MA: 1-800-698-8867   CT: 1-800-843-8520   NY: 1-800-391-8435 STUDENT PORTAL

Everything Old is New Again – ACT Announces its Return to the 2-12 Essay Scale

 In ACT, Essay


The ACT announced this week that they were abandoning the 1-36 scoring on their optional essay and returning to its 2-12 scale. As we noted in a previous blog post, the ACT faced various criticisms and difficulties when they introduced the new 1-36 scale for their fall 2015 and spring 2016 tests. This change back to the 2-12 scale for the fall 2016 tests is their attempt to address those concerns.

Here is the link to the ACT’s press release announcing the change:

One of the criticisms of the 1-36 scale was that students’ essays scores often seemed lower than their overall composite scores and more specifically lower than their multiple choice English score. By returning back to the 2-12 scale and moving away from the 1-36 scale, a direct comparison of the essay score to the other sections of the test becomes more challenging. For example, students who were in the 85% received a score of 8/12. On the 1-36 scale, that same 85% became a 24/36, which was often significantly lower than the composite score. That score of 24 created a lot of concern among students and families that it would raise a red flag for college admissions officers that the previous, equivalent score of 8 did not generate.

Is the ACT essay scoring problem fixed?

Returning to the 2-12 essay scoring system should help clarify what constitutes a good essay score and reduce some of the anxiety that surrounded the 1-36 scale.

The problem, however, remains with how the essays are scaled. The ACT is maintaining the rubric that it developed when it changed the essay score to the 1-36 scale.  This rubric consists of four different criteria (ideas & analysis, development & support, organization, language use & conventions) each scored by two readers on a 1-6 scale.  Thus, the essay’s raw score is still out of 48 points, and the ACT is dividing that score by four to convert it to the 2-12 scale and rounding accordingly. One of the issues that emerged with the new rubric and the 1-36 scale was that subtle differences in scoring between the two readers could dramatically the overall scaled score. Unfortunately, because the ACT is still using the same rubric and scoring guidelines, even though it is now on the 2-12 scale, that problem still exists. For example, a student whose readers scored the essay a 3, 3, 3, 3 and 4, 4, 3, 3 would receive a raw score of 26 and a scaled score of 7 (6.5 rounded up). This score of 7 is the 59%.  Another student who wrote a very similar essay and received scores of 3, 3, 3, 3 and 4, 3, 3, 3 would receive a raw score of 25 and a scaled score of 6 (6.25 rounded down).  This score of 6 is the 39%.

Now that the essay is back to the 2-12 scale, is there a concordance table?

Yes. The ACT released a white paper describing ways to compare the scores from essays on the 2-12 and 1-36 scales.

Here is the link and a simple table to compare the scores:

How are colleges going to use these newly scored essays?

The answer remains unclear. Even with the new scoring system, colleges are most likely still taking a wait and see approach to the ACT essay and are waiting to collect more internal data to determine its usefulness in college admissions. With yet another change to its essay announced, it will be interesting to see if an even greater number of colleges who previously required the essay, will now make it optional. Furthermore, with all of the changes and the back and forth with the scoring, it is difficult to imagine that those colleges who are still requiring the essay will put much stock in the score. Between the application essays and the student transcript, colleges have other criteria to evaluate a student’s writing abilities.

Should students still register for the ACT with writing?

While the essay’s importance in the college admissions process remains murky, we are recommending that students register for the ACT with writing. There are still a number of colleges that require the essay, and we want to ensure that students have all of their bases covered in case they end up adding a school to their list that requires the essay.

Please do not hesitate to reach out to us with any questions about strategies for writing the ACT essay or questions about how it is scored. We will be sure to add updates as more information becomes available or pass on any other changes as they are announced.


Recommended Posts
Showing 2 comments
  • Avatar
    Mary Kelleher

    I agree with Susan. This testing ‘thing’ has become more and more complicated. We thought that this year the changes would be limited to the SAT but the ACT has produced its own headaches too.

  • Avatar
    Susan Case

    Omg! Thank you, friends at Summit for helpin the rest of us follow the ever changing world of SAT/ACT craziness! I could not do this work without you!

Leave a Comment