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Outlier ACT Writing score— WWYD?


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Please don’t quote— I’ll delete specifics later.

On another thread, @Farrar mentioned a recent change to the way ACT displays/reports Superscore. I logged into DD’s account and saw hers. Overall, she’s pleased with her scores, but for one thing: on a whim, I had her take the ACT with Writing. She went into it blind and her resulting score was way out of line with the rest of the test, and naturally it was her best test to-date in other areas. *face palm*

(1) None of the schools she’s planning to apply to require the writing test, (2) all of them will look at Superscore, (3) and unless she takes the Writing again and scores better,  that *DANG* score will always appear on her Superscore since only test = best test. Incidentally, she has a score of 5 on AP Eng Lang and generally has excellent writing skills. I suspect her essays will be assets to her applications. She does plan to apply to some highly selective schools.
 

I really hate to ask her to prep for it and re-take it. She’s not burned out yet, but she can see the smoke from where she’s standing, iykwim. She’s planning to take the 4/18 ACT without Writing hoping to improve math score, but should I have her take the Writing? Even though nobody requires it?  WWYD?
 

I’ll paste picture below if I can, but here are the specifics in case anyone can’t see it. I feel like I’m overthinking this, but I also feel like I’m still at risk of ruining my child’s life. 😫

 

0ED9A1A8-AB7D-4C86-AA4F-6D19CDABCFCD.jpeg

Edited by fourisenough
Gah! Can’t figure out how to remove image!
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Most schools allow you to self report your scores on the Common App or Coalition App, so there is no actual sending it in until after an acceptance. I would probably go and take a look at the ACT score entry section of the Common App to see how it is set up. It may be that you can just enter superscores for the other sections and omit writing (especially since most schools do not require the writing section). 

My older son did the SAT and we had the same experience. His writing score was totally out of whack with the rest of his scores. We did have him do another round with the SAT (with no writing) so that we could ditch that writing score (and luckily he did better that next time around so we really could ditch the bad administration with the writing!). That said, I don't think it's the end of the world if you had to submit the writing score somewhere. That's a great composite score, and I definitely wouldn't want to lose it over fear of what might happen with the wacky writing number.

If you do go for another sitting of the ACT, I probably would not do the writing section again. Those things are just weird and not really indicative of writing ability. Grading can be inconsistent and formulaic. There is plenty of good writing that would not score well in that context. Additionally, the student is exhausted after taking the rest of the test, and it's tough to get something out on a time limit when you are tired!

Good luck in figuring out what is best for you guys, but I really wouldn't worry too much about the writing. No matter what you decide to do, it should be fine!

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38 minutes ago, UmmIbrahim said:

If you do go for another sitting of the ACT, I probably would not do the writing section again.

The thing is, I think unless she takes the writing specifically again, the superscore that's now on all reports will just keep showing the original score. That's the change in how they do score reports.

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25 minutes ago, Farrar said:

The thing is, I think unless she takes the writing specifically again, the superscore that's now on all reports will just keep showing the original score. That's the change in how they do score reports.

Ooh... yuck.. I see how that will go then. No ditching a subsection score, even if it's an optional section. Well that stinks! Ignore my previous advice then, lol. Hopefully the self reporting will make it a moot point!

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1 hour ago, UmmIbrahim said:

I would probably go and take a look at the ACT score entry section of the Common App to see how it is set up.

Is this a good place/time to confess that I have a huge mental block/anxiety-based procrastination situation with regard to delving into the Common App? Idkw, but I just can’t get myself to create an account and start fumbling around. I’m generally the opposite of a procrastinator, but not on this one issue. Ugh. Need to get over it and just get in there. I’m sure it isn’t as bad as the monster-under-the-bed I’ve made it out to be in my head. 

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10 minutes ago, fourisenough said:

Is this a good place/time to confess that I have a huge mental block/anxiety-based procrastination situation with regard to delving into the Common App? Idkw, but I just can’t get myself to create an account and start fumbling around. I’m generally the opposite of a procrastinator, but not on this one issue. Ugh. Need to get over it and just get in there. I’m sure it isn’t as bad as the monster-under-the-bed I’ve made it out to be in my head. 

