09 Dec 2020

ACT Writing: To Take or Not To Take?

As more and more students opt to take the ACT, the “ACT Plus Writing” has become a well-known alternative to the “SAT With Essay.” But, we think the ACT Writing Test is still shrouded in a bit of mystery. Who requires ACT Writing and how heavily weighted is it when in the hands of a college admissions committee? Here, we will break down what exactly is the ACT Writing Test, which schools require it (hint: very few), and how to decide whether you should take it. Read on!

What is the ACT Writing Test? 

The ACT Writing Test is an optional 40-minute essay section that students can take immediately after completing the other sections of the ACT. It’s available to test-takers on all national ACT testing dates in the United States. It costs an additional $16. It’s important to note that you cannot take the ACT Writing Test on its own; you can only take it after completing the full ACT exam. 

The Writing Test is designed to measure the writing skills that are typically taught in high school English classes and, supposedly, indicate how you might perform in an entry-level composition class in college. 

The Writing Test is evaluated by two graders who each score your essay on a scale of 1-6 in four domains, giving scores out of 12 for each domain. Your score is then calculated by averaging those four domain scores, producing a total ACT Writing score from 2-12. Next, the ACT combines your essay score with your English and Reading sections score and averages them to give you an English Language Arts (ELA) subscore between 1 and 36. Though the Writing Test does provide additional information about your writing ability (under very specific, somewhat stressful conditions), your ACT Writing score is not factored into your composite ACT score. 

Which schools require ACT Writing?  

In recent years, many schools that previously required ACT Writing have decided to make the section optional. Some schools have even made the decision to stop reviewing the Writing score altogether, even if students do take it and submit their score. 

Perhaps surprisingly, most top schools do not require ACT Writing! Many top-tier colleges including Harvard, Yale, Duke, Princeton, and Brown have all stopped requiring ACT writing over the past several years. In fact, none of the Ivy League schools require ACT Writing currently. As of Fall 2020, only 12 schools in the US still require the ACT with Writing.

There are several schools that still recommend, but do not require, ACT Writing. Yale, Tulane, Amherst, University of Michigan, Middlebury, and Lehigh all fall under this category.

Should I take it? 

So, it seems as though very few programs — and no highly selective programs — are actually requiring ACT Writing these days. What does this mean for test-takers debating whether or not to take the ACT Writing Test? While most schools no longer require ACT Writing, it’s still recommended for many schools if you can do well on it. 

It is essential to understand the testing requirements and preferences of the programs to which you are applying. If any of the schools on your list require the ACT Plus Writing (or make clear that they strongly recommend it), the decision has been made for you: take it! If not, the bottom line is this: a strong Writing score will almost always elevate your application. The ACT Writing Test can be an excellent way to showcase your stellar writing skills and give you an edge in the college admissions process!

If you are seeking support in preparing for the ACT Writing Test, or any other exam for that matter, we would be delighted to help. We wish everyone a happy finals season! As always, we don’t just tutor, we’ll be with you every step of the way™!

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