9 Out Of 12 On Sat Essay Practice

The ACT Writing section (new as of September 2015) is the only optional part of the ACT. However, optional does not mean unnecessary. A number of colleges do require it to be included with the rest of your ACT scores as part of their application process (if you want to check if your dream school is one of them, you can use the ACT’s own College Writing Test Requirements search tool to find out). If any of the schools you’re considering require you to take the ACT Writing Section, you definitely need to know what constitutes a good ACT Writing Score.

Start improving your ACT writing score (and everything else) today with Magoosh!

  
Note: This post has been updated to reflect the changes announced for the September 2016 ACT and beyond, released by the ACT in June 2016.

ACT Essay Grader

Before we talk about good ACT Writing scores, it’s important to know what score you’re working with.

If you’re coming to this post after taking your first ACT practice test, you might be wondering how the heck you’re supposed to even grade your essay. You’re thinking, “What even IS my ACT Essay score?”

To start, let your essay sit for a day or two before grading it (it’s helpful to get some distance). Then, follow the official scoring rubric from ACT, and ask a trusted friend/teacher/parent to do the same. Be as objective as possible as you grade—you won’t do yourself any favors by inflating your score!

Then, use our handy ACT Essay Grading tool to find your score:

ACT Writing Test Scorer

Click the button below to get started:

 

All right, now you know what your ACT essay score is. Let’s try to figure out how your essay ranks.

What’s Considered a Good ACT Writing Score?

This is always a tricky question, because the easy answer is that you should try to get the highest score you can. But that isn’t really helpful, is it?

Of course, a lot depends on the schools to which you apply (see ACT scores for the top 100 universities to learn more). Generally, the more selective the school, the higher your score should be to be competitive. Those universities that require the ACT Writing will almost always have an average score range on their admissions website, so make sure you do your research. Most schools do not provide a cut-off score, so theoretically a below-average score will not eliminate you from being considered for admission. Then again, it won’t help you either.
 

Okay, But Really…I Want Numbers!

All right, all right, let’s talk numbers.

What’s a good ACT Writing score? First off, remember that the ACT Essay is now scored from 1-6 in four categories by two graders. This gives you four scores from 2-12. You then receive a final ACT Essay score from 2-12 that is the average of these four scores. This is the score you will be reporting to colleges. For more detail on how the essay is scored, make sure you check out Rachel’s article on ACT Essay scores.

This is a change from September 2015 to June 2016, when the ACT essay scoring scale was 1-36. If the old scoring scale applied to you, you should have received notice from the ACT about how to convert your score to the new 2-12 range. The ACT also has a good resource to help you convert 2015-2016 ACT essay scores to 2016-2017 essay scores. To understand your percentile, you can use this “Norms Chart”.

That’s a Lot of Numbers… So What Is a Good ACT Writing Score?

If you took the test after September 2016, you’re using the 2-12 scale. And what’s a good ACT Writing score now, using this scale? Shoot for a minimum of 8 on the essay. This will be enough to not raise any eyebrows amongst college admissions officers. For extremely competitive schools, aim for a score of 10+.

ACT Writing: Essay Percentiles

If you’re still wondering just how good your scores are, here’s the breakdown for ACT essay scores and percentiles:

ACT Score Percentile
21
32
47
517
638
758
882
991
1097
1199
12100

As you can see from this table, the mean, or average, score on the ACT Writing section falls slightly below 7. It’s a good idea to aim for the 75th percentile, so in this case a good ACT writing score would be an 8 or above (16 or above on the old ACT). A 10 or above would put you in the 97th percentile, which is great! If you aspire to Ivy League or other highly-selective schools, a 10 is the threshold you should try your best to reach to be safe.

How Have People Been Doing on the New ACT Writing?

Last year, the Washington Post reported that ACT Writing scores after the essay change were lower than people expected. And honestly, this is exactly why the ACT decided to go back to a separate 2-12 scale: too many students were comparing their essay scaled score from 1-36 to their multiple choice scaled scores from 1-36, when in reality the percentiles were very different.

If you are ever concerned that your essay score is inaccurate, however, you can ask for your essay to be re-scored. The $50 fee for the re-score will be refunded if you do get a higher score.

