What are your chances of acceptance?

Your chance of acceptance
Duke University
Duke University
Your chancing factors
Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
| 800 verbal


Low accuracy (4 of 18 factors)

Should You Take the ACT With Writing?

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What’s Covered:


Colleges are becoming increasingly test-optional, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Many institutions are making exceptions to testing requirements or dropping the test altogether.


But if you’re able to take the ACT, should you also take the Writing section? Here’s what you need to consider.


What is the ACT Writing Section?


The Writing section is an optional 40-minute essay that students take at the end of the multiple choice section of the ACT. This section evaluates students’ ability to communicate clearly and think critically from various perspectives on the given topic. 


The prompt you will be given presents a summary of an issue or topic, along with three statements depicting three different perspectives on that issue. Your task is to describe each of the perspectives while developing your own argument about the prompt. Your completed essay should be around 400 words long. 


The Writing section is testing your ability to present your own perspective on an issue and analyze the relationship between your perspective and at least one of the other given perspectives. You must develop and support your ideas with explanations and examples, while organizing your ideas clearly and logically.


Two people will individually grade your essay on a 1-6 scale in four different domains: Analysis, Development Support, Organization, and Language Use and Conventions. These scores are then averaged and scaled for a final numerical score between 2-12. 

Is the ACT Writing Section Required?


It depends. Schools have varying policies about the Writing Section. Generally, more selective schools may require or recommend a writing score, while less selective ones may not (though there certainly are exceptions). It’s worth noting that most schools no longer require the ACT with Writing, though many schools recommend it.


However, in light of COVID-19, most schools have adopted test-optional policies and don’t require or recommend that you submit any test scores at all. Of course, it’s always best to have a strong test score to support your application if possible, but if you’re unable to take the ACT with Writing (or the entire ACT) this year, don’t worry. 


The ACT Writing Section has actually never been super important because it wasn’t factored into the composite score (unlike the Essay on the old 2400-point SAT). It’s highly possible that the ACT Essay may even get discontinued, given the College Board’s recent decision to eliminate the SAT Essay after June 2021. Some schools have stopped considering the SAT/ACT Essay altogether, including the University of California system, which used to require the essay.


Some states, however, may require the ACT with Writing for state testing purposes, or offer the full test for free to students. These states include: 


  • Alabama
  • Hawaii
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Oklahoma
  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee
  • Wisconsin


If your state requires the test with writing, you will take the ACT with Writing during a school day for free. If your school offers the full test for free, you should strongly consider taking advantage of the opportunity.

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How Will the Writing Section Help You?


Demonstrating a strong Writing score to college admissions committees may slightly boost a student’s chances, especially if the student has an otherwise weak English background (that may be apparent is other aspects of the application). However, generally colleges do not value a strong Writing score as heavily as English grades and the strength of the application essays. 


If you’re homeschooled or an international student, getting a high score on the ACT with Writing may give you a larger boost (and the Writing section could be required in non-COVID years for you). Because these students have a less standardized curriculum, the Writing section gives admissions officers another way to evaluate their writing and language skills.


During COVID-19, it really isn’t necessary to take the Writing section, unless one of your schools still requires it (which would be a very rare situation). If you’re able to prepare properly and test safely, taking the Writing section can give you a small boost, however.


In non-COVID years, we recommend that you take the Writing Section if any of your schools require or encourage it. If you’re not sure where you’re applying, you should take it just to be safe.


How Much Does the Writing Section Cost?


The ACT Writing section costs an additional $15, making the overall test $70 with the Writing section. If the cost poses a challenge for students, they may qualify for a fee waiver


To qualify, students must be in 11th or 12th grade, be taking the test in the U.S., U.S. territories, or Puerto Rico, and meet at least one of the indicators of economic need found on the ACT fee waiver form. However, students may not apply for a waiver themselves, rather, their high school must apply for them. We suggest you work with your school counselor to determine eligibility. 


Of course, there is also a time cost for preparing for and taking the ACT with Writing. Students are also encouraged to prepare for the essay section by reading through the grading rubric and some example essays, as well as trying a few practice essays to simulate the exam day. 


How Will the ACT Impact My College Chances?


The ACT is just one factor of the college admissions process. A strong score can boost a student’s chances and get their application read, but will not guarantee admission. Selective colleges use a metric called the Academic Index (AI) to evaluate the strength of applicants’ grades and test scores. If your AI is below a certain threshold (varies by school), certain schools may not even review your entire application. 


We’ve designed a free Admissions Chances Calculator to help you understand the impact of your ACT score. The calculator will plot out your score against other applicants to give you an idea how you compare to others. In addition, we provide tips on improving other aspects of your application, including grades and extracurriculars.


You can also use this tool to search for schools based on preferences like location, major, cost, and more. Try it out to help you refine your college strategy!


Short Bio
Leonie Rauls is 2018 grad of Amherst College with a degree in political science and Spanish. She is a journalist and has lived in Bogotá covering politics in Latin America. In her spare time, she loves to run and try out new recipes.