ACT® Writing Test
All You Need To Know!
The ACT® Writing section is a paper-and-pencil essay test that assesses your writing skills and knowledge of standard English. This test works with the ACT English and Reading Tests to evaluate your understanding of the English language and how you use it to communicate an idea and logically develop a thesis.
This test section is optional and doesn’t affect your composite ACT score. However, if you want to study language, literature, or any allied subject, this optional test looks good on your college application. A good ACT Writing Test score will indicate your readiness for introductory college composition courses or any related subjects you wish to pursue.
If you want to learn more about the ACT Writing Test, this guide will explain its format, topics, and scoring structure. We’ve also included bonus ACT Essay writing tips to give you a headstart. Read on!
How is ACT Writing Formatted?
The ACT Writing section consists of a passage, followed by three perspectives associated with that passage, and a few writing prompts. After reading the passage and perspectives carefully, you’ll need to formulate a thesis by outlining the points addressed in the prompts.
You can incorporate a partial or complete perspective from the prompt or derive your own. Either way, your essay should examine the relationship between your perspective and the perspective(s) already presented in the prompt. You will only be evaluated on your comprehension, analytical, and writing abilities, as well as your ability to logically create and defend a thesis.
You must write your essay on the answer sheets provided to you. Remember to carry pencils, an eraser, and a sharpener. Mechanical pencils or ink pens are prohibited. If you have a documented disability that affects how you take the test, you can request ACT testing accommodations.
The ACT Writing section comprises 40 minutes of the total testing time of 3 hours and 35 minutes. In these 40 minutes, you must read the passage, perspectives, and prompts, develop your argument, and write a thesis. To make the most of your time, follow a structured essay template that contains a clear introduction, body, and conclusion.
Why is the ACT Writing section optional?
While the ACT Reading, Math, and Science Tests assess your overall college readiness parameters, the ACT Writing Test focuses only on your command of standard written English. Because this test evaluates a targeted skill required for specific college course placements and/or admissions, taking the ACT Writing section is optional.
However, some states require you to take the ACT Writing Test to graduate high school, so check your high school, state, and college admission requirements. Check out our blog on the role of ACT Writing in college admissions to learn how an ACT Writing score can help bolster your career.
What Skills are Assessed on the ACT Writing Test?
The ACT does not publish a syllabus for the writing test. However, the subject matter typically involves social and political issues, so staying up-to-date with current events is recommended.
The ACT publishes a list of skills that are assessed on the ACT Writing Test. Each skill carries a specific number of points that are reported on your ACT scorecard. This score is a measurement of your readiness for college-level English language and composition courses. The list below explains the skills tested on ACT Writing:
- Ideas and AnalysisThe first writing skill assesses how you engage with and develop critical perspectives on a given issue. You must understand the issue at hand, your audience, and the purpose of your assignment.
- Development and SupportAs the name suggests, this skill evaluates your ability to develop an idea or argument and support it with logic and examples.
- OrganizationThis skill tests how you organize your arguments and ideas with clarity and purpose. You must arrange your essay by maintaining a cohesive link between your perspective, argument, evidence, and example, followed by your conclusion.
- Language Use and ConventionsAs you may have guessed, this skill assesses your command of written English. You must demonstrate how you use your knowledge of standard grammar conventions, syntax, and usage to develop your thesis. You will also have to adjust your writing and tone for your target reader so you can communicate your argument effectively.
ACT Writing Score
The ACT Writing score is reported as four domain scores and one holistic score. Each domain score relates to one writing skill discussed in the previous section. The holistic and domain scores are scored on a scale of 2 to 12. Your final ACT Writing score is calculated by averaging the four domain scores and rounding them to the nearest whole number. To make it easy for you, we've put together the table below showing the scoring structure for ACT Writing:
|Score Type||Score Category||Score Range|
|Domain Score||Ideas and Analysis||2 - 12|
|Development and Support||2 - 12|
|Organization||2 - 12|
|Language Use and Conventions||2 - 12|
|Total ACT Writing Score||2 - 12|
Remember that your ACT score report contains an ELA (English Language Arts) score. This score is calculated based on your ACT English, ACT Reading, and ACT Writing scores and is crucial if you plan to major in the humanities. You will NOT get an ELA score if you do not opt for the ACT Writing Test. If you're curious about how the ACT is scored, check out our article on the ACT scoring structure.
Check out our blog on ACT score percentiles to learn how they are calculated and what they mean for your total score.
How Hard Is ACT Writing?
The ACT Writing section can be challenging, depending on how well you can execute a cohesive essay and demonstrate your mastery of standard written English. Assessment is based on your ability to read a text critically, form an argument, and support it with logic.
Below are the ACT Writing Test scores from the past three years (2020-2022). The table shows the number of students who took the ACT Writing Test between 2020-22 and the average score for each test year. We've also included the average ELA score and the percentage of students who fulfilled the ELA college readiness benchmark set by Act.org:
|Year||ACT Writing test takers||Avg. ACT Writing score||
% of students
who met the
As you can see from the table above, the average writing and ELA scores have gone down in the last three years. This decrease also reflects the percentage of students who could not meet the ELA college readiness benchmark. After looking at the data, it appears that scoring has become more rigorous over the years.
ACT Writing Tips
- Read, read, readRead texts like short stories, essays, news articles, blogs, and research essays. These will give you an idea of how a well-written article or text is constructed and how the writer supports their perspective through evidence and examples. You will also learn about the different types of writing styles, language use, and other elements of writing.
- Understand the structure of an essayAn ideal essay should contain:
- Introduction (1 paragraph)
- Body text (2 - 3 paragraphs)
- Conclusion (1 paragraph)
- WriteReading should be followed by repeated practice. Write essays, stories, poems, editorials, and reports. This way, you can get an idea of the time it takes to write a cohesive text. Also, you will understand how to develop an essay's introduction, body, and conclusion to make it coherent and meaningful.
Check out our expert guide on writing an ACT essay, including examples of what excellence looks like.
Frequently Answered Questions (FAQs)
As of 2022, the following schools require an ACT Writing score:
- Martin Luther College (MN)
- Soka University of America (CA)
- United States Military Academy (West Point) (NY)
- University of Mary Hardin-Baylor (TX)
- Yellowstone Christian College (MT)