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What is a Good ACT Writing Score?

Written by: Kristine Thorndyke

With the writing portion of the ACT being optional, students are often asking what is a good ACT writing score and whether or not it’s really even necessary to apply to college. Just because the essay is optional does not mean it should be disregarded entirely (and you should definitely prep for it on your own or in your ACT review course). A good number of colleges require the optional essay to be completed, making it, shall we say, not so optional.

If you are planning on applying to your dream school that requires the writing component of the essay, it’s imperative for you to understand what is a good ACT writing score, as it is graded a bit differently from the rest of the ACT sections.

How the ACT Writing Section is Scored

Understanding, first, how the ACT writing section is scored is the first step to grasping what is a good ACT writing score. The ACT writing section is graded differently from the other ACT sections. The ACT is graded from a scale of 1-6 in four different categories by two different graders. You will then get a score back that is an average of these four scores, on a scale of 1-12. This ACT score range from 1-12 is a change from the September 2015 – June 2016 ACT writing scores, which were graded on a scale of 1-36.

This may be a bit confusing, but we don’t need to get too deep in the woods on scoring, because what we’re really after here is what is a good ACT score.

What Is a Good ACT Score Then?

A good ACT score is 10 or more. You should aim for at least an 8 on the essay to remain competitive.

For super competitive schools, a 10 or more is going to make your application to your dream school more bulletproof. Of course, a good ACT score also depends on the applicant pool at the school that you are applying to and how you compared to these scores. Let’s have a quick look at the ACT writing percentiles and what this means in terms of good, relative ACT writing scores.

ACT Writing Score Percentiles

ACT percentiles show you how you stack up against the competition, which is everyone else who took the ACT. Your ACT percentile number is what percentage of ACT writers got a lower score than you. If, for example, your ACT writing percentile is in the 75th percentile, then that means 75% of all ACT test takers received a lower ACT writing score than you did. Ivy league schools and other extremely competitive colleges and universities are going to expect a writing score that is at least in the 97th percentile. This means you will have scored higher than 97% of all ACT test takers, which, according to our chart, equates to at least a writing score of 10.

ACT Writing Score Percentile Chart

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What if the Schools I Apply to Don’t Require the ACT Writing Section?

Even if the school you are applying to does not require the ACT writing section, there is a still a general idea that a good ACT writing score can still be helpful and should match or exceed the overall ACT percentile expected for admissions at the school. If most students who are accepted into your chosen school have an ACT score of 29, then that falls within the 92nd percentile of composite scores for the ACT, which is about a 9 on the ACT writing. This is not a hard rule, but rather something you should aim for if you do take the ACT writing section and it doesn’t end up being required at one or more of the schools that you are applying to.

What if You Think Your ACT Writing Score is Wrong?

If you recently took the ACT with writing and found your writing score to be much lower than expected (you didn’t spend all that time in your ACT prep book for nothing, right?), then read on in regards to what options you have moving forward:

First off, it is quite rare for the ACT, Inc to make a mistake in grading your writing score. That said, it does happen. And if you have a good hunch that your ACT writing score is not truly yours, then there are some things that you can do if you believe any of the following scenarios is happening to you:

  • You received someone else’s score
  • Writing the essay with pen instead of pencil

Here are the two things that you can do if you don’t think you received the correct ACT Writing Score:

1. Order a Test Information Release:

This information will show you what you answered on the ACT and what the correct answers are. You will also receive the rubric used to grade your ACT writing. Here is the form to fill out for a Test Information Release.

2. Score Verification:

Requesting score verification, also known as hand scoring, can be done after ordering your Test Information Release and you still believe the exam was graded incorrectly. This is usually done after the TIR because the TIR is much cheaper and will confirm whether or not you believe the grading was incorrect on your ACT. Here is the form to fill out for hand scoring.

Unlike the SAT, if you request the Score Verification and they find errors that aren’t in your favor, you can rest assured that your score will not go down as a result.