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What's an Average ACT Writing Score?

Posted by Laura Staffaroni | Oct 10, 2015 8:00:00 PM

ACT Writing

 

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It's approximately one month after your ACT test date. You get your ACT score report and see your ACT Writing score. But what does that number actually mean? Did you do better than average? Worse? Exactly average? Learn what an average ACT Writing score is in this article.

Note: The information in this article is for the ACT Writing test as it was scored September 2015-June 2016, which was on a scale of 1-36. The scoring of the ACT Writing test is changing in September 2016 to be on a scale of 2-12 (with the total ACT Writing score being an average of the 4 domain scores), which means that data on percentiles and averages aren't going to be available for quite some time. We'll update this article as soon as that information comes out.

feature image credit: meet average! by Maria Ly, used under CC BY 2.0/Cropped and modified from original.

 

What is the ACT Writing Score Range?

The ACT Writing test is scored from 1-36, just like the other ACT sections. ACT Writing scoring differs from the other test sections, however, because it...

On your ACT score report, you'll see subscores in each of four domains (scored from 1-6). Because two graders score your essay, you'll receive a total score out of 12 in each domain. The domains are:

1. Ideas and Analysis

Do you discuss all three perspectives provided? What's your perspective on the topic? [How] Do you compare the perspectives to one another?

2. Development and Support

Do you use logical reasoning or employ detailed examples to support and explain your ideas?

3. Organization

Is your essay organized? Are ideas separated into their own paragraphs? Is your writing organized within each paragraph as well?

4. Language Use

Do you use standard English written grammar? Are your sentences clear and varied in structure? Do you use appropriate vocabulary?

For more about what goes into each domain score, read my article on the ACT Writing Rubric.

 

What’s an Average ACT Writing Score?

ACT, Inc. has released some new information since this article was originally published in October of 2015. Initially, I'd theorized that the average score on ACT Writing very well could be an 18/36 (half of all possible points), which would translate to an average score of 3/6 in all domains.

In the past, however, when the essay was out of 12, the average Writing score for all test takers was actually a little bit higher than the technical average score on the essay, at 6.9/12 for the graduating class of 2015. This discrepancy also held true for the average composite ACT score for the graduating class of 2015, which was a 21 out fo 36 (rather than an 18 out of 36).

Part of the reason for this discrepancy is probably that it wasn't possible to get a 1/12 on the essay, since such a score would require the graders to be in disagreement over whether the essay was off-topic, blank, illegible, or not in English; therefore, the possible score range was in practice 2-12, making the average essay score 7/12 (very close to the 6.9/12 found in reality).

Taking the new scoring range (1-36, rather than 2-12), past essay averages, and the 2015 average composite score into account, I then hypothetized that an average ACT Writing score would be a 20 or 21 out of 36.

It turns out that I overshot the mark - the average ACT Writing score is actually closer to 16 or 17 out of 36, with an average subscore of 2.5-2.75 out of 6 for each domain.

How do I know this? Take a look at the following table, which I created by combining the information ACT, Inc. has released about the scaling of the Writing test scores with information ACT, Inc. has released about percentiles on the Writing test 

Scaled Score

Writing Raw Score

(Sum of Domain Scores)

Cumulative Percents

36

47-48

99

35

46

99

34

44-45

99

33

42-43

99

32

41

99

31

40

98

30

38-39

98

29

37

97

28

35-36

95

27

34

95

26

33

93

25

32

90

24

31

88

23

29-30

83

22

28

80

21

26-27

74

20

25

68

19

24

63

18

23

58

17

21-22

52

16

20

44

15

37

14

18-19

35

13

17

31

12

16

23

11

19

10

14-15

16

9

13

13

8

12

8

7

8

6

10-11

6

5

9

4

4

3

3

2

2

2

1

8

2

 

The two highlighted rows in the above table cover the 50th percentile of students. 44 percent of all students who took the ACT with Writing (in the "one special study" the percentile norms chart is based on) got a 16 or below on Writing, while 52 percent of students got a 17 or below.

As I wrote in this article about issues with (new) ACT Writing scores, the percentiles for ACT Writing are a little peculiar. On any other section of the ACT, a 17 would put you at the same level as 26-36 percent of students...yet for Writing, a score of 17 puts you in the 52nd percentile.

And that's not the only odd thing. Again, in theory, the average score on each domain (scored from a 2-12) of ACT Writing should be roughly 7/12 (matching with the average ACT essay score before the changeover). This does not, however, seem to be the case.

The second column of the table above is based on ACT, Inc.'s own table for scaling the Writing score from a raw score out of 48 (all four domain scores out of 12, summed together) to a score out of 36. To get to a raw Writing score of 20-22 (the average ACT Writing score), the average domain score must be 5-6 out of 12 (or 2.5-2.75 out of 6) in each domain.

 

How Much Does My Essay Score Matter?

Does your essay score even matter? While there are many colleges that require ACT Writing scores, most do not provide an ACT Writing score range they want to see.

For students applying to humanities programs, colleges might consider the new English-Language Arts subscore, which combines English, Reading, and Writing section scores; in that case, you'd want your Writing score to be close to (or higher than) your English and Reading scores. Otherwise, my best advice is to make sure your ACT Writing score isn’t drastically (>5 points) lower than your other ACT section scores - that kind of discrepancy might raise a red flag for admissions staff.

 

What’s Next?

Now that you know what an average ACT essay score is, what's a good essay score for you? Read our article on how to calculate your target ACT Writing score.

What strategies can you use to make sure your ACT Writing score is better than average? Take a look at our full analysis of the ACT Writing scoring rubric.

How long does your ACT essay need to be? Find out how essay length affects your score here.

Confused about the domain scores? Get the inside story on ACT Writing scoring with our complete guide.

 

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Laura Staffaroni
About the Author

Laura graduated magna cum laude from Wellesley College with a BA in Music and Psychology, and earned a Master's degree in Composition from the Longy School of Music of Bard College. She scored 99 percentile scores on the SAT and GRE and loves advising students on how to excel in high school.



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