Kristin Fracchia
Lesson by Kristin Fracchia
Magoosh Expert
Learn More About Magoosh ACT
This lesson is about how scoring works on the ACT Essay. Now in our introduction to the ACT writing section, we talked a little bit about how the essay is scored. In this video we're going to go into that in a lot more detail. Particularly, we're gonna talk about each of the four domains that your essay is scored on and what you need to do, or what you can do in each of those domains to get your absolute best score.

So then, you have an overall raw score that is as high as it possibly can be when it gets converted to that scaled score. But just for a quick refresher, let's take a look at an overview of the scoring process. So on your score report for the ACT essay you will receive a scaled score from 1 to 36 on the essay.

This is separate from the 1 to 36 score you get on the other multiple choice sections or on your composite score. And like I just mentioned, it's derived from these four different domain scores and then it's converted to this overall scores of 1 to 36. So what are those four domains you are going to be scored on?

They are ideas and analysis. Development and support, organization, and language use and conventions. Let's look at each of these four domains a little bit more, a little bit closer. All right, ideas and analysis. This domain score reflects your ability to generate quality ideas that are relevant to the prompt.

And to think critically about the different perspectives provided by the prompt and understand your writing purpose and your audience. Okay, this is hard, this is not a skill that you can learn like how to multiply fractions. You can't learn to think overnight. What will help you is reading lots and researching debatable topics online and learning about different perspectives so you can see how other people are thinking about an issue.

You can learn to see the other side of issues. Be able to see the pros and cons of an issue. One website resource for this is, it gives you a bunch of debatable issues and lists pros and cons on either side. That one's pretty good and pretty easy and very accessible. There's another site also called that also does a similar thing.

So these are websites you can check out because you're going to be given a debatable topic, and you're gonna need to look at different perspectives and argue your case on it. It doesn't mean you're gonna find something on these sites that's gonna be on the ACT, although you might, but it'll help you learn to see these different viewpoints.

Now, the last point on the slide here, this is the easiest because your purpose and your audience are always the same. Your purpose is always to evaluate and to persuade. To evaluate the perspectives you're given, and to persuade means to argue for your own perspective. To get your readers to agree with you.

Now, your audience is always the same as well too. Who is your audience? Well, for the most part the graders are educators, so you can imagine that you're writing for your English teacher. This means you need to be academic in tone, not too formal and not too informal. However this doesn't mean that you can't be maybe a little bit more witty, a little bit more direct than you might be on say a paper on Hamlet.

But you might want to think of it more as maybe writing a persuasive speech you'd be delivering to your classmates. You're still getting a grade and your teacher is still in the room. So you need to be on your best behavior. But you can speak a little bit more directly. That might be the best way to think about the tone you want to be achieving on the ACT essay.

Let's talk about the next domain, development and support. This domain score reflects your ability to offer specific examples and rationales that support an argument and your ability to analyze them and discuss their implications. This is so crucial. You don't want to bomb this area.

A lot of students don't realize just how specific they need to be to get a high score. Or they don't know what's better. Should I give lots and lots of examples, or should I just give one or two good examples? Well, what I can tell you is that on the new ACT essay a few good examples that you explain thoroughly is going to get you a lot more points than a lot of examples that you just mention in passing.

So you can see our video on how to wow the graders and the body paragraphs for some examples of what thoroughly analyzed and discussed examples and rationales look like. But you can also take a look at the sample essays published by the ACT on And you'll see that the highest scoring essays on there only have two or three examples and rationales.

So not that many. But they're really precise examples that are discussed in detail, and that's what you want to do as well, too, to get a good score in this domain. So be as specific as possible. Here's an example, lots of people have experienced censorship, that's not very specific.

Throughout history, let's look at another one, throughout history, there have been public uprisings, even revolutions, such as that which occurred in Egypt a few years ago over censorship. Okay, so that's better. It's a little bit more specific, we're calling out Egypt and public uprisings. Here is something that is even better.

