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What Is a Good ACT Writing Score?

Posted by Laura Staffaroni | Mar 26, 2017 6:30:00 PM

ACT Writing



As you study for the ACT, it's easy enough to calculate your ACT composite target score. But where does your essay score fit into all this? What’s a good ACT Writing score? Read on to find out how to figure it out!

Note: The information in this article was originally based on 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 changed 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 for the new out-of-12 scoring for different schools 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: Had a Good Boogie Lately? by Jocelyn Kinghorn, used under CC BY-SA 2.0/Cropped from original.


What’s a Good ACT Writing Score?

A good essay score depends on what your goals are. These goals should be concrete and determined by the colleges you’re applying to. Find out more about why this is the only factor that truly matters in our article on what a good, bad, and excellent ACT score is.

So how do you figure out your target ACT Writing Score?


Step 0: Is ACT Writing Required?

Especially now that the SAT essay is no longer mandatory, many schools have been reevaluating their stance on whether or not to require the ACT essay (since schools generally like to have a consistent standard across the two tests). Some colleges are ACT Writing-optional, while others don't require it at all. Use our complete list of which schools require ACT Writing to figure out where the schools you're applying to stand on the issue. 


Step 1: Use Our Worksheet

We've created a handy worksheet to help you figure out your target ACT score. I definitely recommend filling out a separate sheet to figure out your target ACT composite score, but for now we'll be adapting the worksheet to figure out what a good ACT Writing score is for you.


Step 2: Fill In Your Schools

On the worksheet, fill in the names of the schools you want to get into in the leftmost column. Include dream or “reach” schools, but don’t include “safety schools” (schools you think you have at least a 90% chance of getting into).


Step 3: Get ACT Writing Score Data

You can try to get the data from each school's website, but this is time-consuming and not always successful, as schools do not present their data in a particularly standardized way. The easiest way to get ACT Writing score data is to look to see if there's info for a school on IPEDS (the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System). I'll go through the process, step by step, using Northwestern University as my example. To start, you'll need to go to the IPEDS data center home page and select "Compare Institutions":



Next, you'll select either provisional or final release data. I've chosen "provisional" as there is more recent provisional data for Admissions than there is final release data.



When you've finished, click "continue." You'll then be taken to a page where you can select the schools you want the information for:




Once you see the school you're interested in, click "select" to add it to your list. You can add more institutions using the "Add" button. Check the box next to each school once you've added all the schools you want information about.




Next, click the tab "2. Select Variables" to choose what information you want.




The IPEDS surveys cover a lot of different ground, but for our purposes we just want Admissions and Test Scores data. Click through the dropdown menus, selecting "2015-2016" as the year and "ACT Writing 25th percentile score" and "ACT Writing 75th percentile score" as the variables.




Hit "Continue" when you're done on this screen and the next screen. You'll be asked how you want to view the information - onscreen is probably easiest, unless you're looking at hundreds of schools.




Click continue once more when you're done to see the ACT Writing data (if it exists) for the schools you selected:




The 25th percentile ACT Writing score for Northwestern is an 8, and the 75th percentile score is a 10. However, because the data is for students whose started college in fall 2015, the scores are in old out-of-12 format. To get an idea of what your NEW out-of-12 ACT writing target should be, you'll need to use this chart:


Former ACT Writing Scores (out of 12)

Sep 2015 - Jun 2016 Writing Score (out of 36)

Writing Raw Score (Sum of Domain Scores, out of 48)

Current ACT Writing Scores (out of 12)

2 1 8 2
3 7 3
4 10 14-15 4
5 12 16 4
6 16 20 5
7 19 24 6
8 23 29-30 7-8
9 30 38-39 10
10 32 41 10
11 34 44-45 11
12 36 47-48 12

 (source: two different sources from


About half of the time, the old out-of-12 scores line up with the new out-of-12 scores; I've highlighted the scores for which this is not the case in yellow. For Northwestern, the 25th percentile score of 8/12 on the old scale translates to a 7-8/12 score on the new scale, while the 75th percentile score of 10/12 is still a 10/12.

