ACT Standardized Testing

ACT Screw Up

We were among the first to notice the ACT’s dramatic change in scoring the writing section and blogged about it back in NOVEMBER of 2015. Michele even called the ACT directly to “alert” them to a major issue with the new writing scoring. Suddenly, as we reported almost a year ago, our students who routinely used to score 34-36 on the writing section of the ACT (and close to 800 on the SAT writing), suddenly took the “new” test and ended up with a strong composite score (30-36), but virtually all our students were getting super low writing scores in the low 20’s! Imagine getting a 36 composite, which equates to an 800/800 on the SAT, but getting a 23 Writing score, which would convert to a low 400 score on the SAT. That’s what many of our students were reporting to us. Clearly the ACT messed up the scoring of this section as the SAT would never have a scoring discrepancy that big (800/800/420 on writing!), but they would not admit it. Finally, this spring, they published an almost incomprehensible “white paper” buried in their website that basically said, “Woops, we goofed.”

Now, the ACT has announced that even though the essay section is staying the same, they are changing the scoring on the new section.

“Our customers have spoken, and we have listened,” said ACT Chief Commercial Officer Suzana Delanghe. “Converting the writing results to a 1-to-36 scale made sense conceptually, but in practice it created confusion among some students. We clearly understand that now, and we are making this change to eliminate the confusion.”

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Well, their explanation won’t really clear things up, but let us turn it into plain English.

In effect, the ACT is getting rid of the 36 scale for the essay (although the “ELA” score is on a 36 scale, and the essay is factored in, so kind of like the old “Combined English/Writing” section). Now, they are having two readers score four domains from 1-6 each. That will produce a total score between 8 and 48. That total will then be averaged to give a writing score between 2 and 12. The four domains are

  1. Ideas and analysis
  2. Development and support
  3. Organization
  4. Language use & conventions

It’s basically back to the old writing scoring where kids got an essay score out of twelve. The difference is that the readers no longer use a holistic approach to scoring. They have to score each of those domains based on a rubric. Just to make it more confusing, ACT will convert to a 1-36 scale for purposes of the ELA score on the score report. That number is used for calculation purposes but never appears as a “writing” score.

So there you have it – the ACT messed up, waited almost a year to acknowledge it, and finally caved under pressure to go back to how they used to score the writing section. The problem is, college admissions officers have not SEEN any of these scores yet – it will be this year’s crop of seniors who are affected by submitting their ACT scores from the past “new” ACT tests.


Our advice? Retake the September and October ACT this fall as your writing score will go WAY up (well, your ELA score). You can’t lose.

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