Awww... that brings back memories. I was the same way, but I'm more of an overall procrastinator, lol. The easiest thing that you can do is just set up a dummy student account and play around with it. It's really just a bunch of demographic information stuff, but you'll be able to see how your student is going to self report the scores and what the entry spaces for extracurriculars/etc. look like. The homeschool parent/guidance counselor account will have some different information that you'll be entering, but just taking a low-stakes look at the student entry portal can maybe get you over your anxiety about it. You can do it! 🙂 

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I agree woth what the others say about self -reporting, but I'll add that most schools completely ignore the writing part of the ACT/SAT. They have found it tells them nothing helpful. So, I wouldn't think twice about sending score reports anyway. (Most of) The schools themselves don't care!

Secondly, the Common App isn't as scary as you are making it out to be, unless it gas majority changed since dd#1 used it. Dd#2 didn't use it since she pretty much only applied to one school. (Technically two but #2 has never really been in the picture.) It is aggravating, tedious, frustrating, and annoying, but because they keep asking, "are you sure you want to submit this" and letting you re-upload over & over again, it didn't end up being scary. Well, until you actually did hit submit... and that was a bit scary. But the filling it out wasn't.

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1 hour ago, fourisenough said:

Is this a good place/time to confess that I have a huge mental block/anxiety-based procrastination situation with regard to delving into the Common App? Idkw, but I just can’t get myself to create an account and start fumbling around. I’m generally the opposite of a procrastinator, but not on this one issue. Ugh. Need to get over it and just get in there. I’m sure it isn’t as bad as the monster-under-the-bed I’ve made it out to be in my head. 

Well, you don't have to go to the CA to find out if the schools she's looking at need a score report. Just search their websites. Or, have your dd reach out and just ask admissions. It's always good to do that anyway since it shows that the student is ahead of the game and contacting admissions. They'll log that she did it and it shows interest.

But in terms of the CA... it's not rocket science. Use a dummy email and go play around with it. Do it with your dd. They know people do this and it's not a big deal. My one thing I'll say about it. I heard *multiple* horror stories this year about homeschool parents who hit submit thinking they - like the student! - could change the documents and update them if need be. Not the case. Once you, as the counselor, hit submit, it's done. That document is tied to your kid for every single application. And the CA will not take pity on you as a homeschool parent and let you remove it. You can always submit updates, but if you... say... completely submitted a weird transcript missing or with misleading information or something or a letter that was rambly and five pages long... that's stuck to your student now.

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2 hours ago, RootAnn said:

... I'll add that most schools completely ignore the writing part of the ACT/SAT

That's been pretty much true since the essays were added to the ACT/SAT about 15-18 years back -- one reason being that the essay can't be scored objectively in the way multiple choice questions can be. 

And because many colleges have for years ignored the writing section is a reason why the SAT is ditching the essay option entirely as of the June 2021 test...

 

Edited by Lori D.
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The inability to "unsee" something like the new ACT superscore on your report when it's something they're not supposed to take into account is one of the reasons that schools like self-reporting, by the way. Some schools assure applicants that they absolutely do not look at information, even if it's accidentally provided, if it's something like the writing score that they don't consider. And one of the reasons that they don't like scores to go on the transcript - which I know is something many homeschoolers do, by the way.

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I have heard more than a couple admissions folks say they just never figured out what to do with the ACT writing score and they just ignore it. I am sure they see many of these outlying scores on writing. I know my oldest ds had one like that. I never had the younger guys take it because no one seemed to want it. I have heard of other really great English students getting scores from 6-8 on the essay so I am sure the admissions people are very used to that and it will not shock them. I also think alot of people just do the writing once so I suspect the admissions people would know, if they even did look at it, that it isn't something the student took over and over to get that score. 

Back when my oldest was applying in 2015, test optional was starting to be a thing at more schools. One school that we went to an info session at said they had student workers whose job it was to go through and black out any test scores anywhere on the application (for students who indicated they wanted to go test optional) before it got in front of anyone making decisions. So that is possibly practice at some places to keep scores from being unintentionally shared.

*Now here is where my skepticism about test optional and superscore comes in* 

I think schools often go test optional and superscore to help their own rankings, not out of their altruistic desire to help students and provide a holistic review. I think some schools my oldest applied to seemed to really be gaming the system of college rankings by encouraging lots of applicants (free applications, no essays) and to up their average test scores by going test optional so only the higher end scores were going into that calculation. I think any school that has gone to superscore really only wants the best scores and they are not going to see a low score on there and have a seed of doubt planted against a student. I get that having that low outlying score on there is super annoying. It would annoy me too. But I absolutely would not push to have it prepped for and retaken and I would try to just forget it is there. 

