When you sign up for the ACT, you may notice that there is an optional Writing test that you can take. Many will skip out on the Writing section simply because it’s optional – why pay more to spend extra time on an already-3 hour long test? Before taking the easy road out, though, take the time to learn more about the section and think through different factors of if you should actually take it. It may be in a students’ interests to skip it if it is truly not needed in their college applications, but some colleges actually require that applicants submit their ACT Writing score. If it turns out that you are applying to one of these colleges, you’ll be in a pickle if you decided to skip the section!

This blog will provide a list of colleges that require applicants to submit their ACT Writing scores. I will also explain what exactly the ACT Writing test entails and several other factors you should consider before opting in or out of this section.

Why Do Some Schools Require ACT Writing?

While it definitely is not the norm, some schools require applicants to submit their ACT Writing scores. These scores are helpful for admissions officers to see how prepared you are in completing writing assignments in college. There is a large amount of essay-type homework and exams in college, especially if you are in a humanities major, so being able to write clearly, construct an argument, and provide evidence to support it is a major skill admissions officers are looking for in prospective students. 

Though students also submit multiple essays and can provide a writing sample with their application to showcase this skill, they may not be the most helpful to an admissions officers. With these types of essays and writing samples, a student may have had months to plan, write, and edit it, with potentially multiple stages of peer-review and teacher feedback. 

The ACT Writing test, however, provides a writing sample from a student under a strict time limit and without any outside feedback or edits. Though this is understandably a raw piece of work, it is helpful for admissions counselors to gauge a student’s writing ability.

Thus, some schools will require the ACT Writing test, while most keep it as an optional score students can submit. A good Writing test score can strengthen an application, especially if a student is applying for a humanities program. So even if the schools you are applying to do not require the test, based on your situation, you should highly consider taking it, especially if you are applying to top schools where every little stat can help your application stand out.

Features Of The ACT Writing Section

You can opt-in to take the Writing section at the end of the all of the other sections of the ACT. The test is treated like an add-on to the overall ACT, so to take it, you will have to pay an additional $25. The Writing section is 40 minutes long, and it can be taken after every ACT offered across the US.

Note that you cannot take the Writing section on its own! It has to accompany a full ACT test, so you cannot just walk into a testing center just to write the essay.

What Is Being Tested

The ACT overall tests fundamental skills you learned throughout high school that are crucial to succeed in college. In other words, your score is supposedly a reflection of your “preparedness” for college-level work. As the name suggests, the Writing section tests your writing skills. This does not just mean your ability to write and construct clear and grammatically-correct sentences (your grammar is tested in the English section anyway), but also your ability to create a persuasive argument backed up by evidence.

Test Format & Structure

The ACT Writing test will provide you with a prompt outlining an issue. The issue could range across many possible topics. An example could include one tackling the issue of automation, and balancing its implications as a sign of progress versus replacing humans with machines. The prompt will then provide you with three different perspectives on the issue. For the automation prompt, the three perspectives could be:

  1. We lose our humanity when we replace people with machines.
  2. Machines can do certain tasks better than humans and is more efficient and prosperous for our world overall.
  3. This issue raises important questions about what humans are or can be and pushes humans and machines toward new, unimagined possibilities.

Your task will be to consider the three perspectives, and then develop your own unique essay either expanding on one of the perspectives or putting forth your own line of argument. You are required to, however, mention and consider one of the given perspectives in your essay. If you are developing your own argument, you can explore how your stance compares with the given perspective.

While there is not an explicit word limit or minimum, your response should be around 400 words and fit within the pages given to you in the test. Students can generally hand-write about 150 words per page, so your response will be at least three pages long. Though it can be tempting to write more, consider the time and space limit. You will also want to leave some time to edit and proof-read your work. Though some have noticed a correlation between higher scores and a longer response, you still want to balance quality and quantity. Writing more will not automatically get you a higher score; it has to further showcase your skills and strength in writing.

How It Is Graded

The ACT Writing test is scored on a scale of 2 to 12, with 12 being the highest possible score you could get. The average score on the Writing test is between a 6 and 7.

