In the words of Shakespeare, “To take the writing or to not take the writing? That is the question.” Okay, so maybe that’s not exactly what he said, but it’s still a question that plagues many parents and students as they sign up for the ACT. As your cursor hovers over the registration button, you may be wondering if your child needs to opt for the essay section in addition to the full test. The short answer? Probably.

The writing portion of the ACT isn’t required by all schools, but around 300 colleges do require or at least recommend that applicants take it. If your student isn’t exactly sure where he or she wants to apply, then we recommend signing up for the writing to be on the safe side. This ensures that all bases are covered, and you won’t be in a bind if your student adds a last-minute school to their college list. The writing section cannot be taken separately from the ACT test, so you will need to plan for your student to take it along with the full test.

So what does taking the writing portion of the ACT mean?


The writing section is a 40-minute essay where students will showcase their abilities to form and support an argument. The paper-and-pencil test presents one writing prompt that describes a complex issue and gives three different perspectives on that issue.

Registration Fee

There is an extra registration fee to take the writing portion of the ACT. This is currently $16.


Preparing to take the writing portion is relatively easy. It requires reading through the grading rubric and sample essays, and writing a few practice essays. Overall, a student should plan to devote a few hours to preparation. The ACT website has great resources to prepare, which can be found here. For parents, our online test prep platform Testive, has a guide just for you. Additionally, here are some tips to tackle the writing:

  1. Fully understand the prompt before beginning the essay.

  2. Plan and outline the essay by writing the thesis and the main idea for each paragraph.

  3. Aim to write at least three pages in the exam booklet.

  4. Write at least five paragraphs (introduction, minimum of three body paragraphs, and conclusion).

  5. Use advanced vocabulary.

  6. Do not criticize perspectives and remain objective.


The ACT writing is scored by two trained readers. Each reader will score the essay on a scale of 1 to 6 in each of the four writing domains. Each domain score represents the sum of the two readers' scores. The grading rubric can be found here. A score of 8 or more on the writing is exceptionally good, with 6 as the average score. The table below details the percentiles for each score and gives an idea for what range your student should target.

What about the SAT?

The ACT added the writing section in response to the SAT essay to keep the two tests equivalent. The main difference was that the SAT essay was required while the ACT writing was optional. This has now changed, however. In January of 2021, the College Board announced that after June 2021, it would no longer be offering the essay portion of the SAT.

That’s it! Hopefully you have a better idea of whether or not your student should take the ACT essay. If your student needs assistance preparing for the essay or other sections of the tests, contact us today.