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If a school says they don't look at the writing score, I'd take them at their word.  Note that the superscore doesn't actually include the writing score.  It just happens to be on the page with the other scores.

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1 hour ago, EKS said:

If a school says they don't look at the writing score, I'd take them at their word.  Note that the superscore doesn't actually include the writing score.  It just happens to be on the page with the other scores.

If I'm reading the graphic correctly, the superscore includes the writing, but the composite does not? I think a superscore is just the maximum of everything you've ever taken over each category... at least that's what it was for the SAT, when my little sister was applying 2 years ago. 

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3 minutes ago, Not_a_Number said:

If I'm reading the graphic correctly, the superscore includes the writing, but the composite does not? I think a superscore is just the maximum of everything you've ever taken over each category... at least that's what it was for the SAT, when my little sister was applying 2 years ago. 

It's just an average of the best scores for each subtest (excluding writing).  If you average the OP's daughter's scores (excluding writing), you'll see that it is the same as the superscore.  I think the reason the writing is in the graphic is to show the highest writing score ever obtained.  

Edited by EKS
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Just now, EKS said:

It's just an average of the best scores for each subtest (excluding writing).  If you average the OP's daughter's scores (excluding writing), you'll see that it is the same as the superscore.  

Aaaah, you're right, my bad! I'll be quiet now. 😛

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2 hours ago, EKS said:

If a school says they don't look at the writing score, I'd take them at their word.  Note that the superscore doesn't actually include the writing score.  It just happens to be on the page with the other scores.

I haven’t found a school yet that says they don’t look at the ACT Writing score; it’s true that most don't require it, but I’m not sure that’s saying the same thing. Now that it’s supplied prominently on any Superscore report (if a student has chosen to take the Writing test), even schools who don’t require it will see it. And, being humans, it may influence their opinion of the student even if they don’t actually, technically ‘use’ that score.

The obvious workaround is to self-report scores and only submit the official score report AFTER an admission decision has been made.

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  • 2 weeks later...
On 4/6/2021 at 8:11 AM, fourisenough said:

I really hate to ask her to prep for it and re-take it. She’s not burned out yet, but she can see the smoke from where she’s standing, iykwim. She’s planning to take the 4/18 ACT without Writing hoping to improve math score, but should I have her take the Writing? Even though nobody requires it?  WWYD?

Update: DD decided to change the date of her last ACT to 6/12 and take the full test with writing. She’s too busy right now trying to finish her academic classes well, prep for AP exams, and rehearse for her end-of-year ballet workshop performance to have the headspace to take the ACT and expect to improve her score.
 

She’s still planning to self-report scores (where allowed), but she just doesn’t like the idea of having that low writing score boldly displayed on her superscore report. She’s not going to do much to prep for it, thinking that it had to be a wild card lowball and she’ll likely do better on a second shot*.

I think this is a good decision.Her classes end the third week of May and then her APs will be 6/1, 6/3, 6/10 and then ACT on 6/12. She is a low-stress eager test-taker, so while this sounds like a crazy schedule for some kids, she’s just thrilled to compartmentalize her schedule: school ends, ballet ends, testing done! 

*And if not, it’s just 30-minutes of her life wasted on a useless test!

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1 minute ago, fourisenough said:

She’s not going to do much to prep for it, thinking that it had to be a wild card lowball and she’ll likely do better on a second shot*.

I highly recommend that she should prep in the sense that it's important to know exactly what they're looking for and make her essay look like that.  What they're looking for and what I'd consider good, thoughtful writing are two very different things.  Also the timed aspect of it is important.  Good writing takes time, but the exam doesn't give that time, so it's important to practice producing something that will be acceptable in that timeframe.

I will say that I have been a professional writer in my life, and I have two graduate degrees from writing intensive programs where I was constantly being praised for my writing, and I couldn't get above a 4 (60th percentile) on the GRE writing test in practice (computer graded) or in real life no matter what I did.

