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Power of the Pen is an interscholastic writing league founded by Lorraine B. Merrill in 1986. It is a non-profit creative writing program for students in grades seven and eight in the U.S. state of Ohio.



Power of the Pen is exclusive to the state of Ohio, having no competition at a national level. Over 80 school districts compete, each starting off with teams of twelve students, six from each grade. A writing coach is penalized if this number is not met.


In most schools, students who want to join the Power of the Pen team participate in one or more tryout sessions, in which they are given a prompt that they must base an essay or short story within 40 minutes. After the allotted time, each story is given to the coach, who evaluates the writing and chooses students who they think are best for the team based on their writing skills.

The teams compete in three different tournaments: a District, Regional, and State tournament. Based on where their schools are located, teams will participate in separate District and Regional tournaments throughout the state. As the team progresses, more and more members may be eliminated based on their scores in the previous tournament's submissions.




A District tournament is held at an elected participating school, the itinerary consisting of a welcoming orientation, three rounds of writing that are 40 minutes -35 at the State competition level- each, lunch, and an awards ceremony. There is only one judge per section of six writers.. As the name suggests, District tournaments consist of many local schools. There are about 70-90 students per grade that attend district tournaments. Placing in approximately the top 50% will qualify a student to for the Regional tournaments. You are graded by rank points, or the place you received within the specified room you are out in. Quality points, the points given based on the essay's overall quality, are used to break ties in placing.
A Regional tournament follows the same itinerary, but there are two judges per section. An estimate of about 100 students attend Regional tournaments. Placing in approximately the top 20% will qualify a student for the State Finals. Once again, you are graded by rank points and quality points.
State tournaments can last two days for schools willing to come a day earlier, or if a participating school has students who will help with the organization of the competition. States are usually held at a participating college, The College of Wooster being most popular. Students are permitted to sleep in assigned dorm rooms, and meals are provided for those who request and pay for them. There are three rounds, each last for 35 minutes in which to respond to the prompt given. This tournament is the only one with a fourth "Power Round" and allows 30 minutes to respond to the prompt. You must qualify for this round by being in the top 50 writers of your grade level. Like the District and Regional competitions, the prompts are graded by Quality Points and Rank Points, however your overall placing depends on quality points instead of rank points like the other two tournaments.
There is often a guest author/influential speaker that speaks during state tournaments.
The winner of Power of the Pen is granted with a scholarship to the College of Wooster.


During a tournament, each Power of the Pen member receives a four-digit number, which they are to use as identification instead of their names to prevent potentially biased judging. The first two digits are letters, remaining consistent throughout the school's team. The third digit is specific to the student's grade (7 for 7th grade, 8 for 8th grade), and the final digit is based on the alphabetical order of students from that school/grade.


Each round consists of one prompt. Neither the writers nor the judges know what that round's prompt is going to be, and it is very rare for the writer to have ever even seen it before during practice sessions at school. As soon as the prompt is written down in a place for all in the room to see, the writer has 40 minutes (with the exception of States, which provides only 35 or 30 minutes) to write a narrative that has relevance to or includes the prompt. Some team coaches encourage writers to set aside about 5 minutes to think up a rough outline of the beginning, middle, and end. The details are filled in and improvised as the student writes. Finished copies are turned into the judge(s).


Each student has at least one score and rank per narrative. These items are both very different, and frequently confused with each other.


The writer's score, also known as his or her Quality Points is a numerical system used to establish the quality of the narrative.

  • 100-94 points show a score of "Superior".
  • 93-82 points show a score of "Honors".
  • 81-75 points show a score of "Merit".

A note on the official Ballot states: An award of 100 quality points indicates the Judge's belief that the paper should be considered as a "Best Response" to the prompt. A score of 94-100, in Rounds 1-3, indicates the belief that the Contestant is Finalist Caliber.


A scale of 1-6 is used in each room, as there are only 6 writers at most. A rank of 6 represents the most ill-addressed to the prompt narrative, whereas a 1 represents the best and most creative of the six writers.

Much confusion is usually related to the difference of the two. If, for example, a person was awarded a "1" on their narrative; he or she still could have earned a low score of 80 or so. Earning a 1 only means that the response to the prompt was better than the other five and the story held higher quality.


Each tournament has winners who have scored higher than other students. The larger the tournament, the stiffer the competition.

Districts and Regional
Based on the judge's evaluations of their writers, winners are picked. The top 12 or 15 students (depending on the tournament size) win trophies or medallions according to their place, and the top 50% are allowed to go to the Regional tournament. Best of Round awards for Districts and Best of the Best awards for Regional (as described below) are awarded as well.
Based on the judge's evaluations of their select writers, nominees are picked. The top 54 students

are allowed to participate in the final Power Round of Writing. This is then used to determine the winners. The top students win plaques according to their place. Best of Rounds, Best of the Best, and Best Response awards are rewarded as well.

Judges grade on the best or most ill-fitted response to the prompt. Though not required, it is requested that students give their works a title. It is rumored to affect the score, though there is no verification or evidence that this is true. Medallions and trophies are also awarded. In addition, schools can win a Sweepstakes trophy for having the highest total number of points that both seventh and eighth grade teams scored. At Regional and State tournaments, it includes previous tournament's points added to the current points.

Best of Round

There is a Best of Round award given to the one person who all the judges agree had the best response to the prompt out of the entire grade's submissions. There are three forms of this award.

Best of Rounds
Six students in the tournament can win this award; three in seventh grade and three in the eighth grade. There can only be one winner per round, and there cannot be a tie for Best of Rounds. The prize is a notebook with all of the previous year's winning stories.
Best of the Best
At Regional tournament, the judges analyze the Best of Round entries from District tournaments and the Regional tournament. They then pick six (three for each grade) winners, who will receive a cash bond and have their writings published.
Best Response
At state tournaments, the judges pick someone who they think had the best response out of everyone in different areas (comedy, poetry, horror, etc.). If held at The College of Wooster, the student(s) may receive a scholarship to Wooster. There are also State and Regional Best of the Best Awards.
Director's Choice
The director, Lorraine B. Merrill, may choose several prompt responses as Director's Choice or Director's Best of Round writings. The writers receive notebooks with blank pages, and often choose to copy their Director's Choice prompt into it. One of the Director's Choice prompts receives a Best of the Best, and is featured in that year's Book of Winners.

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