Harshly Scored ACT Writing Section Causing Panic

The calls and emails trickled in following the release of this fall’s ACT writing tests, with many sounding something like this:

“Uh oh, I just got my writing score and it was only a 24.” (This student had a 34 ACT composite with 36 being the highest one can earn on the test, a stellar score).

By December, every one of our students who scored high on the ACT composite reported a relatively low writing section score despite writing a strong essay. College admissions list serves lit up with comments like: “My son who is a senior took the ACT to bring up his score because he is being recruited for soccer. But we just got the writing back and I am panicking because he got a 20.”

If you are new to all this, here is the background: ACT quietly introduced a new essay prompt for its optional writing section in September 2015. It now appears that the scoring rubric for this section of the test is off in comparison with the scoring for other sections of the test. The writing section consists only of the essay and this subscore is not factored into the ACT composite. Here is a video by Prepped and Polished that explains the new essay prompt.

Prior to September 2015 when the essay prompt was introduced, a 24 on the writing section put a student in the 75th percentile. With the new essay prompt, a score of 24 in writing places a student in the 88th percentile. The scoring is on two different scales.

Juniors who are happy with their composite should not retake the ACT just to bring up the writing score. Pay attention to your percentile. It is unlikely that the scoring scale will be adjusted before next fall when you apply to college, so it might be very difficult to increase your score in this section. Colleges will understand how to interpret the new writing score.

The class of 2017 has our empathy. Junior year is difficult enough without being subject to all these changes in standardized testing. You will get through it and we are here to help!

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