Should You Take The ACT With or Without Writing?

The ACT, a widely recognized standardized test for college admissions, offers students the choice of taking the exam with or without the optional Writing section. The inclusion of the ACT Writing section has been a topic of discussion among students and educators alike. It prompts the question: Should you take the ACT with Writing or opt for the version without? 

While the ACT Writing section is optional, it’s important to note that some colleges and universities require or strongly recommend it for admission, scholarships, or specific programs. Therefore, before deciding whether to include the Writing section, it’s essential to research the requirements of your target colleges and understand their stance on this portion of the ACT.

In this post, we’ll break down everything you need to know to make a decision to take the ACT with or without writing, including an overview of the ACT Writing Section, how this section is scored, which colleges require the ACT Writing portion, the advantages and disadvantages of each approach, and how to ace the ACT Writing Section should you choose to take it. Let’s get started!

Table of Contents:

  1. An Overview of the ACT Writing Section
  2. How The ACT Writing Section is Scored
  3. Why The ACT Writing Section Is Optional
  4. Which Colleges Require ACT With Writing
  5. Advantages of Taking the ACT With Writing
  6. Reasons To Take the ACT Without Writing
  7. Deciding To Take the ACT With or Without Writing
  8. Tips For Preparing For the ACT Writing Section
  9. Frequently Asked Questions About The ACT With Writing
  10. Related ACT Resources

What Is the ACT Writing Section?

Following in the footsteps of the SAT, the administrators of the ACT added the optional writing section to the exam in 2005 in order to assess students’ effectiveness in reasoning & argumentative capabilities through written language. 

The Writing Section of the ACT is a 40-minute written test that measures your ability to effectively craft a compelling essay in response to a variety of contemporary topics, such as the impact of social media on the modern world. 

You’ll be tested on your ability to develop evidenced-based arguments, explain ideas & concepts using logic and reasoning, analyze situations, events or ideas (for example: “Analyze the impact of Shakespeare’s writing style on his audience.”), and to compare and contrast ideas from different sources.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re good at English class or not – the ACT simply wants to know if you can convey your ideas clearly and coherently using standard written English conventions. 

How is the ACT Writing Section Scored?

Wondering how the ACT Writing section is scored? If so, you’re not alone. The most important thing to note is that the ACT Writing section does not affect your overall ACT score or impact other areas of the test. 

Your raw ACT essay is scored by two trained readers who use a rubric to evaluate how well you did on each of the four scoring dimensions: Ideas and Analysis, Development and Support, Organization, and Language Use & Conventions

The readers will score your essay on a scale of 1-6 for each of these dimensions, and each of these dimensions have its own evaluation criteria, which we’ve listed below:

Ideas and Analysis

A student’s ideas and analysis will be judged based on his or her ability to effectively analyze an argument or explanation. The student will need to provide evidence from the passage that supports his or her analysis of the argument or explanation presented in the prompt. Students can also use outside knowledge to support their analysis of the prompt.

If the prompt asks about the impact of social media on society, a high-scoring essay will provide a clear thesis statement (e.g., “Social media has both positive and negative effects on society”) and analyze various perspectives (e.g., the benefits of connectivity vs. the risks of misinformation).

Development and Support

The development and support category evaluates how well students develop their ideas in relation to their prompt. Students should use relevant evidence from their own experiences as well as outside sources to support their arguments or explanations in this section of the test. 

This category also evaluates how effectively students use transitions between paragraphs; these transitions help readers understand how different parts of an essay relate to each other in terms of content or logic.

Continuing with the social media prompt, a high-scoring essay might use examples like the Arab Spring to demonstrate the positive impact of social media on political activism, while also discussing the spread of fake news as a negative consequence.


This scoring criterion evaluates the overall structure and coherence of the essay, with emphasis on clarity and purpose. To meet this criterion, students should ensure that their essay has a clear introduction, body, and conclusion, uses clear transitions to connect ideas and paragraphs, and maintain a consistent focus on the central argument of the essay.

A high-scoring essay on the social media prompt from above would begin with an introduction that presents the thesis statement, followed by body paragraphs discussing the various perspectives, and concluding with a summary of the argument and its implications.

Language Use And Conventions

The Language Use & Conventions scoring criterion measures a student’s command of the English Language, and will assess the usage of proper grammar, punctuation, and syntax, as well as the overall tone of the essay as it relates to the intended audience. 

