Skip to content

The Essay: The ACT Now Has Its ACT Together!

This article is slated to be updated with the latest college testing information. For more updated information, please refer to our 2023 and 2024 articles.

The ACT folks really created a mess when they “revamped” the essay portion of the exam. Fortunately for college-bound students everywhere, the situation appears to be (mostly) resolved.


The trouble began in September of 2015. Several changes to the essay were rolled out: a changed grading rubric that incorporated four scoring “domains”, a switch from the twelve-point grading scale to a thirty-six range, and significantly more complex writing prompt.

In this short space, it is nigh impossible to chronicle all of the problems that arose from these changes. In short, it was a disaster. While many reasons have been bandied about, I suspect that the complicated grading rubric did not lend itself to the subjectivity of the essay graders, and the result was wildly different scores that were often impossible to make sense of. For example, several of my hard-working students achieved composite scores in the 30-34 range and received writing scores in the high teens, while other lower composite scorers received writing scores in the high twenties. With these unexplainable differences in results, the essay became impossible to teach or prepare for.

The ACT folks had their own headaches. The company was inundated with requests for re-scoring that it could not keep up with. Moreover, they grappled with a public relations embarrassment as it became widely accepted that re-scoring for a fee would likely result in a higher score. Students-nor the colleges they were applying to-could trust the accuracy of these scores.


As institutional mistakes go, this one as turned around pretty darn quick. By the summer of this year, the ship was righted. The essay is now restored to its original twelve-point grading system, and the four-domain rubric was restored to its original, simpler version. The only remnant of the ACT’s overhaul is the complex writing prompt. That (to the chagrin of many test-takers) remains. However, because the performance expectations are now easily understandable, students can be assured that a solid effort will result in a solid score.

Jennifer Nevins, M.A. Nevins Educational Services, is the leader of MCPT’s targeted tutoring team. She and her team of specialists provide ACT and subject-specific tutoring that is distinctively efficient and effective. Contact Jennifer here.

Jennifer Nevins

Jennifer Nevins has taught students of varying ages and abilities for over fifteen years. An alumna of North Central College and Northern Illinois University, she earned a Bachelor of Arts and a Masters of Arts, respectively. Jennifer also is designated by the State of Illinois as "highly qualified" to teach language arts and history. She provides ACT, SAT, and subject specific tutoring that is distinctively efficient and effective.

Back To Top