Recap

So what’s the takeaway from all of this? Really, a few key points:

  • Research the schools you plan to apply to, and see which of them require the ACT Writing test.
  • At the least, shoot for an 8+ overall score for a “good” ACT Writing score.
  • A score of 10+ is an ideal score for applications to selective schools.
  • If you believe your essay has been mis-scored, you may request a re-score for a fee.
  • Don’t panic!

This post was originally published in February, 2016 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.

About Elizabeth Peterson

Elizabeth holds a degree in Psychology from The College of William & Mary. While there, she volunteered as a tutor and discovered she loved the personal connection she formed with her students. She has now been helping students with test prep and schoolwork as a professional tutor for over six years. When not discussing grammar or reading passages, she can be found trying every drink at her local coffee shop while writing creative short stories and making plans for her next travel adventure!


Magoosh blog comment policy: To create the best experience for our readers, we will approve and respond to comments that are relevant to the article, general enough to be helpful to other students, concise, and well-written! :) If your comment was not approved, it likely did not adhere to these guidelines. If you are a Premium Magoosh student and would like more personalized service, you can use the Help tab on the Magoosh dashboard. Thanks!


SAT Essay scoring can be tricky to figure out. Maybe you've already created target goals for your SAT score, following our guide, so you at least have that score goal set.

But where does your essay score fit into all this? What is a good SAT essay score? This article will answer those questions.

Note: The information in this article is for the old (pre-March-2016) SAT essay, which was scored out of 12 and part of the Writing section. Scores for the March 2016 SAT were only released May 10th, 2016, which means that data on percentiles and averages aren't going to be available for a while yet. We'll update this article as soon as the information comes out.

feature image credit: Doing Great by Eli Christman, used under CC BY 2.0/Cropped from original.

 

What Is the SAT Essay Out Of?

Before you can know what a good SAT essay score is, you need to know how many points you can get total on the essay. So what's the SAT essay out of?

Currently, the SAT essay is scored on a scale of 1 to 6 by two graders, for a total essay score out of 12. Your essay is scored holistically, which means you don’t get bumped down to a certain essay grade if you make, for instance, a certain number of comma errors. Instead, SAT essay scorers use the SAT essay rubric to grade your essay as a whole.

Note: SAT essay scoring will change beginning with the March 2016 SAT. For more information on that change, read our other articles on the new SAT essay prompts and the new SAT essay.

 

What Is a Good SAT Essay Score?

As with most things on the SAT, a good essay score depends on what your goals are. These goals should be concrete and determined by the colleges you’re applying to - after all, if your reach schools have an average essay score of 9, then there's no need to burn yourself out trying to get that elusive 12.

To some extent, your essay score goal will also be influenced by your performance on the multiple choice section of SAT Writing. If you do better on multiple-choice questions, you may be able to cut yourself some slack in the essay department.

But how do figure out what your SAT Writing (and SAT essay) goals should be? Use our three-step process, explained below.

 

Step 1: Know Your Target SAT Writing Score

If you’ve read our free ebook on calculating your target SAT score, you may already have figured out your target SAT Writing score. If not, it's time to calculate it! I'll walk through the process using the example of Virginia Commonwealth Unversity.

First, download this worksheet. It's designed for calculating your target SAT score out of 2400, so you'll have to modify it a little bit. Fill in the schools you want to apply to in the leftmost column. Here's what the worksheet will look like for Virginia Commonwealth University:

 

 

Next, google "[name of school] average SAT writing" to get the middle 50% of all SAT Writing scores. For instance, if you're interested in Virginia Commonwealth University, you'd do the following search:

 

 

There'll usually be a collegeapps.about.com link that has this information. Sometimes (as you can see above) the college website will also pop up, so you can use that to double-check your numbers. You're looking for the 25th and 75th percentile scores on the SAT Writing section.

A quick refresher on what "percentile scores" mean: 25th percentile means that 25% of the students attending have a score at or below that number (below average). The 75th percentile means that 75% of students have a score at or below that number (above average). In essence, the 25th/75th percentile score range covers the middle 50% of all students admitted to Virginia Commonwealth University.