In the social media essay, a high-scoring writer would use a mix of simple and complex sentences to convey their ideas, choose precise words to describe the impact of social media (e.g., “polarization” or “echo chambers”), and avoid grammatical and punctuation errors.

By understanding and addressing these four scoring criteria, students can improve their chances of achieving a high score on the ACT Writing Section. For more information on how essays are scored, you can visit the official ACT website

Want To Get The Highest Score Possible On The ACT?

Why The ACT Writing Section is Optional

Now that you understand how the ACT Writing section is scored, let’s discuss why this section of the exam is completely optional. 

Below, we’ve broken down the three primary reasons the ACT Writing Section is optional: varying college requirements, separate scoring, and test duration & fatigue. 

College Requirements Vary

The primary reason the ACT Writing Section is optional is that not all colleges and universities require a writing score for their admissions process. 

Colleges have different requirements and preferences when it comes to evaluating applicants’ writing skills. Some institutions may place a higher emphasis on other aspects of a student’s application, such as their GPA, extracurricular activities, or letters of recommendation.

By making the Writing Section optional, the ACT allows students to tailor their testing experience to the specific requirements of the colleges they are applying to. 

This flexibility can be beneficial for students who are confident in their writing abilities and want to showcase their skills, as well as for those who may struggle with writing and prefer to focus on the other sections of the test. 

Separate Scoring

Another reason the ACT Writing Section is optional is that it is scored separately from the rest of the exam. While the English, Math, Reading, and Science sections contribute to a student’s composite score (ranging from 1 to 36), the Writing Section receives its own separate score (ranging from 2 to 12). This means that a student’s performance on the Writing Section does not directly impact their overall ACT score.

By keeping the Writing Section optional and separate from the composite score, the ACT allows students to decide whether they want to invest time and effort into preparing for and taking this portion of the test. For some students, focusing on improving their scores in the other sections may be more beneficial for their college applications.

Test Duration and Fatigue

The final reason the ACT Essay is optional might not seem like a big deal, but for students who struggle with test-taking, it’s an important factor to consider in your decision on whether or not to take the ACT With Writing. 

The ACT is a lengthy exam, with the four required sections taking approximately 2 hours and 55 minutes to complete. Adding the optional Writing Section extends the test by an additional 40 minutes. For some students, this extra time can lead to fatigue and decreased performance on the Writing Section.

By making the Writing Section optional, the ACT gives students the choice to determine whether they can maintain their focus and energy for the full duration of the test, including the essay portion. This can be especially helpful for students with accommodations or those who struggle with test anxiety.

Ultimately, the decision to take the ACT Writing Section depends on a student’s individual circumstances and the requirements of the colleges they are applying to. It is essential to research each college’s specific requirements and weigh the potential benefits of taking the Writing Section against the time and effort required to prepare for it.

Which Colleges Require ACT Writing?

Since the biggest factor in whether or not to take the ACT With or Without Writing is whether or not a specific college requires it, you’re probably wondering what colleges actually do require it. 

As of February 2021, a mere five institutions specifically mandate the ACT Writing Section for incoming first-year students. These schools include:

  • Soka University of America
  • United States Military Academy – West Point
  • University of Mary Hardin-Baylor
  • The University of Montana Western
  • Wyoming Catholic College

While very few colleges still require the ACT, many colleges strongly recommend the Writing Section (while others may not consider it at all). It’s worth noting that even if a college does not explicitly require the Writing Section, a strong score can still be a valuable asset in showcasing a student’s writing and critical thinking abilities. 

In addition to taking the ACT as a college requirement, students may need to take the ACT as part of a requirement by their state. The states that require completion of the ACT with Writing are below:

  • Alabama
  • Hawaii
  • Missouri, but only some districts
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio (only certain school districts)
  • Oklahoma (only certain school districts)
  • South Carolina (only certain school districts)
  • Tennessee (only certain school districts)
  • Utah
  • Wisconsin

By understanding which colleges (or states) require or recommend the ACT with Writing, students can make informed decisions about whether to take this optional section and ensure they meet all admission criteria for their desired schools.

Advantages of Taking the ACT With Writing

There are a plethora of advantages to taking the ACT With Writing, or else this portion of the exam wouldn’t have any reason to exist! Below, we’ll break down all of the reasons why a student might elect to take the ACT With Writing. 

