should I take the act with writing

If you’re about to begin your ACT journey, you’re probably wondering “Should I take the ACT with writing?” As a student approaching college, you know that the ACT is important, and that a good ACT score can bolster your college applications. But, does it matter if that ACT score in your application includes a score from the optional ACT essay?

Let’s learn about the writing portion of the ACT, and help you answer the question, “Should I take the ACT with writing?”

What is the Writing Portion of the ACT? 

The ACT Writing Test is an optional fifth and final section of the ACT college admissions exam. Students are allotted 40-minutes to write an argumentative essay based on a controversial topic and 3 different points of views. The ACT Writing Test differs from the other portions of the ACT in three important ways:

  1. It is optional. Different postsecondary institutions have different needs. Some require an ACT writing test score to make acceptance and/or course placement decisions, while others do not. If you know that the postsecondary institutions to which you are applying do not require ACT writing scores, you can choose to opt out. Otherwise, it is highly recommended that you take the ACT Writing Test.
  2. It is a written test. Unlike the other four sections of the ACT, which are multiple-choice, the writing test requires you to produce a handwritten essay. Exceptions are available only for approved students with diagnosed disabilities.
  3. It is scored differently.  Unlike multiple-choice questions, which have right (and wrong) answers, written essays are scored using a rubric. Further, because the ACT Writing Test is optional, it is scored separately from the other sections and does not affect your ACT composite score (out of 36). This means that if you’ve been wondering, “Can the ACT Writing hurt your score,” you can rest easy: the answer is no.

Want more information? Check out our complete guide to ACT Writing Test Strategies.

What is the ACT Essay Task?

The ACT essay task is always the same, across every ACT. You’ll need to write an essay describing different perspectives on a controversial issue, and you will need to argue in favor of your own position. The ACT essay topic is always different. In other words, you will never get the same prompt twice, no matter how many times you take the ACT essay. The prompt includes several lines of text, setting up the topic of the ACT essay.

Then, it provides three perspectives on the given topic. When you face your own ACT essay, you will need to decide what perspective you would like to defend. First, you will consider the given perspectives. Then, you have a few options:

  1. You can choose a given perspective and write in favor of it.
  2. You can partially defend one or more of the given perspectives.
  3. You can completely disregard the given perspectives, and write about your own.

When you are done writing, the essay should be around four hundred words.

If you have trouble visualizing this, you’re not alone. To see examples, check out our free collection of ACT sample essays:

How is the ACT Essay Scored?

Since the ACT essay is a writing test, it is also scored differently than the rest of the ACT. Instead of right or wrong answers, your essay is scored along a rubric. The rubric considers your:

  • Ideas and analysis of the subject, or how you come up with useful ideas and work with multiple perspectives.
  • Development and support of your ideas, or if you are able to discuss different ideas, while still offering your reasons behind these ideas.
  • Organization, or how you organize your ideas clearly and with a purpose.
  • Language use and conventions, or how well you use language to convey arguments clearly.

Each ACT writing test is graded by two different readers, who give the essay a score between 1 and 6 in four areas. The two readers’ scores are averaged, and the test receives a final score between 2 and 12. Thus, a 2 is the lowest score you can get on the ACT essay, while 12 is the highest. In 2019-2020, the average ACT essay score was a 6.5.

Do You Need to Take the ACT with Writing?

All this information is helpful, but you still want to know “Should I take the ACT with writing?” The truth is, it depends on your strengths and weaknesses, and what your goals are. In some cases, it may make sense to choose an ACT test option without the writing test included. But, on balance, it’s usually a good idea to take the writing portion. Below, we’ve collected some of the main considerations to help you decide if it makes more sense to take the ACT with or without the writing section.

Reasons FOR Taking the ACT with Writing Section

The most obvious reason to take the ACT with writing is that certain colleges require an essay score in their college applications. Currently, there are only eight schools in the entire United States that still have this requirement. The eight colleges that require ACT writing are:

  • Martin Luther College
  • Molloy College
  • Soka University of America
  • United States Military Academy
  • University of Mary Hardin-Baylor
  • University of Montana Western
  • Wyoming Catholic College
  • Yellowstone Christian College

If you plan to apply to one of these schools, you absolutely need to include the ACT essay in your college application.

In addition, some states require their high school graduates to take the ACT essay. These states are:

  • Alabama
  • Hawaii
  • Missouri, but only some districts
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio, but only some districts
  • Oklahoma, but only some districts
  • South Carolina, only some districts
  • Tennessee, but only some districts
  • Utah
  • Wisconsin

If you live in one of these states, you will have to take the ACT with the writing section. Even if you don’t live in one of these states, your school district may still require you to take the ACT essay.

Even if the ACT isn’t required of you, it is still worth your while to take it. Submitting an ACT Essay score will help you stand out during the college admissions process; it shows that you are willing to go above and beyond the basic requirements, and also can highlight your writing skills. It may also help you be eligible for more, or larger, college tuition scholarships.

Reasons NOT to Take the ACT with Writing Section

Even though we think it’s almost always advisable to take the ACT with Writing, there are a few reasons why you might decide not to take the ACT test with writing section.

  1. The ACT essay places an additional cost on you. The test without the essay is $60, while the test with the essay is $85. If that extra $25 poses a financial imposition, you may decide not to take the writing section. Note that the ACT offers fee waivers for students facing financial difficulties, which can alleviate the cost burden.
  2. Taking the ACT with writing will not improve your composite score. If you are confident that you will score highly on the ACT multiple-choice sections, but are a weak writer, you may prefer to skip this section. But the reverse is also true: if you are a very good writer, a strong ACT writing score can wow admissions officers and serve to downplay an underwhelming ACT composite score.
  3. Writing may not be one of your strengths. If this is so, you may not feel up to taking the ACT with Writing. (If you have the option, you may in fact want to take the SAT, which no longer includes an essay option, instead.) Regardless, make sure to build up your college applications with other proof of your talents, through letters of recommendation, a high GPA, or a portfolio of meaningful volunteer work.

Hopefully by weighing these considerations, you will arrive at your own personal answer to  “Should I take the ACT with writing?”

Improve your ACT Essay Score with Piqosity!

If you’ve answered the question “Should I take the ACT with writing?” with an affirmative, it’s time to get practicing! Although we are admittedly biased, we heartily recommend Piqosity’s online ACT test prep.

By purchasing one of our competitively priced packages, you will have access to up to ten full-length ACT practice tests. Full-length means that they include ACT essay practice, as well as valuable prep for the rest of the ACT test. You will also be able to take a free diagnostic test that will tell you exactly what your strengths and weaknesses are when it comes to taking the ACT.

If you’ve already taken the ACT Essay and are unhappy with your results, you have the option to take the test again. Before you do, though, we’d recommend checking out our article on how to improve your ACT writing score, full of useful tips.

New to Piqosity? You can register for FREE (no credit card information required) for our Community package, which gives you access to a diagnostic test and many of our key platform tools. After signing up, you will have access to these materials—and more—for 365 days.

So, don’t hesitate—start preparing for the ACT Essay today with Piqosity!

More Educational Resources by Piqosity: