Since September 2015, ACT test takers have been writing the the new style essay. Major changes include timing (increased to 40 minutes), the issue (not directly related to high school students, as the old ones usually were) and the 3 perspectives that you have to evaluate.
Generally it’s a more complex task – there is more information given to you at the beginning, and the perspectives don’t take such a one-sided opinion as the older ones did. This means that your argument must be more complex overall – they are looking for some analysis about the validity of the other arguments as well as examples to support your point. It’s not enough to state your opinion anymore.
The scoring has also changed – you are marked in these 4 categories:
- Ideas and Analysis (your examples and what you say about the Perspectives)
- Development and Support (how you craft your argument and use the examples and Perspectives)
- Organization (structure and transitions)
- Language Use (grammar, sentence structure etc).
These are all scored on the 2-12 range,
then scaled out of 36 so you can compare them with your other section scores.
Here’s the sample prompt from the ACT:
So is the new ACT essay harder?
Basically, yes! For the old writing section the 51st-87th percentiles are the 7-8 range. This would translate to the 21-24 range on the new score (just multiplying by 3 to get the scores out of 36). What we actually see is that those scores are now achieved by students in the 74th – 88th percentiles.
UPDATE: The ACT has finally realised that this is true, and that it’s confusing people! So they have now switched back to the 2-12 scale for essay scores.
|| Old writing score (multiplied by 3)
|| New writing score
| 95th +
Alternatively, a 50th percentile student would get a 21 on the old essay (if it were scored out of 36), but only a 17 on the new essay.
Whilst this doesn’t necessarily prove that the test is harder, it does prove that students scored lower on the September test than they would have on previous tests. The only exception is at the top end of the scale, where students in the 95th percentile or above score anywhere from a 27 upwards. The most significant score drop is for the average student, who sees a 3 or 4 point drop in their writing score.
Here’s the full percentile chart if you’re interested!
Why are the scores lower?
This may be because the average student may not have been prepared for the new test. There are not many sample prompts around, and some test prep companies didn’t know about the change. If the same chart for October and December looks more similar to the previous figures, it will appear that students are adjusting.
What can you do to raise your score?
- Get hold of as many sample prompts as you can, and practice them.
- Get someone to read over your essay to check that your argument makes sense, and that you’ve effectively used your examples to answer the question.
- Read this article!