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ACT Essay scoring changes

ACT Essay scoring changes published on


Most of us have noticed that the ACT scoring for the new essay introduced in 2015 is …. a little unreliable, to say the least! Most people’s composite scores are much higher than their essay scores (as in, getting a composite score of 30 and an essay score of 20!), and often a student’s scores vary quite a lot across different tests. The ACT has clued in, and decided to devise a new ACT essay scoring procedure. This was announced on the 28th June, and the first test affected will be September 2016.

ACT essay scores new change

Why the changes to the essay score?


The ACT measures something called Standard Error of Measurement – the amount by which your score could be expected to change on a different test date (assuming that you remain the same). The SEM for your composite scores is 1, meaning that if your true score is a 27, you could reasonably get a 26 or a 28. However, on the essay, the SEM was 4, meaning that if you got a 26, that could have easily been a 22 or a 30, or anywhere in between. This is way too high, so what they’ve done is compressed the scale together – your essay score will now be reported on a 2-12 range.


What hasn’t changed in the new scoring?

  • The essay prompts are still exactly the same.
  • Your score is still calculated on the four categories: Ideas & Analysis, Development & Support, Language Use and Organization.
  • You still have two markers grading you out of 6 on each category. Their scores get added together in each category.


What has changed in the new scoring?

  • Your score is no longer out of 36, it’s now out of 12
  • Your new score is simply the average of your scores out of 12 on each category