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The Pros and Cons of Taking the ACT Writing Test?

Is it a good strategy to opt into the ACT Writing Test? While the answer to this question can be somewhat complicated, the simple answer is, “Yes, but only if you are an excellent writer and you are familiar with the format of the test.”

Only a few years ago, we at NC Global posted an article in which we provided a list of colleges that required or recommended the essay portion of the ACT or SAT. Even then, the list of colleges had shrunk dramatically from what it had been even five years earlier.

Once heralded by colleges as a valuable data point, the SAT Essay no longer exists and the ACT Writing Test is required by only a handful of schools that very few students apply to. The only notable exception is the US Military Academy at West Point, a fact which, I suspect, will change very soon. In fact, it is much more likely that the ACT Writing Test will follow the SAT essay into extinction over the next few years. Stay tuned. Here is the list of schools that require the ACT Writing Test:

  • Molloy College
  • University of Mary Hardin
  • United States Military Academy
  • University of Montana Western
  • Soka University of America
  • Martin Luther College

Pros of Taking the ACT Writing Test:

The question arises about the value of taking the ACT Writing Test while it remains an option. While 99.9% of colleges do not require it, almost the same percentage of colleges will accept it if submitted. A perfect score of 12, or even a good score of 10 or 11, can provide some evidence of your writing, reading comprehension, and analytical reading skills.

Since colleges are generally looking for reasons to accept students rather than to reject them, all positive factors, no matter how small, can make a difference. A good or great ACT Writing Test score might have the same impact as an academic honor such as a Scholastic Writing Award, or involvement in a club or community service activity. As with these other application factors, the ACT Writing Test score is simply a check mark on the right side of your candidacy evaluation.

Cons of Taking the ACT Writing Test:

If excellent writing does not come naturally to you, then we suggest that you take the ACT without the Writing Test, or take the SAT. There is simply not enough upside or justifications to put in so many hours of work when the result is questionable. Unfortunately, you are not allowed to cancel or omit just the ACT Writing portion of the ACT if you do not do well; instead, you would be required to delete (or not report) the entire ACT test.

For clarification, the ACT Writing Test is a 40-minute section that comes at the end of the ACT for those who opt in. It receives a separate score of 2 to 12, which is the sum of scores received from two graders each evaluating the essay on a 1 to 6 scale. The score does not affect the other four ACT sub scores (Reading, English, Science or Math), but is calculated into a separate ELA (English Language Arts) score that colleges rarely consider.