Now that the Writing portions of both the SAT and ACT are optional, students must content with a challenging decision: spend the extra time and effort to write the essay or gamble that their target schools won’t require the scores. On the one hand, nobody wants to risk an incomplete college application. On the other hand, nobody wants to struggle through another forty or fifty minutes on an already exhausting test day. What choice should a smart test taker make?
In previous years, we always recommended that students take the optional ACT Writing section (or take the mandatory SAT Writing section seriously) in order to keep their options only. Few aspects of the admissions process feel worse that having to take an entire ACT again just because one school required a Writing score. But events over the last year have shifted perspectives on the test essay. Most competitive schools routinely required or recommended the Writing section in order to capture one more data point on which to base admissions decisions. However, with the recent dramatic change in SAT Writing and the painful stumbles ACT has endured since it changed its Writing prompt and scoring rubric, the insights provided by Writing scores have become somewhat muddied.
Consequently, more and more colleges are waiving the Writing requirement, freeing students to skip the optional portions of the tests. This may sound comforting as a macro trend to current high schoolers, but while some schools reject Writing scores, others still embrace them. Consequently, students wondering if they should take the Writing sections of either the SAT or ACT should do one simple thing…
ASK THEIR TARGET COLLEGES
Searchable databases like Naviance and the College Board website exist that compile admissions statistics and requirements year to year. In fact, the College Board offers a targeted database of SAT Essay Policies of Colleges and Scholarship Providers. ACT offers a similar resource compiling What Colleges Have Decided about the Writing Test, but the currency of the database appears dubious.
In any case, because of the dynamic and deeply individual nature of the question, teens should skip the websites and call schools directly. Take a moment to personally confirm each target school’s policy on the optional SAT and ACT essays, and–no matter what their policy is–you’ll save yourself a lot of future suffering.