2 years ago
Admissions Advice

Low ACT Writing Score

I have a 34 composite score on the ACT but my writing score is a 5. Is this going to hurt me a lot? I am applying to very competitive schools.


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3 answers

Accepted Answer
2 years ago[edited]

Hi, thank you for asking this question. This question is much more nuanced as you can see by the extensive answers we have here -- and I agree with everything said! You have a fantastic ACT 34 score, which will be great for you when applying to selective schools. You can highlight your writing skills in your essays, hopefully the writing score was a fluke, especially with someone who can score so well on the ACT. I would recommend applying with your test score to most schools and look to submit your additional essays to schools that welcome them (which @CameronBameron had mentioned).

I wouldn't worry too much about retaking an ACT. You have already done a great job, so see what you can do about writing the strongest application essays that you can!

Best of luck!

2 years ago[edited]

Yes, more likely than not because it's not aligned with your composite score of 34. Application readers who see this will red flag it. It's an outlier that either highlights your lack of writing ability or needs a believable explanation.

A 27% percentile writing score means that 73% received a higher mark. It is more in alignment with someone getting a 14-16 Composite score according to the table.

Percentile Composite Score (1-36) Writing Score (2-12)

100 36 12

99 32-35 11

99 32-35 10

96 29-32 9

90 23-29 8

66 20-23 7

51 16-20 6

28 14-16 5

15 12-14 4

5 11-12 3

2 1-11 2

Most test-takers who get a 34 composite score according to the table get an 11 so perhaps an 8 or 9 is passable but AOs are looking to see the 10 or 11 scores.

Since you can't "not report" your writing score, you have 3 choices.

1. Apply test-optional and let the rest of your application advocate for you.

2. Re-take the ACT with the writing section.

3. Submit the test score but focus on applying to colleges that require, invite or accept a graded paper. These would be Princeton, Brown, Williams, Amherst, Brandeis, George Washington University, Bard, Bennington.

I'm not sure the "5" is a true indicator of your writing ability or not because I don't know anything else about you. I don't know if you took AP Lang and AP Lit and got As and 5s on the exams or not. I don't know if your ECs support a different narrative. Perhaps you are the editor of the school newspaper, perhaps you have submitted research papers that have gotten published. Perhaps you have won awards and honors for your creative writing and poetry. We don't know.

If you are not a gifted writer nor have evidence of graded expository writing where your English and Humanities teachers can advocate for you, then I will say that applying primarily to very competitive schools will be challenging.

The main problem is that while no college requires the ACT writing section, since you opted in and took it and did poorly on it, there is no way to expunge the score, and if you report it, everyone will see the "5" next to the "34" and scratch their heads. You can not report an ACT score without the writing component if you took it and you can not just retake the writing section over. You have to take all 5 parts of the ACT exam. If you are not confident about retaking all 5 parts and doing better on the writing section, you can only do choice 1 or 3. I think picking choice 3 would only benefit you if you had tangible evidence that you are a great writer, not only by submitting a writing example but having that align with the essays that you write in a similar style and your teacher recommendations.

Writing, more than math ability is the one constant skill that you need to succeed at a top college. Admits who get accepted into schools like UChicago, Harvard, Columbia, Princeton, and Top Liberal Arts colleges do a lot of writing because much of their 1st year or 2 is taking core curriculum requirements. And to graduate, schools like Yale, Brown, MIT, Duke, Stanford, Harvard, Columbia require a Senior Thesis or Capstone project which can be as short as 25 pages or 100 pages or longer.

Since this is a very tough decision to make and you don't have a lot of time, I would have a series of conversations with your high school counselor and parents on how to proceed.

Good luck.

2 years ago

Most likely than not, it will hurt you if applying to ivy league and tier 1 schools. However, most tier 2 schools will not look at the essay part too closely as the essay has been removed from both standardized testing. The UC schools have said that they aren't even looking at the writing scores.

What are your chances of acceptance?
Your chance of acceptance
Duke University
+ add school
Your chancing factors
Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
| 800 verbal


Low accuracy (4 of 18 factors)

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