If the sites don’t list a specific SAT Writing score range, you can divide the top and bottom of the overall SAT score range by 3 to get a general idea of what your Writing score needs to be. In this case, there is information about the SAT Writing score range, so we can fill that in on the worksheet:

 

 

Do the same for all of the schools you want to apply to. Include dream or “reach” schools, but don’t include “safety schools” (schools you think you have at least a 90% chance of getting into).

Once you've filled in the information for all of the schools you want to apply to, average the 25th percentile and 75th percentile columns, then choose a target SAT Writing score with that information.

 

 

As it says on the worksheet, we recommend that you take the 75th percentile score as your target SAT Writing score. It'll give you a very strong chance of getting into the schools you’ve listed. If you’re applying to humanities programs, you may even want to consider a higher score target for SAT Writing.

 

Step 2: Find an Official SAT Writing Score Chart

The next step is to take a look at an SAT Writing score chart to find out the range of essay scores that will get you your target SAT Writing score. The chart will differ in precise score differences from test to test, but it can at least give you a broad idea of the range.

Let's say that your target SAT Writing score is 576 (rounded up to 580). I've highlighted this in green in the following SAT Writing score chart (from an official SAT practice test):

 

Writing MC

Raw Score

Essay Raw Score

12

11

10

9

8

7

6

5

4

3

2

0

49

800

800

800

800

790

760

750

730

720

710

690

680

48

800

800

780

770

750

720

710

690

680

670

650

640

47

790

770

760

740

720

700

680

660

650

640

630

620

46

770

750

740

720

700

680

660

650

630

620

610

600

45

750

740

720

710

690

660

650

630

620

610

590

580

44

740

730

710

690

670

650

630

620

600

590

580

570

43

730

710

700

680

660

640

620

600

590

580

560

550

42

720

700

680

670

650

630

610

590

580

570

550

540

41

700

690

670

660

640

610

600

580

570

560

540

530

40

690

680

660

650

630

600

590

570

560

550

530

520

39

690

670

650

640

620

590

580

560

550

540

520

510

38

680

660

640

630

610

590

570

550

540

530

510

500

37

670

650

640

620

600

580

560

540

530

520

500

490

36

660

640

630

610

590

570

550

530

520

510

490

490

35

650

640

620

600

580

560

540

530

510

500

490

480

34

640

630

610

590

570

550

530

520

510

490

480

470

33

630

620

600

590

570

540

530

510

500

490

470

460

32

630

610

600

580

560

540

520

500

490

480

460

450

31

620

600

590

570

550

530

510

500

480

470

460

450

30

610

600

580

560

540

520

500

490

480

460

450

440

29

610

590

570

560

540

520

500

480

470

460

440

430

28

600

580

570

550

530

510

490

470

460

450

430

420

27

590

580

560

540

520

500

480

470

450

440

430

420

26

580

570

550

540

510

490

480

460

450

440

420

410

25

580

560

550

530

510

490

470

450

440

430

410

400

24

570

550

540

520

500

480

460

450

430

420

410

400

23

560

550

530

510

490

470

450

440

430

410

400

390

22

560

540

520

510

490

470

450

430

420

410

390

380

21

550

530

520

500

480

460

440

420

410

400

380

380

20

540

530

510

490

470

450

430

420

400

390

380

370

19

530

520

500

490

470

440

430

410

400

390

370

360

18

530

510

500

480

460

440

420

400

390

380

360

350

17

520

500

490

470

450

430

410

400

380

370

360

350

16

510

500

480

470

440

420

400

390

380

360

350

340

15

510

490

470

460

440

420

400

380

370

360

340

330

14

500

480

470

450

430

410

390

370

360

350

330

330

13

490

480

460

440

420

400

380

370

350

340

330

320

12

480

470

450

440

410

390

380

360

350

340

320

310

11

480

460

440

430

410

390

370

350

340

330

310

300

10

470

450

440

420

400

380

360

340

330

320

300

300

9

460

450

430

410

390

370

350

340

320

310

300

290

8

450

440

420

400

380

360

340

330

320

300

290

280

7

440

430

410

400

380

350

340

320

310

300

280

270

6

440

420

400

390

370

350

330

310

300

290

270

260

5

430

410

390

380

360

340

320

300

290

280

260

250

4

420

400

380

370

350

330

310

290

280

270

250

240

3

410

390

370

360

340

320

300

280

270

260

240

230

2

390

380

360

350

320

300

290

270

260

250

230

220

1

380

370

350