Meeting College Requirements

One of the main advantages of taking the ACT with Writing is that it ensures students meet the application requirements for a wider range of colleges and universities. As seen above, some institutions require or recommend a writing score as part of their admissions process, while others may use it as a factor when awarding scholarships or determining course placement. By opting to take the Writing Section, students can avoid limiting their college choices and increase their chances of being considered for admission or financial aid.

Demonstrating Writing Skills

The ACT Writing Section provides an opportunity for students to showcase their ability to write a clear, well-structured, and persuasive essay. Strong writing skills are essential for success in college, as students will be required to write essays, research papers, and other written assignments across various disciplines. By taking the ACT with Writing, students can demonstrate to college admissions officers that they possess the necessary writing skills to excel in higher education.

Furthermore, a high score on the Writing Section can help balance a student’s overall ACT profile, particularly if their scores in other sections are lower than desired. For example, a student with strong writing skills but weaker math abilities might benefit from taking the Writing Section to highlight their strengths and offset any potential weaknesses.

Developing Critical Thinking and Argumentation Skills

Preparing for and taking the ACT Writing Section can help students develop valuable critical thinking and argumentation skills. The Writing Section requires students to analyze different perspectives on a given issue and construct a well-reasoned argument in response. These skills are not only important for success on the ACT but also for success in college and beyond.

By practicing for the Writing Section, students can hone their ability to evaluate complex issues, consider multiple viewpoints, and develop logical, evidence-based arguments. These skills will serve them well in college coursework, as well as in their future careers and personal lives.

Standing Out in the College Application Process

In a competitive college admissions landscape, taking the ACT with Writing can help students stand out from their peers. Including a strong writing score on their application can demonstrate a student’s commitment to academic excellence and their ability to excel in a challenging college environment.

 Additionally, a well-written essay can provide valuable insight into a student’s personality, values, and critical thinking abilities, allowing admissions officers to gain a more holistic understanding of the applicant.

As you can see, there are clear benefits to opting for this additional portion of the test. By understanding these advantages and preparing effectively for the Writing Section, students can enhance their college applications and increase their chances of success in higher education.

Reasons To Take The ACT Without Writing

Despite the compelling reasons to take the ACT With Writing, there are a variety of different reasons why a student might elect to take the ACT Without Writing. 

Better Focus on Core Subjects

One of the main reasons students may choose to take the ACT without Writing is to focus their preparation efforts on the core subjects of the test: English, Math, Reading, and Science

These sections contribute to a student’s composite score, which ranges from 1 to 36, and is often the primary factor colleges consider during the admissions process. 

By concentrating on these core subjects, students can maximize their composite score and increase their chances of being admitted to their desired schools.

For students who struggle with writing or do not feel confident in their essay-writing abilities, opting out of the Writing Section allows them to allocate more time and resources to improve their performance in the other sections. 

This can be particularly beneficial for students who excel in subjects like math and science, as a high composite score can outweigh the absence of a writing score in the eyes of college admissions officers.

Shorter Overall Test

As mentioned above, the ACT is a lengthy exam, and the Writing Section is an additional 40 minutes on top of the 2 hours and 55 minutes of the standard test.

By choosing to take the ACT without Writing, students can potentially reduce the risk of test fatigue and maintain their focus and energy throughout the entire exam. This can be especially helpful for students with accommodations or those who struggle with test anxiety, as a shorter test duration can alleviate some of the stress associated with standardized testing.

Colleges That Don’t Require Writing

Another reason students may opt to take the ACT without Writing is that very few colleges actually require a writing score for their admissions process. Some institutions may place a higher emphasis on other aspects of a student’s application, such as their GPA, extracurricular activities, or letters of recommendation.

By researching each college’s specific requirements, students can determine whether taking the Writing Section is necessary for their target schools.

 If the majority of their desired colleges do not require or recommend the Writing Section, or if the desired college does not use the ACT with Writing for scholarship consideration, students may decide to forgo this portion of the test and focus on meeting the other admission criteria.

Saving Time and Money

Taking the ACT without Writing can also save students time and money. The Writing Section comes with an additional fee of $25, and preparing for it may require extra resources, such as tutoring or test prep materials.

By opting out of the Writing Section, students can allocate these resources to other aspects of their college application process, such as visiting campuses, preparing for interviews, or working on their personal statements.

