The ACT Writing Test – An Overview Part 2

October 5, 2017 

101555756_c898b697eb_z.jpgHow is My Essay Scored?

(Second in a two-part series)

It’s test day, you’ve plowed through all the multiple-choice sections, and you’re now facing the essay… What happens next? Does it disappear into the great unknown where mysterious beings will evaluate it against an ancient, unknowable set of standards?

Not Quite.

The ACT Writing Test is scored using a rubric. According to Susan Brookhart in her book How to Create and Use Rubrics for Formative Assessment and Grading, “a rubric is a coherent set of criteria for students’ work that includes descriptions of levels of performance quality on the criteria.” A copy of the ACT Writing Test scoring rubric may be found on the ACT website.

Each essay is read by two readers and receives four subscores, one in each area (or “domain”) that the test makers consider important. The four ACT Writing Test domains are:

Ideas and Analysis

This score reflects how well the writer grasps the issue he or she is invited to write on, as well as how thoughtfully he or she can respond. For example, a student who addresses the sample prompt on the ACT website (“Public Health and Individual Freedom”) by simply listing different ways to stay healthy has missed the central conflict entirely.

Development and Support

The score in this area measures how well a student can advance and justify his or her viewpoint. Repetition or logical fallacies (slippery slope, circular reasoning) can create problems here, especially if they take the place of proof, evidence, and examples.



Organization means an essay writer can develop his or her position logically from point to point without digressing or losing the thread of the argument. There should be clear transitions between unified paragraphs. The essay as a whole should also be unified.

Language Use and Conventions

This is the grammar and mechanics domain. Little mistakes sometimes add up to big points, and the most elegant argument can be spoiled by bad spelling, missing or incorrect punctuation, and misplaced modifiers.

The rubric identifies six levels of achievement in each domain, with 1 being the lowest score and 6 the highest. The final essay is scored on a scale of 2 to 12 and is the rounded average of the four domain subscores.

Must you memorize all the ACT’s rubric categories to do well on the essay? Not really. Good writing is good writing. The standards by which ACT judges writing are not new. Chances are you learned about thesis development, coherence, unity, and proper mechanics several grades ago. It can actually be reassuring to find out that there are no strange new skills you are magically supposed to know. Just take a breath, pick up your pencil, and write the best essay you can!

At A+ Test Prep and Tutoring, we understand standardized test taking. That includes essay writing! We match you with knowledgeable, trained tutors who work with you to attain your “personal best” score.

If you would like more information about the ACT essay or any aspect of the PSAT, SAT, or ACT, our Client Service Directors Anne Stanley and Susan Ware are available to answer questions and provide solutions. You may reach either of them by calling A+ Test Prep and Tutoring at 215-886-9188.

Photo credit: Fred Merchán



Contact Us


A+ Test Prep and Tutoring -- Philadelphia

505 York Road, Suite 6, Jenkintown PA 19046

A+ Test Prep and Tutoring -- Montgomeryville

593-1 Bethlehem Pike, Unit #4, Montgomeryville PA 18936