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Writing Exam Instructions

In this exam, you will demonstrate your ability to produce coherent, clear, and compelling writing. As representatives of the educational profession, teachers must be able to effectively communicate with different audiences for different purposes. Moreover, teachers from all grade levels and content areas must be able to model clear and accurate communication skills for their students. Consequently, basic writing competency is required for admission to all teacher education programs at USU. This test is designed to evaluate your basic competency when asked to produce spontaneous writing, as teachers are often required to do.

Before the Exam


You should take the writing exam at least one semester before you apply for the teacher preparation program. The writing exam will be given during the first five weeks of Fall and Spring semesters in the YETC (located on the first floor of the main education building) or at your local RCDE campus site. You do not need to sign up for the exam in advance; please just show up to the YETC or RCDE site during the five-week time frame. Be sure that you arrive at least two hours before closing in order to give yourself enough time to complete the exam. We also offer the exam during Summer semester on a limited basis. For more information regarding the summer schedule, please visit Room 103 of the main education building.

To prepare for the exam, you should read the following website, which includes the rubrics by which the exam will be evaluated and examples of writing prompts. If you want to practice for the exam, you can write in response to these prompts and ask a mentor to evaluate your writing according to the rubrics.

During the Exam


Please begin the exam by putting your name, A number, date, and writing prompt number (e.g., Prompt 14B) at the top of your first page.

You will be given two writing prompts: one for a descriptive essay and one for a persuasive letter. Each writing prompt has three subcomponents. Please read the prompts carefully to ensure that you understand them. Then, please choose ONE prompt and write a well-developed response that addresses each subcomponent of the writing prompt. Remember to respond to only one writing prompt and not to both writing prompts.

You have two hours to complete the exam using a computer. You may use hard copy dictionaries, as well as the tools available through Microsoft Word, including spell check, grammar check, and the thesaurus. However, you may not use other sources, such as the Internet or peers, to help you write this essay. Furthermore, you may not discuss the content of the writing prompt with anybody else. Evidence of academic dishonesty will be handled in compliance with university policies on academic dishonesty, which are outlined in Article VI, Section 2 of the Code and Policies and Procedures for Students at USU.

If you have computer problems, please notify the lab assistant.

After the Exam


When you finish, ensure that the lab assistant has accurately documented your time in and time out on the sign-in sheet. The lab assistant will send the sign-in sheet to a staff member who will post the $5.00 fee to your Banner account. Please pay this fee immediately because we will not send your exam to readers until this fee is paid.

Two scorers will independently evaluate your essay according to the following traits of writing: ideas and content, organization, word choice, voice, sentence fluency, and conventions. Each trait is worth six points. In order to pass the exam, you must earn 24/36 possible points. If two scorers disagree on whether the exam should pass, a third scorer will resolve the discrepancy. The rubrics used for each of these traits is posted on the website. A brief description of each of these traits can also be found at the bottom of this page.

All results should arrive approximately four weeks from the date that you paid your fee. Your academic advisor will be sent a copy of your results.

Students who pass the exam will be notified by email. If you pass the exam, the date that you attempted the exam will be your passing date. Please print and keep a copy of the results for your application.

Students who fail the exam will be notified by email. In addition, the failing paper, grading rubric, and a handout that explains each grading category will be sent to you by mail. You should contact your academic advisor about how to proceed to retake the exam. You may view a retake video (free of charge) and may take the test a second time. Students who fail the writing exam the second time will be required to visit the USU Writing Center (Ray B. West Building, Room 104) for assistance, which will cost $100. The Writing Center will provide intensive tutoring for up to fifteen weeks. Failure to pass the exam after three retakes will result in a final “not admitted” decision for USU’s teacher preparation program.

What Should the Writing Include?


Remember that you’ll need to write a long enough piece (at least a full single-spaced page of writing) in order for the readers to evaluate your writing skills according to the following six traits: ideas and content, organization, word choice, voice, sentence fluency, and conventions. A description of each of these traits follows:

Ideas and Content: The main points of the paper are clear and compelling. In a descriptive essay, you describe an experience and clearly state what you learned from the experience. In a persuasive letter, you take a clear stance on an issue. In both cases, you use specific and relevant examples, stories, or reasons to support your main idea.

Organization: The organization of the paper enhances your main ideas. The paper includes an introduction and conclusion, and the supporting examples or details fit where they are placed. Transition words, phrases, or sentences indicate how ideas in previous paragraphs are related to ideas in later paragraphs.

Word Choice: Precise, varied words convey your message in a convincing or interesting way. You avoid needless repetition of words, and you avoid overused verbs and adjectives that do not add life or specificity to your paper.

Voice: The tone is appropriate for the audience and purpose of your writing. In a descriptive essay, you include personal, vivid examples that are engaging and sincere. In a persuasive essay, you include appropriate evidence and language that would appeal to the audience for whom you are writing.

Sentence Fluency: When read aloud, the paper sounds expressive. To achieve this goal, you use varied sentence structures, including sentence beginnings. Fragments, if used at all, achieve their stylistic purpose.

Conventions: Writing conventions are used to enhance communication. These conventions include correct punctuation, spelling, capitalization, paragraph breaks, and grammar. Errors are so few that readers would likely skim over them without noticing them unless specifically looking for them.

If you choose to write a persuasive letter, you are welcome (but not required) to write in the five-paragraph essay format:

  • The introductory paragraph includes a thesis or main idea. The job of the introductory paragraph is to create interest and to introduce the three main points that will be made and supported in the body of the essay.
  • The second, third, and fourth paragraphs support the main idea presented in the introductory paragraph. Each of these paragraphs deal with one of the specific points introduced in the first paragraph, in the same order. These paragraphs are constructed with a topic or transitional sentence first, followed by an illustration or example of that point, and finally an explanation or application of the specific example. This is the elaboration or development that the reader is looking for. This is called the PIE model: point, illustration, explanation.
  • The fifth or concluding paragraph, ties it all together and uses new language (to avoid redundancy) to summarize the point made.