Read More: How Much Does The ACT Cost?

In summary, there are several reasons why a student may choose to take the ACT without Writing, including focusing on core subjects, reducing test duration and fatigue, meeting college requirements, and saving time and money. It is essential for each student to evaluate their individual circumstances, college goals, and the specific requirements of their desired schools to determine the best testing strategy for their needs. 

Decision Time: Taking the ACT With or Without Writing

Based on all of the criteria discussed in this post, you should now have all the information necessary to make a decision on whether or not to take the ACT With or Without Writing. To help with your decision, we put together the pros and cons of taking the ACT with Writing, which you will find below.

Tips for Preparing for the ACT Writing Section

If based on all of the above criteria you’ve decided to take the ACT with Writing, then you’re ready for the next step – preparing for this part of the exam! Below, we’ve listed all of the tips and tricks we’ve developed in our years of ACT experience to help you get the best score possible on the writing portion of this test.

Understand the Writing Section

To perform well in the Writing section, it’s crucial to familiarize yourself with its format and expectations. The Writing section of the ACT presents you with a prompt that addresses a particular issue or topic. Your task is to analyze the given prompt, develop a well-structured essay, and present a persuasive argument within a 40-minute time frame.

Practice Planning and Organizing

One key aspect of success in the Writing section is the ability to plan and organize your thoughts effectively. Start by reading and understanding the prompt carefully. Identify the main idea and consider different perspectives related to the issue. 

Create a brief outline that outlines your introduction, supporting paragraphs, and conclusion. This will provide a solid foundation for your essay and help you maintain a logical flow of ideas throughout.

Develop Strong Arguments

To create a compelling essay, you need to develop strong arguments that support your main thesis statement. Take a stance on the given issue and brainstorm relevant points and examples that substantiate your viewpoint. 

These can include real-life examples, historical events, or literature references. Aim to provide concrete evidence that illustrates your understanding of the topic and your ability to critically analyze it.

Focus on Clarity and Cohesion

Writing a coherent and well-structured essay is essential to convey your ideas effectively. Pay attention to the clarity of your writing by using concise and precise language. Make sure each paragraph has a clear topic sentence that supports your thesis statement and is followed by relevant supporting details and examples. 

Additionally, utilize transition words and phrases to create smooth connections between sentences and paragraphs, enhancing the overall flow of your essay.

Practice Time Management

Time management is crucial in the ACT with Writing. With only 40 minutes to complete the essay, it’s important to allocate your time wisely. 

Plan your essay in a way that allows you sufficient time for each step: understanding the prompt, brainstorming, outlining, writing, and revising. 

Aim to complete your essay a few minutes before time runs out, so you have a chance to review and make any necessary improvements.

Seek Feedback and Review Sample Essays

To further enhance your writing skills, seek feedback from teachers, mentors, or peers. Share your practice essays with them and ask for constructive criticism regarding structure, content, and grammar. 

Additionally, review sample essays that received high scores to understand what makes them successful. Pay attention to their organization, use of evidence, and overall clarity. This analysis will provide valuable insights into the expectations of the ACT graders.

Preparing for the ACT with Writing may initially seem challenging, but with deliberate practice and a solid understanding of the test format, you can excel in this section. 

Remember to develop strong arguments, focus on clarity and organization, and manage your time effectively. By implementing these strategies and seeking feedback, you can enhance your essay writing skills and approach the ACT with confidence. With dedication and consistent practice, you’ll be well-equipped to ace the Writing section and make a strong impression on college admissions officers. 

If you’re still unsure about whether or not you’ll ace the ACT Writing Section, head on over to our ACT tutoring page, where our tutors are eager to help you crush your college admissions goals. 

Frequently Asked Questions About The ACT With Writing

Do most students take the ACT with writing?

The decision to take the ACT with writing varies among students. In recent years, fewer students have opted to take the ACT with writing, as many colleges and universities have made the Writing section optional or have stopped requiring it altogether in their admissions process. 

However, some students still choose to take the ACT with writing to demonstrate their essay-writing skills and enhance their college applications. It is essential for students to research the specific requirements of the colleges and universities they are interested in to determine if taking the ACT with writing is necessary or beneficial for their applications.

Is ACT with writing more expensive?

Yes, the ACT with writing is more expensive than the ACT without writing. There is an additional fee of $25 to take the writing portion of the test. 

Related ACT Resources:

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