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Catw Student Essay Scorer

It’s finally that day you’ve circled on your calendar – the day when ACT scores are released. You log into ACTstudent and look at your essay score. There's an "8" for your overall Writing score as well as four different "domain" scores of 6, 8, 9, and 10. What does your ACT Writing score mean and how is your ACT essay scored? This article will shed some light on both of these things.

Feature image credit: eppny by woodleywonderworks, used under CC BY 2.0/Resized from original.


A Quick Look into ACT Essay Scoring

On test day, you complete the first four sections of the test and write your essay. What happens next?

Once ACT, Inc. receives your essay, it is scanned and uploaded to an essay grading program for graders to score. In addition, ACT.org states that “[a]n image of your essay will be available to your high school and the colleges to which you have ACT report your scores from that test date.”

Each ACT essay is scored by two different graders on a scale of 1-6 across four different domains, for a total score out of 12 in each domain. These domain scores are then averaged into a total score out of 12.


NOTE: The ACT Writing Test from September 2015-June 2016 had a slightly different scoring scale; instead of averaging all the domain scores to get a total ACT Writing score out of 12, the domain scores were combined and scaled into a total score out of 36. One June 28th, 2016, however, ACT, Inc. announced that starting in September of 2016, the Writing test would no longer be scored on a scale of 1-36, due to the confusion this had caused. This change to out-of-12 ACT Writing scores is still different from the pre-September 2015 ACT essay scoring, since that system relied on graders giving the essay one holistic score (rather than 4 analytical domain scores).


Because the ACT Writing is optional, your essay score will not be factored into your ACT composite score. It will, however, be factored into your English-Language Arts subscore, which averages your English, Reading, and Writing scores and rounds up to the nearest whole number.

So what are the four domains that your essay is scored across?


1. Ideas and Analysis

Scores in this domain relate to your discussion of the perspectives on the essay topic.


2. Development and Support

Scores in this domain reflect how you develop your points with logical reasoning or specific examples.


3. Organization

Scores in this domain relate to your essay's organization on both a macro (overall structure) and micro (within each paragraph) level.


4. Language Use

Scores in this domain depend on your command of standard written English (including grammar and punctuation); variety in sentence structure and vocabulary is also rewarded in this domain.


Give me a hug by SeasonalOrange, used under CC BY-SA 2.0/Resized from original.

Cats: Great sources of amusement, but less great sources of standard written English.


For more on what goes into each domain score, read my article on the ACT Writing Rubric.


ACT Essay Scoring: Official Policy

Every essay is graded by two graders, who must score the essay within one point of each other. If the graders’ scores disagree by more than one point, a third grader will be brought in to resolve the issue. It's currently unclear whether this means a greater-than-one-point difference in domain score or overall essay score between graders – stay tuned for more information.

While your essay receives scores in each of the four domain areas, the domains themselves are graded holistically. For example, in the Language Use domain, there are no guidelines that instruct scorers to deduct 1 point for every 10 grammatical errors.

Another important part of official ACT essay scoring policy is that factual accuracy is not important. ACT essay graders are not supposed to score essays based on whether or not the facts are accurate. The point of the ACT essay is NOT to write a research paper with well-documented facts on a topic. Instead, you're asked to argue in favor of a perspective on the topic and compare your perspective to the other perspectives given by the ACT in the essay prompt; as long as your examples support your arguments, it doesn't matter if the examples aren't 100% true.


ACT Writing Scores in Practice

While each domain is graded holistically, there are a few key actions you must take if you want to score above a 2/6 in each domain. I've extracted these ACTions via analysis of the essay scoring rubric as well as through scrutiny of the sample essays the ACT provides on its website.

As I go through each domain, I'll be using the following official sample ACT prompt for any examples:


Intelligent Machines

Many of the goods and services we depend on daily are now supplied by intelligent, automated machines rather than human beings. Robots build cars and other goods on assembly lines, where once there were human workers. Many of our phone conversations are now conducted not with people but with sophisticated technologies. We can now buy goods at a variety of stores without the help of a human cashier. Automation is generally seen as a sign of progress, but what is lost when we replace humans with machines? Given the accelerating variety and prevalence of intelligent machines, it is worth examining the implications and meaning of their presence in our lives.


Perspective One

Perspective Two

Perspective Three

What we lose with the replacement of people by machines is some part of our own humanity. Even our mundane daily encounters no longer require from us basic courtesy, respect, and tolerance for other people.

Machines are good at low-skill, repetitive jobs, and at high-speed, extremely precise jobs. In both cases they work better than humans. This efficiency leads to a more prosperous and progressive world for everyone.

