What's a Good ACT Writing Score?

A student's hand writing with pencil

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For the ACT 2019-2020 reporting year, the average writing score is a 6.5 on a 12-point scale. The number comes from an ACT report on national norms, and represents roughly 2.8 million taken between 2017 and 2019. 

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.

Average Scores on the Current 12-Point Writing Exam

An average score on the current ACT Writing Exam is a a 6.5. 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
Score Percentile
12 100 (top 1%)
11 99 (top 1%)
10 99 (top 1%)
9 96 (top 4%)
8 90 (top 10%)
7 66 (top 34%)
6 50 (top 50%)
5 27 (bottom 27%)
4 14 (bottom 14%)
3 5 (bottom 5%)
2 2 (bottom 2%)
Source: act.org

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.

ACT Writing Scores by College

Because so few schools now require the ACT writing exam, the data is no longer reported to the Department of Education. The data below is historical—it's from pre-2015 when ACT used a 12-point scale and many colleges used the writing score as part of the admissions equation. Nevertheless, the numbers may be useful for seeing what writing scores were typical at different types of colleges and universities.

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. Again, keep in mind that this is not current data.

ACT Writing Scores by College (Middle 50%)
College 25th Percentile 75th Percentile
Harvard University 8 10
Kent State University 6 8
MIT 8 10
Northwestern University 8 10
Ohio State University 7 8
SUNY New Paltz 7 8
Syracuse University 8 9
University of Minnesota, Twin Cities 7 8
University of South Florida 7 8
University of Texas, Austin 7 9
Data Source: National Center for Education Statistics

You can see that you don't need a perfect 12 to get into the most selective colleges in the country. In fact, a 9 or 10 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.