Admission News

Why are the ACT’s Essay Scores so Low?

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The ACT, now more popular than the SAT, has a new writing assessment. This essay is optional, and, although many colleges don’t require students take the essay test, many selective schools do. More than half of the students taking the ACT do, indeed, take the essay option, on top of the four required sections: English, reading, math, and science.

Students scoring in the 30s on the other four required test sections are now receiving much lower scores on the essay section, in the high teens and low twenties. Is there a problem with this newer section of the ACT or is it because of the change from the old format or do students just need more time to adjust to the new section?

There are no answers yet. Colleges are looking at the whole student, not just at the student’s scores. Also, ACT reminds its test takers the composite score, which is the more important score, is based on the required four sections of the test and not on the essay score. Finally, ACT notes that there is no necessary correlation between the score on one section of the test and on others. (You can receive 30s on math and only 20s in reading, for example.)

The new essay section on the ACT is ten minutes longer than the older one, now 40 minutes instead of 30 minutes long. The old essay required students to take a stand on an issue. The new essay asks students to “develop an argument that puts their perspective in dialogue with others.” The old essay was graded on a scale of 2 to 12. The new essay is graded on a 36 point scale. Two readers analyze the new essay and assign points in four categories: ideas and analysis, development and support, organization, and language use. If there is a dispute in the scoring a third reader arbitrates.

However, a student can request a re-scoring of the essay. It will cost $50, which will be refunded if the ACT does increase the score. Only 300 of the over 4 million test takers have asked for a re-scoring, but in some cases the score has gone up significantly.