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.

ACT writing prompts are a crucial part of the writing test. Remember to address the intent of the prompts to compose your essay.

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.

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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 Analysis
    The 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 Support
    As the name suggests, this skill evaluates your ability to develop an idea or argument and support it with logic and examples.
  • Organization
    This 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 Conventions
    As 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.

The ACT Writing section is an optional test and does not affect your total ACT score.

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

Year ACT Writing test takers Avg.  ACT Writing score Avg.
ELA Score
% of students
who met the
ELA benchmark
2022 333,194 6.2 18.3 39 %
2021 463,733 6.3 18.8 43 %
2020 678,906 6.4 19.1 45 %

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

  1. Read, read, read
    Read 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.
  2. Understand the structure of an essay
    An ideal essay should contain:
    • Introduction (1 paragraph)
    • Body text (2 - 3 paragraphs)
    • Conclusion (1 paragraph)
    As you read, you will get an idea of how a written piece is structured. Reading will help you learn how the author organizes their thesis and connects the introduction to the body text and the conclusion.
  3. Write
    Reading 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.

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Frequently Answered Questions (FAQs)

No, you cannot take the ACT Writing Test separately.
Some colleges look at your ACT Writing score, especially if you’re applying for a major in a language and composition course.

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)
ACT Writing is not a pass/fail test. However, a score of 6 – 7 is considered an average.
You must retake the entire ACT to improve your score.
No, there is no penalty for not completing the ACT Writing Test.
It depends on which colleges you are applying to and what your career goals are.
No, your final ACT score does not include ACT Writing since it is an optional test.
Yes, you can. The Writing Test is not a component of the final ACT score, so it is not considered when superscoring your ACT.
Currently, there is no concern about the future of the ACT Writing Test. No information about its possible removal from the ACT Test has been published.
A score of 8 and above is considered a good ACT Writing score.
6 – 7 is an average ACT Writing Test score. Scores below 6 are considered poor.

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