The ACT Writing Changes


Photo Courtesy of Maddie Howard

Amanda Predki, senior, working hard in the library on her AP Psychology homework.

This past September, ACT decided to redesign the “Writing” portion of the exam. ACT describes the test: “The ACT writing test is a 40-minute essay test that measures your writing skills. The test consists of one writing prompt that will describe an issue and present three different perspectives on that issue…you are asked to evaluate and analyze the given perspectives, state and develop your own perspective, and explain the relationship between your perspective and those given. You may adopt a perspective from the prompt, partially or fully, or you may generate your own. Your score will not be affected by the point of view you take on the issue”. Two graders read the essay and score “ideas and analysis,” “development and support,” “organization,” and “language use and conventions” out of six points for each section. The two scores are then put together out of twelve for each section, adding up to a score out of 36. Before this change, students were only asked to write their perspective on an issue in 30 minutes; they didn’t have to analyze 3 perspectives and connect them in an intricate, complex essay.

This change asks a lot of a student. Writing an essay with this type of prompt would be difficult to write in three hours! Having to analyze three perspectives, form an opinion on the issue, and tie it all together with limited time for brainstorming makes this essay daunting to write. Taking the ACT for the first time this year, I went through hours of one-on-one tutoring. My tutor was personally very annoyed at these changes, as she believes that it is way too much for a student to write with the time constraint. As I prepared for the Writing section, I felt really confident in my writing abilities and arguing skills that I had learned this year in English 3AP, a class with a huge emphasis on argumentative writing. I took the exam in February and felt the prompt was fair and almost easy. To my surprise, I earned a low score on the Writing section. It made no sense to me as my scores in English and Reading were almost ten points higher!

However, I am not alone. Students all over the country have taken this portion of the ACT and have not scored well. According to, the average score is a 16 or 17 out of 36! Even students who get a composite score on the ACT of a 30 or higher have scored in the 20s on the Writing portion. The ACT claims that students will do better as they practice with different prompts, but since this format is so new, it is difficult to practice with limited materials. Tutors are still learning how to help their students prepare for this test since the scoring and essay are so different from previous years. I feel that this drastic change has hurt students and does not show their abilities as writers. With students who do not have the help of a tutor, mentor, or prep book, this writing section may hurt.

What eases concerns over this new formatting is that most colleges will not look at the writing score in isolation. Many colleges do not require applicants to even send their writing score. Also, because the format is so new, colleges may not focus so much on this score, but more on application essays to see real writing skills. This change has been an obstacle in an already difficult test, so students should not be discouraged. To get more information on how to prepare for the ACT, talk to your counselor or teacher to find helpful resources that will ensure your success on the ACT.