A quick refresher on what percentile scores mean: 25th percentile means that 25 percent of the students attending have a score at or below that number (below average). The 75th percentile means that 75 percent of students have a score at or below that number (above average).

The 25th/75th percentile score range, then, covers the middle 50% of all students admitted to Northwestern University. If you score above the 75th percentile score (a 10), you have a good chance of acceptance; if you score below the 25th percentile (a 7-8), it'll be more difficult.


Step 4: Average Both Columns

Total up the 25th and 75th percentile scores, then find the average of each column. We recommended that you take the 75th percentile score as your target ACT Writing score since it will give you a very strong chance of getting into the schools you’ve listed. If you’re applying to humanities programs, you may even want to consider a higher target score for ACT Writing, as it may be used for placement in certain courses.


What If There's No ACT Writing Score Data?

Unfortunately, very few colleges actually release their ACT Writing score range. Rarely is the information easily accessible on the school websites - instead, you have to rely on data provided by third parties such as the National Center for Education Statistics.

If there is no data for ACT Writing scores at all, you can take a look at the school's composite ACT score ranges to get a rough idea of where your ACT Writing score should be. Because it requires exceptional skill to get 6 in all domains (or a 12/12) on the ACT Writing, even the most competitive schools will accept a 9/12 on the essay (which puts you in the 93rd percentile for ACT Writing), even if the school's ACT composite range is 32-35. In the case of Northwestern, the 25/75 range is 31-34, so you should aim for an ACT Writing score of 9-10. For other schools, as long as your writing score percentile is within 5 points of your ACT Composite percentile, you'll be fine. Use our detailed chart in this article to compare your ACT Writing percentile to your ACT Composite percentile.


Bonus Extra Calculations for ACT Writing Scores

If there is data available on a school's ACT English and ACT English/Writing scores and you want to do even more math, you can search for that as well and then reverse-engineer to approximate what your Writing score should be.

For example, the University of Michigan's 25/75 score breakdown is 32/35 for ACT English and 24-29 for ACT English/Writing. To match the 75% ACT English score (35), and the 75% ACT English/Writing score (29), you'd need at least a 22/36 on ACT Writing (which concords approximately to a 7/12 on the current ACT Writing score, as you can see in the table above).

Here's the equation you'd use:

(ACT Writing Score + ACT English Score [in this case, a 35]) x 0.5 = (rounds to) ACT Writing/English Score [in this case, a 29]

0.5(ACT Writing Score) + 0.5(35) = {28.5 - 29.49}

ACT Writing Score + 35 = {57 - 59}

ACT Writing Score = {22, 23, 24 out of 36} = {7 out of 12}


Actions To Take

  • Look up whether the schools you wish to apply to require ACT Writing scores.
  • Figure out the ACT Writing score ranges of those schools that do require ACT Writing scores be submitted. To do this, you can:
    • Check IPEDS to see if there is data for ACT Writing, OR
    • Estimate the Writing score range based on the school's ACT composite score range, OR
    • Estimate the Writing score range based on the school's ACT English and ACT English/Writing score ranges
  • Sum up the ACT Writing score ranges for the 25th and 75th percentiles, average the 25th and 75th percentile scores, then choose a target ACT Writing score (75th percentile average score is recommended as a target).

body_targetscore 3D Bullseye. Credit: (used under CC BY 2.0)


What’s Next?

Now that you've stuck your toe in the waters of ACT Writing scoring, are you ready for more? Of course you are. Get into the depths of ACT Writing with this full analysis of the ACT essay grading rubric.

Is a longer essay always better? Find out how essay length affects your ACT Writing score here.

Completely confused about how the ACT Writing test is scored? You're not alone. Dispell your confusion with our complete guide to ACT essay scoring.

Curious about where your ACT Writing score stands in comparison to everyone else? Find out what an average ACT Writing score is in this article.


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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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