Intelligent machines challenge our long-standing ideas about what humans are or can be. This is good because it pushes both humans and machines toward new, unimagined possibilities.


Write a unified, coherent essay about the increasing presence of intelligent machines. In your essay, be sure to

  • clearly state your own perspective on the issue and analyze the relationship between your perspective and at least one other perspective
  • develop and support your ideas with reasoning and examples
  • organize your ideas clearly and logically
  • communicate your ideas effectively in standard written English

Your perspective may be in full agreement with any of the others, in partial agreement, or wholly different.


Ideas and Analysis

You must: Have a clear thesis in your essay.

Because you are writing a persuasive essay, it is imperative that you make your position on the topic clear. Otherwise, how can you persuade someone that your view is the correct view?

Since you have limited time and have to compare your perspective with at least one of the other perspectives anyway, choose one of the three perspectives given to you by the ACT to argue for in your thesis.


You must: Discuss the relationship between your perspective and at least one of the perspectives that the ACT mentions in the prompt.

The prompt explicitly states that you need to "analyze the relationship between your perspective and at least one other perspective." If you fail to discuss how your perspective relates to any of the given perspectives, it will be very difficult to score above a 2 or 3 in the Ideas and Analysis Domain. With the above "Intelligent Machines" prompt, for instance, you'd need to compare your position to at least one of the following: how machines cause us to lose our own humanity (Perspective One), how they are efficient and create prosperity (Perspective Two), and how machines challenge us and push us to new possibilities (Perspective Three).


Development and Support

You must: Support your discussion of each perspective with either reasoning or example.

There are a couple of ways you can support your arguments. One way is to use reasoning, which tends to be more abstract. For example, if you were using reasoning to support your argument for Perspective Two, you could discuss how machines taking over lower skill jobs frees up humans to do higher skilled tasks that require more creative thinking.

The other way you can support your points is through use of specific examples. For example, to support Perspective Two, you could use the example of how the mass-production of clothes has made it less expensive for everyone to own things like good boots.


For a high score in this domain, you must: Discuss both positive and negative aspects of the perspectives you disagree with as well.

In order to achieve a high score in this domain, you must show that you understand the complexities of the issue. The main way to do this is to discuss the pros as well as the cons of the perspectives you disagree with.

For instance, if you agree with Perspective Two in the above prompt (machines make us more efficient and that’s good), when you discuss Perspective One you should provide a brief instance of that perspective being "sort of" true before moving on to show how it is not as true as Perspective Two. Learn how to juggle both sides of a perspective in our article on how to write an ACT essay step-by-step.



You must: Group your ideas logically.

Writing an organized essay will make it easier for the essay graders to follow your logic and reasoning. Grouping your ideas logically can mean separating out ideas into different paragraphs (for instance, putting each perspective into its own paragraph), or it can involve clearly linking different aspects of the same idea in the same paragraph. No matter how you plan out your essay, try to make it as easy as possible to follow your arguments.


Language Use

You must: Write clearly.

Being able to communicate clearly is a key skill for college and life in general, so it makes sense that it would be tested on the ACT (a college entrance exam). ACT essay graders care more about the clarity of your thoughts than the fanciness of your language. Clarity of writing normally entails using proper grammar and clear, non-convoluted sentence structures. Throwing in fancy vocab won’t get you anywhere if it makes things less clear instead of more clear (I've seen this happen too many times to count).

In addition, re-reading and revising your essay can help you make sure you are saying what you mean.

Example of an unclear sentence: Machines are more practical because they are cheaper and so you can hire less people to do the work and pay less money overall and so you have a better profit margin.

Example of a clearer sentence (revised): Machines are more practical and cheaper in the long run because you can higher fewer people to get the same work done.


Détail de la machine à vapeur Merlin by Frédéric BISSON, used under CC BY 2.0/Resized from original.

TURNS out, the steam engine was more practical (and cheaper in the long run) than a thousand people pushing and pulling a train by hand.


What Does This Mean For Your ACT Essay?

From the lists of actions above, you can probably tell that the most important part of the ACT essay is to be clear. The ACT Writing test is designed to measure insight, not just how advanced your vocabulary is. Remember to...
  1. Be clear up front what your perspective on the issue is. Don't hide your thesis.
  2. Make it obvious when you’re discussing each perspective (and make sure to discuss the relationship between your perspective and at least one other).
  3. Support each argument with reasoning and/or specific examples.
  4. Take time to plan so you can write an organized essay.
  5. Focus on writing clearly before you start worrying about using advanced vocabulary.


What’s Next?

Want to learn more about how to write an ACT essay? Read my step-by-step guide to ACT Writing.

You've learned what your essay needs to include. But how you do you decode the prompt? Follow along as I teach you how to attack ACT Writing prompts.