330

310

290

270

260

240

230

220

210

0

370

350

340

320

300

280

260

240

230

220

200

200

-1

350

340

320

300

280

260

240

230

210

200

200

200

-2

340

320

300

290

270

250

230

210

200

200

200

200

-3

320

300

290

270

250

230

210

200

200

200

200

200

-4 and below

310

300

280

260

240

220

200

200

200

200

200

200

 

As you can see in the chart above, there are theoretically over ten ways to get a 580 on SAT Writing, with anywhere from a 25-46 multiple-choice raw score and a 0-12 essay score.

But is it really realistic to expect to score a 12 on the SAT essay if your multiple-choice raw score is only a 25? Probably not. In 2015, the average SAT Writing score was a 484, and the average SAT essay score was a 7 (data from the CollegeBoard; for more on this, read our upcoming article on average SAT Writing scores).

Based on this information (and on an official practice SAT Writing score chart), we've created a table of realistic essay scores you can expect to achieve if you're scoring in a certain range:

 

SAT Writing Score Range

Realistic Essay Score

200-340

4 or below

340-440

5

440-540

6

540-640

7

640-740

8

740-800

9 or above

 

So while you can get a 580 on SAT Writing with an essay score from 0-12, you're more likely to do so if you can score a 7 or above on the essay.

 

Step Three: Take a Timed SAT Writing Section and Score It

The final step is to see what your multiple choice score is now so that you know how much prep time you'll have to put in. To do this, you'll need to take a timed SAT Writing section and calculate your multiple-choice raw score. The best way to get a realistic idea of what your raw multiple-choice Writing score is would be to take a full-length practice test (because it’ll give you an idea of how tired you get from the other sections and how you deal with switching back and forth). If you don't have the time to do this, just take the Writing sections from an official SAT practice test, adhering to the time limits.

How do you calculate your multiple-choice raw Writing score? Use the following equation:

Your raw score = (# of questions you got right - # of questions you got wrong x 0.25)

For example, if you answered 34 (out of49) questions right, skipped 7, and got 8 questions wrong, your raw score would be:

34 – (8 x .25) = 34 – 2 = 32

With a raw score of 32, you can get anything from a 450 to a 630 on SAT Writing, depending on your essay score. If you stay at the same multiple-choice raw score, you'll need an essay score of 9 or above to make your target Writing score of 580. This is a tough essay score to get for anyone, especially considering the average essay score for 2015 was a 7.

As you increase your multiple-choice raw score, the essay score needed to get your target score will drop. To use the example from before, if you're aiming for an SAT Writing score of 580, a realistic essay score would be a 7; according to the SAT Writing score chart above, this means you'll need to increase your raw multiple-choice score to a 37 (a far more manageable goal for most students than raising their essay scores to a 9).

 

Actions To Take

Figure out your target SAT Writing score, using the worksheet above.

Use an SAT Writing scoring scale to figure out the essay grade you’ll need to shoot for to make your target SAT Writing score.

Figure out how you’re doing on the Writing multiple choice questions and how much you need to improve (both on the multiple-choice questions and on the essay) to meet your SAT Writing score goal.

 

What’s Next?

Get the inside scoop on what really goes on behind the scenes with our strategies based on interviews with real essay graders.

Can you write a high-scoring SAT essay in less than a page? Discover how essay length affects your score in this article.

Still confused about how the SAT essay is scored? Try our article that explains the official SAT essay scoring policy and what strategies you should use to take advantage of it.

Curious about how well everyone does on the SAT essay? Read our article to find out what’s an average SAT essay score.

 

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Our program is entirely online, and it customizes what you study to your strengths and weaknesses. If you liked this SAT Essay lesson, you'll love our program. Along with more detailed lessons, you'll get your SAT essays hand-graded by a master instructor who will give you customized feedback on how you can improve. We'll also give you a step-by-step program to follow so you'll never be confused about what to study next.

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