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ACT Essay Score Issues

Have you noticed a discrepancy between your ACT multiple-choice scores and your Writing score? You’re not alone. Since the new essay debuted in September, students have been frustrated and alarmed by low essay scores. The concordance between the old and new essay scores equates an old 8/12 with a new 23/36, but an old 9/12 with a 30/36 – a huge gap. Many students who are scoring in the 30s on their multiple choice sections are seeing essay scores in the low to mid 20s, and they are understandably concerned.

The Washington Post spoke to the parents of a student who took the ACT in September. He received “a 19 on the writing section and 30s on the rest of the test.” When the student requested a rescore of his essay, the score increased – to a 31. Based on the new essay scoring, that jump – from a 19 to a 31 – represents a change from the 63rd percentile to the 98th.

Wait, you’re thinking, a 19 is the 63rd percentile? Yes, on the Writing, it is. For comparison, a 19 on English is the 45th percentile. On the Science section, a 19 is in the 40th.

Top Tier Admissions wrote of the new ACT essay scoring, “Imagine a teacher giving a test where a 70% was the highest score out of a thousand students, but then deciding not to curve the test. That is what is happening right now on this new writing section.”

Criticism of the new ACT essay has been widespread, so if you’re feeling concern or even shock about your essay score, know that you’re not alone. Resist the temptation to compare your 1-36 essay scores with the 1-36 scores in the other sections: look at the percentiles, instead. If you’re considering retaking the ACT just to boost your essay, check in with your admissions reps at your top-choice colleges first. More colleges, including Tufts, Penn, Brown, and Swarthmore, are opting not to require the essay portion of the exam at all.

Even if your college does require it, it may not be worth retaking the whole exam if you’re pleased with the rest of your scores. Talking with your admissions representative may help you determine how important that score is – or isn’t.

ACT Essay Changes

ACT Essay Changes

Planning to take the September 12 ACT? If you’re signed up for the Writing portion, be prepared for some ACT essay changes! If you’ve taken the ACT Writing portion before, you’ve probably seen essays that looked something like this:

ACT Essay - old essay image
The old ACT Writing prompts were usually open-ended questions. The topics were usually related in some way to the experiences of high school students, and provided opportunities for you to state, and support, your opinion. Should students have access to cellular phones during class? Do you support school uniforms? The trick was to take a clear position on the question, support it with specific examples, and manage your time well enough to complete the essay in the time allotted – 30 minutes.

The new ACT writing prompts are a bit different. Instead of leaving the question open-ended, the prompt provides you with some options, or perspectives, on the question. The new task is to analyze the perspectives and provide your own point of view based on the three presented to you.

ACT Essay - new essay image

Based on the sample prompt provided by the ACT, the topics may have shifted away from things that are directly related to your high school experience and more towards broader social issues. The new writing portion is 40 minutes long, giving you more time to read, analyze, and incorporate the perspectives into your essay plan.

If you’re signed up to take the Writing portion, take a look at these sample essay responses and think through a strategy to prepare for test day. You will still need to develop a position, include appropriate examples, organize your points, and manage your time carefully. Critical issues like indenting your paragraphs, keeping your writing neat, and minimizing your spelling and grammatical errors will remain important. The major change is that you’ll be incorporating some specific perspectives into your essay, and analyzing the quality of their arguments. Good luck!