Note that your Writing score is not factored into your total ACT composite score. Your ACT composite score will be the combination of your English, Reading, Math, and Science scores, while your Writing score will be presented to colleges as something separate. Your score report will also present an English Language Arts (ELA) score, which is a combination of your essay, English, and Reading scores.

Unlike the rest of the ACT, which is graded by a scantron machine, the Writing test is actually reviewed by two human graders. They follow a specifically designed scoring rubric, where they will each grade your essay from a 1 to 6 scale in four domains. Then, the scores from each of the graders are added together to give a final score ranging from 2 to 12. If there is a huge disparity between each grader, a third grader will be consulted.

The four domains on the rubric are: Ideas and Analysis, Development and Support, Organization, and Language Use and Conventions. It is extremely important to keep all of these domains in mind when you are writing your essay. As formulaic as it sounds, this is how you will be graded so you will want to write to reach these targets. Remember, the ACT Writing test is a chance to prove to colleges that you have the basic fundamentals of writing down. Your essay does not need to be something you will necessarily cherish and look back on in years to come (in fact, you’ll probably forget about it once you leave the testing room!).

Here is the rubric with descriptions of the four domains:

DomainWhat Is GradedHow To Apply This In Your Essay
Ideas and AnalysisAbility to create an argument and gauge the argument of anotherWrite well, thought out answers. Being “correct” doesn’t matter. It’s about the thought.
Development and SupportAbility to use examples as supports for ideasExplain your argument with solid examples
OrganizationAbility to make sound, logical pointsOrganization is key. Every essay should have a introduction, body, and a conclusion.
Language Use and ConventionsAbility to write clearly and succinctlyKeep your grammar on point. Don’t make obvious errors.

What Makes A Good ACT Writing Score

Because the average ACT writing score is a 6 or 7, a score above an 8 is considered a “good” score. If, however, you are aiming for top, selective colleges a score above a 10 will put you in the competitive range of your fellow applicants. 

ACT Writing ScoreScore RakingScore Rating
2 – 5Below averagePoor
6 -7AverageAverage
8 – 10Above AverageGood
12PerfectBest / Maximum

You can also consider your ACT Writing score based on its percentile. For example, if you scored in the 99th percentile, your score is higher than 99% of all other test takers. This is an extremely difficult achievement and will position you well to apply to top, selective colleges. A score in the 50th percentile will put you among the average test takers and still position you well to apply to a wide spread of universities.

ACT Writing ScoreACT Writing Percentile

These judgements, however, are still somewhat subjective. These would be considered what is a good ACT score in general, but you will want to determine what is a good ACT score for you. This will ultimately depend on your own score goals and colleges you are applying to. A good way to judge this is to research the colleges you are applying to and see what the average ACT Writing score is of their admitted students. Colleges will often post these stats on their website. Taking a practice Writing test will also help you gauge your abilities and determine how much you can feasibly improve within the time you have.

Do All Colleges Require ACT Writing?

Now then, what kinds of colleges actually require ACT Writing? Are there some colleges where it is optional to submit your score, but highly recommended? Keep reading to find out what kinds of schools require you to submit the score, and which ones you should consider submitting the score to, even if it is optional.

Top Colleges

It may come as a surprise to many, but most top schools in the nation actually do not require you to submit your ACT Writing score. Recently, top schools like Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Stanford have dropped their ACT Writing requirement. In fact, none of the Ivy Leagues currently require the test. Many top public universities, like the University of Florida and the University of Michigan, have also dropped the ACT Writing requirement, while schools in the University of California system have stopped requiring submitting test scores in general.

These schools have stopped requiring these scores because they want to focus on other parts of the application. Admissions officers believe that components like your grades in humanities subjects like English and History can tell them more about the strength of students’ writing skills. Nevertheless, they will still consider your ACT writing score in your application if you submit it – it just won’t have as big as an impact as other factors.

