What’s the “Write” Option? ACT Writing Option

Students who don’t like to write are often looking for outs, and the fact that ACT calls the writing portion of its test “optional” often feels like a ripe opportunity to opt out of the dreaded essay. I caution students who are ready to take the easy way out to think again.

Round One

Let’s look at an actual LEAP student who took the ACT twice. First round, the student earned an ACT composite of a 26, which is a good score. The national average for ACT is a 21 and this student scored at the 84th percentile. Furthermore, this student hit all four college-readiness benchmarks. The breakdown of this composite is English 25, math 27, reading 23, science 28, and an essay score of 8. Looking good! With this ACT score and the student’s GPA, she has a great shot of acceptance at her colleges of interest.

A Second Shot

After taking the LEAP ACT-SAT Prep Essentials course and practicing for round two, our student makes huge gains. English 34, math 31, reading 28, and science 32, resulting in a 31 composite. Now our student is at the 97th percentile—wow! The student once again gets an 8 on the essay portion of the test.

Time to Apply

Several of the colleges the student will apply to require an ACT with the essay score attached, so of course she will send attempt 2 with the much higher composite. Now consider if this student, who does not love writing, had skipped the writing “option” the second time. In this case, she would need to send both scores. Why? The first set meets the requirement for the writing option, but the second set gives her the best chance at scholarships.

What’s The Cost?

First, money. If you’re applying to five schools, it’s an additional $50 to send the second set of score reports to each college. It is only $15.50 to add the writing “option” to an ACT test administration. It’s a financial savings to take the writing option.

Most admissions officers will tell you they only consider the best ACT or SAT score. While I believe that is their intent, I do know these are subjective humans reviewing applications and making decisions. In my heart, I believe that it simply looks better if a college only sees the second set of scores in this case, instead of both. Quite simply, it’s putting your best foot forward.

You Need the Practice, Anyway

The timed writing test is terrific practice for anyone, but especially for those who don’t like to write. There’s a lot of writing in every student’s future and it doesn’t stop with the ACT and SAT—there will be college and scholarship applications, college course placement tests, and of course college itself.

So don’t take the easy way out. Do what we advise all LEAP students to do and don’t consider the ACT writing test optional. If you’ve already declined this “optional” test, it may not be too late—as long as you are within the “late registration” period, you can still add the writing portion to your ACT registration.


This article was written by Lisa Mader

Lisa Mader relies on extensive teaching experience, a master's-level education, and affiliation with some of the industry's most important accreditation boards to help college-bound students maximize their performance and find their best-fit college. Through her company LEAP, Lisa has helped countless families in the areas of test preparation, college selection/application, choosing a major and future career, and much more.

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