The use of censorship by governments to control and limit the freedom of individuals was evident in the era of spring protests during which the Egyptian government completely shut down the internet to inhibit protesters who were organizing on Facebook and Twitter. This demonstrates the great danger in allowing governments the power of censorship.

Cuz that's pretty good. Don't panic if you don't know of any examples like this one, or if you're drawing a blank on the test. Think about things that you know well. Think about things you recently studied in class. You can also watch your videos on coming up with examples for more on how to generate your own examples.

If you're really struggling, you can also use a personal example. Find something in your own life. Generally, I think that outside examples, meaning from current events or history, tend to go over a little bit better, but there's nothing saying that you can't use personal examples. So, if you have a good personal example from your own life that you can talk about specifically, go for it.

That's what they're looking for in this development and support category. Next one, organization. This domain score reflects your ability to organize your ideas clearly and intentionally. Arrange your essay in a way that clearly shows the relationship. This is the important keyword, here.

The relationship between ideas and guides the reader through your discussions. The key word here is transitions. Make sure you have transitions in your essay, transitions that begin paragraphs, connecting big ideas and transitions within your paragraphs. This also means having multiple paragraphs. Have an intro, and a conclusion and body paragraphs.

Don't just write all stream of conscientiousness style in one big blob. Evaluate the other arguments first. Boom, boom, boom. One, two, three. And then, assert your own perspectives so you are ending on your argument. That's my suggestion for organization anyway.

Lots more in other videos on that. But that creates a really natural structure to the answer for the particular type of prompt you are getting on the ACT essays, so check out that structuring the essay video, for more organization. Okay, finally, language use and conventions. This domain score measures your use of proper grammar, syntax, mechanics, style, and tone.

Rewards writers for purposeful word choice and variety in sentence structure. Now the reason I said rewards here is because this is really the icing on the cake. You can get a decent score just by being mechanically proficient. But, if you really want to sparkle, if you really want a high score, you need to choose your words very carefully.

This doesn't mean being pompous with your vocab or trying too hard, but using very specific, purposeful word choice will help you. You should also try to vary the length and the style with your sentence structure. Don't you start every other sentence with my example here, machines are bad for human beings. Machines take jobs from people.

Machines are frustrating. Don't just start every sentences the same way and make them about the same link. Change it, switch it up a little bit. If you aren't already a very strong writer, then this can be tough to do in a timed writing situation that doesn't allow time for editing. So in that case, quick editing during the proof reading period might be your best bet.

If you see that you are starting sentences with the same pronoun or noun in a row, change one of them. Or if you have a sentence that's too long and complex, then break it into two. Or if you go back and you read a sentence you wrote that says machines are bad for humanity, and you think that would be better if I wrote devastating. Then cross it out, write it neatly in, a little more neatly that I'm writing right there, between the lines.

That's fine. They know that you're writing really quickly, you're drafting, you're editing. In fact, it really shows that you're able to use your time effectively as well too. You wrote this whole essay and you had time to go back and edit it a little bit, that kind of shows the readers that you know what you're doing. When you're writing and editing an essay.

So, as a general rule of thumb as well to as just one more side note. Try not to have a sentence with more than three commas unless you're making a list of items. Basically your number one task is not to confuse the readers. And they're reading just as quickly as you're writing, actually they're reading a lot more quickly than you're writing.

So be really clear. Don't think that long sentences make you sound better. Doesn't work on the ACT Essay. All right, let's just go over a little bit more detail how scoring works on the ACT just to finish up here. You’re gonna have two different graders that assign your essay a score of 1 to 6 on each of the four domains that we just talked about.

The scores of the two graders are than added together to give you a score of 2 to 12 for each of the four domains. If the graders disagree by more than one point than the third grader jumps in to resolve the discrepancy. And then, these domain scores are tallied up and converted to the scaled score from 1 to 36.

And finally, this is so crucial, there is the exact scoring rubric and the sample essays that the graders are going to be using to score your essay on So make sure you check that out and use it to grade your own practice essays and to give to a parent, a friend, a teacher, someone who you trust with writing knowledge to grade your sample essays as well too.

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