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9 minutes ago, EKS said:

I highly recommend that she should prep in the sense that it's important to know exactly what they're looking for and make her essay look like that.  What they're looking for and what I'd consider good, thoughtful writing are two very different things.  Also the timed aspect of it is important.  Good writing takes time, but the exam doesn't give that time, so it's important to practice producing something that will be acceptable in that timeframe.

I will say that I have been a professional writer in my life, and I have two graduate degrees from writing intensive programs where I was constantly being praised for my writing, and I couldn't get above a 4 (60th percentile) on the GRE writing test in practice (computer graded) or in real life no matter what I did.

What in the world ARE they looking for if you couldn't get above a 4?? 

I remember taking the SAT essay way back when, and I did well on that without having to prep or anything. But maybe they were more reasonable than whatever it the GRE/ACT want?? 

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7 minutes ago, Not_a_Number said:

What in the world ARE they looking for if you couldn't get above a 4??

It's a formulaic way to develop an argument that a computer algorithm can recognize.  So, length combined with certain key transition words, I know is one thing.  It also has an automatic grammar checker that I know for a fact tends to get things wrong (and docks you for them).  

I think that most institutions know that the writing test is a joke, thank goodness.

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16 minutes ago, EKS said:

It's a formulaic way to develop an argument that a computer algorithm can recognize.  So, length combined with certain key transition words, I know is one thing.  It also has an automatic grammar checker that I know for a fact tends to get things wrong (and docks you for them).  

I think that most institutions know that the writing test is a joke, thank goodness.

So really you'd do best with some sort of template you inserted arguments into 😕 . 

Man, that was the kind of writing I loathed in high school. I was incredibly relieved to get away from it in college (where I constantly earned one of the highest writing marks in all of my classes requiring essays -- of course, to be fair, the humanities in my college were a joke, so the competition wasn't real fierce.) 

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1 hour ago, EKS said:

I highly recommend that she should prep in the sense that it's important to know exactly what they're looking for and make her essay look like that...

Yes, this is esp. important because the current ACT essay is *different* from what the SAT and ACT essays used to focus on. 

Explanation of the essay from the ACT website, with samples:
"The test describes an issue and provides three different perspectives on the issue. You are asked to read and consider the issue and perspectives, state your own perspective on the issue, and analyze the relationship between your perspective and at least one other perspective on the issue. Your score will not be affected by the perspective you take on the issue.

- And here are tips from ACT on how to prep for the essay.
- Here is a Princeton Review article of tips on how to tackle the essay.
- This TC Tutoring pdf article has a great explanation for how to quickly find the pros/cons and argument in each of the 3 perspectives you are given as part of the essay.
- This AP Guru website lays out a detailed "template" of what exactly goes into each paragraph for a sample essay.
- This Prepared Student blog article has tips plus a graphic organizer "template" for the paragraphs of the ACT essay.
- This College Panda blog article pretty much says the most successful strategy is to create a essay template, memorize it, and just plug in the info from the specific prompts.
- The Dr. Robert Kohen Private Tutoring website has TEN topics for practicing ACT essay writing.


I would still say that you really DON'T need to take yet another test, because your student scored high in the areas that colleges actually CARE about. Remember, you'll still need to include time in your schedule to practice the essay writing, but also to practice the other test sections, as you don't want those sections that colleges really DO care about to dip while focusing on trying to bring up the least important part of the ACT, the essay score.

BEST of luck! Warmly, Lori D.

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1 hour ago, EKS said:

It's a formulaic way to develop an argument that a computer algorithm can recognize.  So, length combined with certain key transition words, I know is one thing.  It also has an automatic grammar checker that I know for a fact tends to get things wrong (and docks you for them).  

I think that most institutions know that the writing test is a joke, thank goodness.

It's like the software used to scan resumés for specific key words and phrases. You can have a fantastic set of skills and experience, but if you use words other than the exact words that are in the job listing, your resumé won't score as many "hits" and may be kicked out of the process as not being worth an interview. Meanwhile, someone else who knows how to "game the system" gets a ton of hits on their resumé for using the right words and gets an interview, even if they are totally unsuited for the job. 😩

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Another vote to prep for the essay. I've know too many AP English kids and strong homeschool kids (one homeschooled by English professor Mom) who got really low scores on the ACT writing despite strong test scores on writing across the board and in every other circumstance. I never took the time to figure it out because it didn't matter for my kids. Just chiming in that it might not be a one off and she might get a similar score if she does it again without prep. It isn't a normal essay...that's all I know. 