Schools With Humanities Programs

Similar to top schools, colleges and universities with strong and prestigious humanities programs also do not require submitting your ACT Writing score. You might expect Pepperdine University and George Washington University, schools with robust journalism programs, to require them, but they are still optional to submit. Same goes with Georgetown and the College of Holy Cross in Massachusetts, which offer well-known English degrees. Hamilton College in New York, Washington University in St. Louis, the University of Iowa, and Colorado College, which all have great writing programs, similarly do not require the test.

Even smaller liberal arts colleges, which often have class requirements that are heavy on writing, do not require the test, including Amherst, Wellesley, Swarthmore, Bowdoin, Pomona, Haverford, and Davidson College.

Technical And Science Schools

If schools with a strong humanities focus do not require the ACT, it is not a surprise that most technical and science schools do not require you to submit an ACT Writing score. Though schools like Caltech, MIT, and the University of Michigan will care about your writing ability (it is just as important to be able to communicate your scientific findings!), the ACT Writing will not be a huge factor in your application.

What Schools Require ACT Writing?

So then, if many of the nation’s top schools and even schools with a focus on writing do not require the ACT Writing test, why take it? While there are a few, there are still several select colleges and universities that require the test.

Schools that require you to submit your ACT Writing score include:

  • Martin Luther College
  • Molloy College
  • Soka University of America
  • University of Mary Hardin-Baylor
  • University of Montana Western
  • West Point – US Military Academy
  • Wyoming Catholic College
  • Yellowstone Christian College

If you are applying to any of these schools, or are even thinking of applying, you should take the ACT Writing test! It is better to have the score, rather than realize later that you need it and have to retake the entire ACT just to have it.

Should You Take The ACT Writing Test?

Now that you know what the ACT Writing test entails, what it shows about you to admissions counselors, and which schools require it, you can make a decision on whether or not its the right decision for you to take the test. It will all depend on your own goals and situation, but there are several factors everyone can consider when making this decision. Check out our full guide for all the factors you should consider when weighing whether or not to take the ACT Writing Test.

  1. Do any of the schools you are applying to require you to submit an ACT Writing score?

If the answer is yes, then you should definitely take the test. If you are not sure about your college list and are considering applying to schools that require the score, the safest bet would be to take the test. If you have no interest whatsoever in any of the schools that require the test, you should consider several other factors, like the ones described below, before making your decision.

  1. Will the ACT Writing score complement your application? 

The purpose of the ACT Writing test is to showcase a student’s writing skills and preparedness for college-level essays and writing assignments. Like many other test scores, you can use this score to accentuate a part of your application, or make up for something that is lacking. If your application conveys you as a budding journalist that has won numerous writing awards, a high Writing score can further cement your narrative. On the other hand, if you are more inclined to Math and Science and have struggled in school with English and humanities subjects, taking the ACT Writing test and scoring high can somewhat make up for it. 

Keep in mind, though, that admissions committees in different colleges will weigh your Writing score differently, and many have expressed that it makes a small and marginal difference to your application. These small differences, however, add up when you are applying to top schools. It is up to you! Based on your situation and goals, weigh out the cons of taking the test (like time and money) with how much you think the test will really benefit your application.

  1. Do you have enough time and bandwidth to prepare for the ACT Writing test?

There are several drawbacks to taking the test that some students may not expect. One of them is the cost. The ACT Writing test incurs an additional $25 fee on top of the already-expensive ACT test fee. Plus any resources or private tutoring sessions that you might pay for to prepare for the test and the money you invest in taking the ACT… it adds up. If you qualify for the ACT fee waiver program, though, you have the choice to take the ACT Writing test for free.

Another consideration students should keep in mind is that preparing and taking the ACT Writing test is additional time and effort on your part. Though you are young and full of energy, time and effort are finite resources. The time you spend preparing for the ACT Writing test could be additional hours improving your Reading or Math scores, which are weighed heavier in your applications. If the test only brings you a marginal benefit, it may be a wiser decision to spend your time and effort in other parts of your application that could grant you significantly greater gains.

