who are not affiliated with The Princeton Review. ACT NCRC is the registered trademark of ACT, Inc. The Princeton Review is not affiliated with Princeton University or ACT, Inc.

The ACT Writing section (new as of September 2015) is the only optional part of the ACT. However, optional does not mean unnecessary. A number of colleges do require it to be included with the rest of your ACT scores as part of their application process (if you want to check if your dream school is one of them, you can use the ACT’s own College Writing Test Requirements search tool to find out). If any of the schools you’re considering require you to take the ACT Writing Section, you definitely need to know what constitutes a good ACT Writing Score.

Start improving your ACT writing score (and everything else) today with Magoosh!

Note: This post has been updated to reflect the changes announced for the September 2016 ACT and beyond, released by the ACT in June 2016.

ACT Essay Grader

Before we talk about good ACT Writing scores, it’s important to know what score you’re working with.

If you’re coming to this post after taking your first ACT practice test, you might be wondering how the heck you’re supposed to even grade your essay. You’re thinking, “What even IS my ACT Essay score?”

To start, let your essay sit for a day or two before grading it (it’s helpful to get some distance). Then, follow the official scoring rubric from ACT, and ask a trusted friend/teacher/parent to do the same. Be as objective as possible as you grade—you won’t do yourself any favors by inflating your score!

Then, use our handy ACT Essay Grading tool to find your score:

ACT Writing Test Scorer

Click the button below to get started:


All right, now you know what your ACT essay score is. Let’s try to figure out how your essay ranks.

What’s Considered a Good ACT Writing Score?

This is always a tricky question, because the easy answer is that you should try to get the highest score you can. But that isn’t really helpful, is it?

Of course, a lot depends on the schools to which you apply (see ACT scores for the top 100 universities to learn more). Generally, the more selective the school, the higher your score should be to be competitive. Those universities that require the ACT Writing will almost always have an average score range on their admissions website, so make sure you do your research. Most schools do not provide a cut-off score, so theoretically a below-average score will not eliminate you from being considered for admission. Then again, it won’t help you either.

Okay, But Really…I Want Numbers!

All right, all right, let’s talk numbers.

What’s a good ACT Writing score? First off, remember that the ACT Essay is now scored from 1-6 in four categories by two graders. This gives you four scores from 2-12. You then receive a final ACT Essay score from 2-12 that is the average of these four scores. This is the score you will be reporting to colleges. For more detail on how the essay is scored, make sure you check out Rachel’s article on ACT Essay scores.

This is a change from September 2015 to June 2016, when the ACT essay scoring scale was 1-36. If the old scoring scale applied to you, you should have received notice from the ACT about how to convert your score to the new 2-12 range. The ACT also has a good resource to help you convert 2015-2016 ACT essay scores to 2016-2017 essay scores. To understand your percentile, you can use this “Norms Chart”.

That’s a Lot of Numbers… So What Is a Good ACT Writing Score?

If you took the test after September 2016, you’re using the 2-12 scale. And what’s a good ACT Writing score now, using this scale? Shoot for a minimum of 8 on the essay. This will be enough to not raise any eyebrows amongst college admissions officers. For extremely competitive schools, aim for a score of 10+.

ACT Writing: Essay Percentiles

If you’re still wondering just how good your scores are, here’s the breakdown for ACT essay scores and percentiles:

ACT Score Percentile

As you can see from this table, the mean, or average, score on the ACT Writing section falls slightly below 7. It’s a good idea to aim for the 75th percentile, so in this case a good ACT writing score would be an 8 or above (16 or above on the old ACT). A 10 or above would put you in the 97th percentile, which is great! If you aspire to Ivy League or other highly-selective schools, a 10 is the threshold you should try your best to reach to be safe.

How Have People Been Doing on the New ACT Writing?

Last year, the Washington Post reported that ACT Writing scores after the essay change were lower than people expected. And honestly, this is exactly why the ACT decided to go back to a separate 2-12 scale: too many students were comparing their essay scaled score from 1-36 to their multiple choice scaled scores from 1-36, when in reality the percentiles were very different.

If you are ever concerned that your essay score is inaccurate, however, you can ask for your essay to be re-scored. The $50 fee for the re-score will be refunded if you do get a higher score.


So what’s the takeaway from all of this? Really, a few key points:

  • Research the schools you plan to apply to, and see which of them require the ACT Writing test.
  • At the least, shoot for an 8+ overall score for a “good” ACT Writing score.
  • A score of 10+ is an ideal score for applications to selective schools.
  • If you believe your essay has been mis-scored, you may request a re-score for a fee.
  • Don’t panic!

This post was originally published in February, 2016 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.

About Elizabeth Peterson

Elizabeth holds a degree in Psychology from The College of William & Mary. While there, she volunteered as a tutor and discovered she loved the personal connection she formed with her students. She has now been helping students with test prep and schoolwork as a professional tutor for over six years. When not discussing grammar or reading passages, she can be found trying every drink at her local coffee shop while writing creative short stories and making plans for her next travel adventure!

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