Relating ACT Writing Scores to First-Year English Composition Grades

The optional ACT writing test is designed to measure students’ writing skills - specifically, those skills emphasized and acquired in high school English classes and important for success in entry-level college composition courses. The test was first introduced in 2005, and in fall 2015, a number of enhancements to the former version were introduced. 

The enhancements included redesigning the writing prompts, extending the testing time from 30 minutes to 40 minutes, and using an analytical rubric on four writing domains for scoring instead of using a holistic six-point rubric. For the latter enhancement, the two independent trained readers assigned to the essay now use a six-point scoring rubric for each of the four domains evaluated.

The domains include Ideas and Analysis, Development Support, Organization, and Language Use and Conventions. Each writing domain score is calculated as the sum of the two readers’ ratings for the domain with the rounded average of the four domain scores being reported as the enhanced ACT writing score. Information from the enhanced ACT writing test aims to inform post-secondary institutions about students’ ability to think critically about an issue, consider different perspectives on it, and compose an effective argumentative essay in a timed condition.

By design, one purpose of the essay is to identify students’ strengths and weaknesses in writing so that they can skill up in areas in need of improvement while there is still time to do so in high school. Another purpose is to help post-secondary institutions inform college course placement decisions for writing-intensive courses and identify students placed into a standard-level English Composition course that may benefit from additional academic supports and services.

The objective of the current study was to examine the validity of using the enhanced ACT writing test for predicting grades in a first-year college English Composition course, alone and in combination with other measures including the ACT English score and high school grade point average (HSGPA).


The current study provides validity evidence for using the enhanced ACT writing score to measure students’ writing skills that are relevant for success in entry-level college English Composition courses. First, the study found that students with higher ACT writing scores earn higher grades on average than those with lower scores and have greater chances of earning a specific grade (e.g., B or higher, or A grade) in the course.

Moreover, ACT writing score was found to be moderately correlated with the grade earned in the course and to be reasonably accurate at classifying students likely to earn a specific grade or higher.