Tips To Improve Your ACT Writing Score

If you have decided to take the ACT Writing test, here are several tips to set you up for the most success:

Tip #1: Follow A Clear Structure

One of the major areas you are being graded on in the ACT Writing test is your organization. The way you structure your essay is imperative to conveying a strong argument and making it easily read and understood by graders. In general, you should organize your essay in the following format:

  1. Introduction: Introduce what view you are taking and, if necessary, the provided perspective that you are taking into account. Do not spend too long crafting the perfect first sentence – in fact, it is better in this case to get straight to the point since you have limited time and space. Definitely avoid making this section too rambly and long, as well.
  2. Thesis statement: This is the most important part of your essay. Clearly state your view and give an outline of the line of argument you will take. You do not have to go into too much detail (that’s for later), but give a general sense how you will support your argument.
  3. Discuss the correlation between different perspectives. If you posited your own unique argument, make sure to discuss the relationship between it and one of the provided perspectives! It is one of the directions in the prompt, and the graders will surely be expecting your essay to have this.
  4. Explain your reasoning and use evidence or examples. This part is where you can argue for your position. Make sure you choose the strongest pieces of evidence. Examples can help flesh out a point and make it more believable. It is recommended to stick to one point or perspective per paragraph so that it is easier to organize for you and easier to follow and understand for the reader.

While you can add your own flair and personality within these sections, make sure that you have these foundational blocks in place.

Tip #2: Practice Writing Timed Essays

Practicing writing timed essays is one of the most effective ways you can study for the ACT Writing test. Being able to simulate what you will experience in the testing room is the best way to prepare. You can do this by practicing writing timed essays to example prompts, which can be found online. In these sessions, get used to writing under pressure and planning out your time. You should get a feel for how long it takes for you to think and plan out your essay, actually write the essay, and review and edit it at the end.

One thing that students often forget is that the ACT Writing test is hand-written! It may have been a while since you have last hand-written an essay, since most writing assignments these days are often typed out on a computer. Use this time to practice your handwriting so that it is clear, legible, and a reasonable size (handwriting that is too large can lead to running out of space). You can also get used to the feel of writing for a long period of time – you don’t want a hand cramp to mess up your score on test day!

Tip #3: Read more

This is an underrated tip to improve on the ACT Writing test. While it may seem somewhat unrelated to the test itself, reading more and reading widely can generally help you become a better writer. Exposing yourself to different writing styles and formats can give you ideas on how to improve your own writing organization and style. Reading also lends people to larger vocabularies, so you can explain your ideas in more concise and precise ways. You do not have to read intensely to pick up these benefits. Skimming the news every morning or dedicating half an hour everyday to reading a book can add up to a lot of hours over time.

For a more complete list of tips, check out our article: “ACT Writing Tips To Ace Your Essay.”

Frequently Asked Questions

Do Colleges Require ACT Writing?

Most colleges do not require you to submit an ACT Writing test score. In fact, it is an optional part of your application in many top schools like Harvard and Yale and even among schools that have strong humanities and writing programs, like Georgetown and the University of Iowa. While your Writing score can showcase the strength of your writing skills, it will likely not have a huge impact on your admissions decision in these schools. There are, however, still several schools that require submitting an ACT Writing score.

Which Schools Require ACT Writing?

Schools that require you to submit your ACT Writing score include: Martin Luther College, Molloy College, Soka University of America, University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, University of Montana Western, West Point – US Military Academy, Wyoming Catholic College, and Yellowstone Christian College.

Prepare For The ACT Writing Test With SoFlo Tutors

Are you planning to take the ACT Writing Test? Or, are you looking to improve your skills in general to ace the English and Reading sections? SoFlo Tutors can help you out. Our tutors create tailored study plans for all of their students based on their target score, strengths and weaknesses identified from a diagnostic test, and testing date. They work one-on-one with each student to provide time-tested strategies and skills that have allowed hundreds of previous students reach their target scores and get into their dream colleges. All of our tutors attend top universities around the nation and scored in the 99th percentile on their ACT. Our tutors schedule to sessions to your availability and our costs start at $60/hour. Check out our tutoring services to book a session today!

About The Author

Andie Pinga

Andie Pinga is an expert SoFlo tutor and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a B.A. in Economics and a minor in Anthropology. She scored a 35 on her ACT and enjoys rock climbing and playing the guitar.

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