What's a Good ACT Writing Score?

A student's hand writing with pencil

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For the current ACT administered in the 2017-18 academic year, the average writing score is a 7 on a 12-point scale. For the 2015-16 ACT, the average writing score was a 17 on a 36-point scale. This number is nearly four points lower than average ACT Composite scores, a fact that caused a lot of anxiety and confusion among test-takers and eventually led to ACT reintroducing the 12-point scale. 

Do You Need the ACT Plus Writing?

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 of 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 many colleges dropping the ACT writing exam as a requirement for admission. Time will tell if this trend continues. However, it is still a good idea to take the ACT Plus Wiring 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. Unless the writing exam is required, take it only if you think it will strengthen your college application. Strong writing skills are essential to college success, so the score certainly can play a positive role in the admissions equation if you get a high score.

The Current 12-Point Writing Exam (September 2016 to the Present)

An average score on the current ACT Writing Exam is a little below a 7. For highly selective colleges, you'll want a score of 8 or higher. Scores of 10, 11, and 12 truly stand out and highlight strong writing skills.

ACT Writing Score Percentiles
12100 (top 1%)
1199 (top 1%)
1098 (top 2%)
993 (top 7%)
884 (top 16%)
759 (top 41%)
640 (bottom 40%)
518 (bottom 18%)
49 (bottom 9%)
32 (bottom 2%)
21 (bottom 1%)

Unfortunately, for the past couple of years, almost no colleges report ACT writing scores to the Department of Education, so it's difficult to learn what score ranges are typical for different types of colleges. Later in this article, however, you'll see data from the pre-2015 12-point ACT writing exam, and those numbers can give you a pretty accurate sense of what scores will be competitive at different schools.

The 36-Point Writing Exam (September 2015 to June 2016)

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
36100 (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%)
2692 (top 8%)
2588 (top 12%)
2486 (top 14%)
2378 (top 22%)
2268 (top 32%)
2164 (top 36%)
2058 (top 42%)
1952 (top 48%)
1844 (bottom 44%)
1740 (bottom 40%)
1634 (bottom 34%)
1525 (bottom 25%)
1421 (bottom 21%)
1318 (bottom 18%)
1215 (bottom 15%)
1111 (bottom 11%)
109 (bottom 9%)
97 (bottom 7%)
83 (bottom 3%)
73 (bottom 3%)
62 (bottom 2%)
52 (bottom 2%)
41 (bottom 1%)
31 (bottom 1%)
21 (bottom 1%)
11 (bottom 1%)

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 perspective and explain the relationship between your 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 categories is scored using a 12-point scale, and those scores are combined and then converted to a 36-point score.


The 12-Point, Pre-September 2015 Writing Exam

Before 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 (note that this is not current data).

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. 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.