I mean- I don't think it matters or will make a difference in the long run but if it matters to her and she wants to improve it, I wouldn't just assume it will improve without specific prep.

Edited by teachermom2834
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  • 1 month later...
Posted (edited)

Well, she re-took the ACT writing section today. She came out feeling great about it. The prompt was something she knew a lot about and had a strong opinion on, so she was able to write 2.5 well-organized pages arguing her position. If she didn’t improve her score I’ll be totally surprised and very suspicious of the test’s worth! In any event, we’ll likely self-report scores and it will be a moot point. Thanks, all, for helping me think this through.

Edited by fourisenough
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11 hours ago, fourisenough said:

Well, she re-took the ACT writing section today. She came out feeling great about it. The prompt was something she knew a lot about and had a strong opinion on, so she was able to write 2.5 well-organized pages arguing her position. If she didn’t improve her score I’ll be totally surprised and very suspicious of the test’s worth! In any event, we’ll likely self-report scores and it will be a moot point. Thanks, all, for helping me think this through.

Fingers crossed she did well!!

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My take on prepping for the ACT or SAT writing section is that the person checking the essay has literally only a few minutes for each one. I'm pretty sure they can only look for and check off a few very specific things, so looking at what they want and giving it to them is a good thing in terms of scores.

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  • 4 weeks later...

Well, DD managed to increase her ACT writing score from a 6 (50th percentile) to a 9 (96th percentile). I’m fairly sure nobody will notice or care, but we feel better about it and think it’s a more accurate reflection of her writing ability. Now she can confidently send her Superscore and not feel like the previous ‘sore thumb’ of a writing score will stick out and be so noticeably divergent from her general testing profile. 

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20 minutes ago, fourisenough said:

Well, DD managed to increase her ACT writing score from a 6 (50th percentile) to a 9 (96th percentile). I’m fairly sure nobody will notice or care, but we feel better about it and think it’s a more accurate reflection of her writing ability. Now she can confidently send her Superscore and not feel like the previous ‘sore thumb’ of a writing score will stick out and be so noticeably divergent from her general testing profile. 

Yay!! That must be a relief. Yes, it doesn't matter, but that never stops one from feeling bad... 

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No way! Don't have her retake it! Those scores are beautiful.  If you're worried about the writing, you could have her take a community college class in writing to show colleges that she can ace a writing class. Obviously, her English is a perfect 36, so you could explain the lower ACT Writing if necessary in her applications. Although, I am not sure you should even address it -- the ACT writing is optional and mentioning it would just draw more attention than necessary.

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2 hours ago, Mrskitty76 said:

No way! Don't have her retake it! Those scores are beautiful.  If you're worried about the writing, you could have her take a community college class in writing to show colleges that she can ace a writing class. Obviously, her English is a perfect 36, so you could explain the lower ACT Writing if necessary in her applications. Although, I am not sure you should even address it -- the ACT writing is optional and mentioning it would just draw more attention than necessary.

Thanks for weighing in. She retook it in June and is pleased with the increase in her writing score. 
 

I really hope the ACT/SAT eliminates the essay portion entirely as it seems universally accepted that it is a poor assessment of writing ability, but until then, we are forced to play the game. I should have never had her take the writing test in the beginning!

 

Incidentally, she did not prep for the writing section for the re-take. She just happened to get a prompt that she was interested in and knew a lot about. She was able to write over two pages and felt very good about her argument/supports and structure.

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2 hours ago, fourisenough said:

I really hope the ACT/SAT eliminates the essay portion entirely as it seems universally accepted that it is a poor assessment of writing ability, but until then, we are forced to play the game. I should have never had her take the writing test in the beginning!

Hard agree. The same thing happened to us. I hadn't done the research before my son's first SAT sitting, so I just figured "Sure! Go ahead and take the writing section too." Lol, big mistake. Luckily, we were able to ditch the scores from that administration entirely, because he did better later (and none of our schools required reporting all scores), but we should have looked into things first!

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  • 2 weeks later...

Don't worry about it. Admissions departments are completely ignoring the writing score. The only reason it is still on the ACT is that some states allow the ACT to be taken in lieu of state testing. The overall ACT score is outstanding.

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