What's a Good ACT Writing Score?

If you took the ACT Plus Writing, learn what your writing score means.

Student's hand writing with pencil
Good ACT writing scores. Hill Street Studios / Getty Images

The average ACT Writing Score is a 17.2, nearly four points lower than average ACT Composite scores. This article will explain changes in the scoring system and provide percentiles for scores on the ACT Writing exam.

Ever since the SAT evolved to include a written component, more and more colleges changed their policies to require ACT students to take the optional Writing Test (see the list of colleges that require ACT Plus Writing).

Hundreds more colleges "recommend" the Writing Test, and if a selective college recommends something, you should probably do it. After all, strong writing skills are an essential part of college success.

As of March 2016, the SAT no longer includes a required essay section, and we're already seeing some colleges dropping the ACT writing exam as a requirement for admission. Time will tell if this trend continues. My general advice, however, is to take the writing exam if 1) the colleges you're looking at recommend the test; and 2) you have solid writing skills. There's no reason to take a recommended exam if you're likely to perform poorly on it.

The 36-Point Writing Exam (September 2015 and Later):

Beginning in September of 2015, ACT changed the Writing Exam from a 30-minute to a 40-minute exam, and the score range changed from a 12-point scale to a 36-point scale. This change in scoring has created some controversy, for many students have found that their writing scores are significantly lower than their other ACT scores.

The makers of the ACT note that writing scores are typically 3 to 4 points lower than the English subscore, or the ACT Composite score (read more here on the ACT website).

ACT Writing Score Percentiles
3699 (top 1%)
3599 (top 1%)
3499 (top 1%)
3399 (top 1%)
3299 (top 1%)
3198 (top 2%)
3098 (top 2%)
2997 (top 3%)
2895 (top 5%)
2795 (top 5%)
2693 (top 7%)
2590 (top 10%)
2488 (top 12%)
2383 (top 17%)
2280 (top 20%)
2174 (top 26%)
2068 (top 32%)
1963 (top 37%)
1858 (top 42%)
1752 (top 48%)
1644 (bottom 44%)
1537 (bottom 37%)
1435 (bottom 35%)
1331 (bottom 31%)
1223 (bottom 23%)
1119 (bottom 19%)
1016 (bottom 16%)
913 (bottom 13%)
88 (bottom 8%)
78 (bottom 8%)
66 (bottom 6%)
54 (bottom 4%)
43 (bottom 3%)
32 (bottom 2%)
22 (bottom 2%)
12 (bottom 2%)

The above data is from this table on the ACT website.

These scores on the 36-point scale are based on four subscores in the following categories:

  • Ideas and analysis: Do you clearly state your own perspective and explain the relationship between your own ideas and other perspectives?
  • Development and support: Are you ideas convincingly backed up with examples and reasoning?
  • Organization: Do your ideas flow clearly and logically from one to the next? Does your essay build an argument (rather than present disjointed points).
  • Language use and conventions: Is your language clear? Is the essay unburdened by problems with grammar, syntax, word choice, punctuation, and mechanics? Is the style and tone of the essay appropriate for your audience? 

Each of these subscores is scored using a 12-point scale.  

ACT's transition to the new writing prompt, exam format, and scoring scale has not been entirely smooth, and a number of prospective college students have found that their ACT Writing scores are the weakest data points on their entire college applications.

This article will be updated with 36-point writing score data for different colleges once that information is released to the Department of Education in the near future.

What if You Think Your Writing Score Is Wrong?

You're a strong writer. You got a 35 composite score on the regular ACT, A's in all of your English courses, and a 5 of your AP English Language exam. Thus, that 17 you received on the ACT Writing exam simply seems preposterous. In such cases, you can pay $50 to have your essay hand-scored again. You can find details on correcting errors here on the ACT website. Note that you'll need to act within three months of the test date. If ACT finds that your essay was scored incorrectly, you'll be refunded your $50 fee.

Before sending a request for rescoring, make sure you have good reason to do so. The average writing score is four points lower than average ACT composite scores, so you shouldn't be surprised if your writing score is lower than your other ACT scores.

The 12-Point, Pre-September 2015 Writing Exam:

As soon as colleges and universities post 2016 data to the Department of Education, we'll start seeing the 36-point writing scores included in college profiles. Prior to September of 2015, the ACT Writing Exam was scored on a 12-point scale. The percentiles for the 12-point scale were as follows:

12 - top 1% of test-takers
11 - top 1% of test-takers
10 - top 1% of test-takers
9 - top 5% of test-takers
8 - top 13% of test-takers
7 - top 49% of test-takers
6 - bottom 39% of test-takers
5 - bottom 14% of test-takers
4 - bottom 9% of test-takers
3 - bottom 4% of test-takers
2 - bottom 2% of test-takers

You can see that an average SAT Writing Test score is about a 7. If you score up in the 10, 11 or 12 range, you are among the very top test-takers in the country (the percentages above are from the ACT website's National Ranks for ACT Scores and are based on data from 2013 to 2015)

To see how your writing score measures up to other applicants, the data below shows the scores for the 25th and 75th percentile of matriculated students at certain colleges. In other words, half of all enrolled students scored somewhere between the lower and upper numbers.

Harvard University
• ACT Writing (25th / 75th): 8 / 10

Kent State University
• ACT Writing (25th / 75th): 6 / 8

• ACT Writing (25th / 75th): 8 / 10

Northwestern University
• ACT Writing (25th / 75th): 8 / 10

Ohio State University
• ACT Writing (25th / 75th): 7 / 8

SUNY New Paltz
• ACT Writing (25th / 75th): 7 / 8

Syracuse University
• ACT Writing (25th / 75th): 8 / 9

University of Minnesota, Twin Cities
• ACT Writing (25th / 75th): 7 / 8

University of South Florida
• ACT Writing (25th / 75th): 7 / 8

University of Texas, Austin
• ACT Writing (25th / 75th): 7 / 9

You can see that you don't need a perfect 12 to get into the most selective colleges in the country (or a 36 with the current grading system). In fact, a 9 or 10  (28 to 36 with the new scoring system) puts you in a strong position even at schools like Harvard and MIT.

Keep in mind that your ACT Writing Test score is just a tiny part of your application. Your overall ACT composite score matters more than any individual section of the exam (read What's a Good ACT Score?). A strong application also needs to include glowing letters or recommendation, a winning essay, and meaningful extracurricular involvement. Most important of all is a strong academic record.

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Grove, Allen. "What's a Good ACT Writing Score?" ThoughtCo, Jun. 17, 2017, thoughtco.com/whats-a-good-act-writing-score-788799. Grove, Allen. (2017, June 17). What's a Good ACT Writing Score? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/whats-a-good-act-writing-score-788799 Grove, Allen. "What's a Good ACT Writing Score?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/whats-a-good-act-writing-score-788799 (accessed January 20, 2018).