Is a longer ACT essay always a better ACT essay? Find out how essay length can affect your score on ACT Writing here.


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Our program is entirely online, and it customizes what you study to your strengths and weaknesses. If you liked this ACT Writing lesson, you'll love our program. Along with more detailed lessons, you'll get your ACT essays hand-graded by a master instructor who will give you customized feedback on how you can improve. We'll also give you a step-by-step program to follow so you'll never be confused about what to study next.

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Requirements for Placement into ENG 2100:

  • A minimum score of 480+ on the SAT Verbal OR
  • 20+ on the ACT English OR
  • 75+ on the NY State Regents exam OR
  • 56+ on the CUNY Assessment in Writing (CATW) and 70+ on the CAT in Reading.[1]

English Language Learning (ELL) Placement:

Baruch offers ELL versions of ENG 2100, called “T” or “Tutorial” sections. ENG 2100T sections provide extra support for students whose first language is not English: T courses are capped at 20 students, meet for two additional hours per week than ENG 2100 courses, and are taught by faculty with specializations in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages).

During orientation all students eligible for ENG 2100 write a short essay to determine placement into ENG 2100 or 2100T. The ELL Placement essay scoring is conducted by faculty in the Department of English who teach ENG 2100 and 2100T. Approximately 15-20% of students place into ENG 2100T each semester. ENG 2150T courses are available as well.

Placement for students transferring from institutions outside the U.S:

Transfer students whose last college of attendance was a foreign university must take the CUNY Reading and Writing exams for placement purposes. Students who pass the CATW with a 56 may enroll in ENG 2100 but ideally should be advised by the ELL or Writing Director in the English Department to see if ENG 2100T would benefit the student. In such cases the ELL Director may ask the student to take the department’s Placement Exam.

Placement for students with degrees from outside the U.S.:

Prior to their first semester at Baruch, all students with degrees from institutions outside the U.S. must take an Exemption Exam, a 60-minute essay exam administered and scored by faculty in the Department of English at Baruch. Students who pass the exam will be awarded composition credits based on their score: a low pass earns credit for ENG 2100; a high pass earns credit for ENG 2100 and 2150. Students who do not pass the Exemption Exam will be placed into either ENG 2100(T) or ENG 2150(T) based on their score.

Placement for students with no CATW:

Students with no CATW score or other required placement measure must take the English Department’s Placement Exam prior to enrolling in ENG 2100. The Placement Exam, administered and scored by English Department faculty, is a 60-minute essay exam scored by faculty in the English Department. Students will be placed into either ENG 0153 (see below), ENG 2100, or ENG 2100T based on their score.

Placement for students who do not pass the CATW or English Department Placement Exam (effective fall 2016):

In the fall of 2016 the English Department began a pilot course for ELL students who do not score high enough on the CATW to place into ENG 2100 or 2100T. This course, based on the nationally recognized Accelerated Learning Program model (ALP), offers students extra support in a non-credit course taken in conjunction with a credit bearing First-Year Writing course. It works as follows: Prior to fall 2016, any student, including those transferring from a university outside the U.S., who did not pass the CATW (with a score of at least 56) or the English Department Placement Exam was enrolled in ENG 0132, a 9-hour, non-credit bearing course focused on preparing students to pass the CATW. Upon completion of ENG 0132 and passing the CATW, a student could then enroll in ENG 2100 or 2100T.

In the ALP model, ELL students with a score of 48-55 on the CATW are placed in to ENG 0153, a 3-hour, non-credit, ELL intensive writing class that must be taken concurrently with a special, paired section of ENG 2100T (indicated with a “3” at the end of the section, e.g. ENG 2100T, EMW3). The ENG 2100T course is capped at 20 students, 10 of whom placed in to 2100T and 10 of whom placed in to ENG 0153. ENG 0153 is paired with a special section of ENG 2100T, totaling 9 credit hours. In order to receive credit for ENG 2100, students in ENG 0153 must pass ENG 0153 (a pass/fail course) and pass ENG 2100T.

ENG 2100 Exemption Criteria (effective spring 2017):

Students who earn a 4 or 5 on the Advanced Placement English Language and Composition or AP English Literature and Composition exam will be exempted from ENG 2100. Otherwise ENG 2100 and ENG 2150 are required for all Baruch students; no exemption is available for ENG 2150.


[1] For more information on how to interpret CATW scores, please see: http://www.cuny.edu/academics/testing/cuny-assessment-tests/faqs.html – 5. For details on the CATW exam, see: http://www.cuny.edu/academics/testing/cuny-assessment-tests/faqs/StudentHandbookCATWWebnew.pdf

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