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What's an Average ACT Writing Score?

Posted by Laura Staffaroni | Apr 30, 2017 8:00:00 PM

ACT Writing

 

feature_meetaverage-1

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 includes average scores both for the current ACT Writing test (on a scale of 2-12, where the total ACT Writing score is an average of the four domain scores) and for the ACT Writing test as it was scored September 2015–June 2016 (on a scale of 1-36).

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?

ACT Writing scoring differs from the other test sections in three important ways. Unlike your scores for English, Math, Reading, and Science, your ACT Writing score...

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. Your four domain scores are then averaged to get your total ACT Writing score, also out of 12. The four domains your essay is scored across are as follows:

 

#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.

 

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What’s an Average ACT Writing Score?

The average ACT Writing score on the 2-12 averaged-domain-score scale is around a 7/12 (based on December 2016 data). The following table has a more detailed breakdown of Writing test percentiles:

2-12 Score
(Sept. 2016
onwards)

Cumulative
Percent

2

1

3

2

4

7

5

17

6

38

7

58

8

82

9

91

10

97

11

99

12

100

 

Because your total ACT Writing score is the average of your four domain scores, the average domain scores (Ideas & Analysis, Development & Support, Organization, and Language Use) are also likely around 7/12, although ACT, Inc. doesn't provide specific information about the cumulative percentiles of the domain scores.

 

1-36 ACT Writing Scoring

For students who received essay scores on the 1-36 scoring scale (all tests taken September 2015-June 2016), the average ACT Writing score was 18-19 out of 36.

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

 

Scaled Score

Writing Raw Score
(Domain Scores Sum)

Cumulative Percents
(2015-2016 Actual)

Cumulative Percents
(Score Report)

36

47-48

100

99

35

46

99.58

99

34

44-45

99.50

99

33

42-43

99.43

99

32

41

98.92

99

31

40

98.49

98

30

38-39

98.02

98

29

37

97.15

97

28

35-36

94.60

95

27

34

93.51

95

26

33

91.39

93

25

32

87.90

90

24

31

85.65

88

23

29-30

77.84

83

22

28

68.07

80

21

26-27

63.65

74

20

25

58.23

68

19

24

52.34

63

18

23

44.39

58

17

21-22

39.64

52

16

20

34.30

44

15

25.00

37

14

18-19

21.26

35

13

17

18.14

31

12

16

14.80

23

11

10.91

19

10

14-15

9.02

16

9

13

6.50

13

8

12

3.18

8

7

2.56

8

6

10-11

1.94

6

5

9

1.50

4

4

1.14

3

3

0.86

2

2

0.68

2

1

8

0.62

2

 

The two highlighted rows in the above table cover the 50th percentile of students. As the third column shows, 44.39 percent of all students who took the ACT with Writing from 2015-2016 got a 18 or below, while 52.34 percent of students got a 19 or below. Because this data was only gathered after the fact, however, the percentiles students saw on their initial score reports were quite different.

The final column to the right shows the cumulative percentiles that were used for score report purposes. We've included this information in this article because it's unclear whether ACT, Inc. will update the percentiles of students who took ACT Writing in fall 2015 with the data gathered after the fact, especially considering the issues there have been with the new ACT Writing test scoring. In the "one special study" the percentiles reported on score reports were based on, 44 percent of all students who took the ACT with Writing got a 16 or below on Writing, while 52 percent of students got a 17 or below.

 

How Much Does My Essay Score Matter?

Does your essay score even matter? While there are many colleges that require or recommend ACT Writing scores, most don't give 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 percentile isn’t drastically (>20 percentage 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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