Writing & Rhetoric Center

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Writing Proficiency Exam (WPE)

The WPE, one of two ways to fulfill the GWR, is a two-hour exam in which students are asked to write a 500-800 word essay that demonstrates their ability to present an argument in an organized manner with fully developed supporting points expressed logically and clearly. 

Writing Proficiency Exam Dates 2018 - 2019

Fall October 10, 13, 16 
Winter January 23, 26, 29
Spring April 9, 10, 27
Summer Fridays at 10 am, in July & August, or by appointment

Online registration for the spring quarter WPE will begin during the first week of April. 

Please read carefully below: 

WPE registration follows a priority model based on a student’s expected graduation term. For example, students whose Poly Profile and/or Student Center reflect an expected graduation term of spring of 2019 will have priority registration for spring quarter WPE dates and will receive email notification of their designated WPE registration appointment day and time.  Depending upon exam seat availability, a second round of emails with registration information will be sent out to all other eligible students.

Register and pay for the WPE online 

To register for the WPE, please follow the instructions below:

  1. Log in to your My Cal Poly portal page
  2. Select the Money Matters tab
  3. Click on the yellow Make a Payment Now button
  5. Select Make a Payment from the green bar at the top of the screen; alternatively, you may click the Make a Payment link in the Your Account box
  6. Click on WPE under the "Categories" heading on the right-hand side of the page (​Note: If WPE does not appear under the "Categories" heading, then either you are attempting to register prior to your assigned registration date and time, or the exam is sold out.)
  7. Select a testing date and location 
  8. Follow the prompts to register for your selected exam date and location.

If you are a graduating senior and you have attempted to register for the WPE after it has sold out, contact the Writing &  Rhetoric Center Office for further assistance.

Click here for resources to help you prepare for the exam.

Have you left the San Luis Obispo area and need to fulfill the GWR?

The Writing & Rhetoric Center Office can assist you in arranging an off-campus Writing Proficiency Exam.  Download the Request for Off-Campus WPE form.


The frequently asked questions regarding the WPE are divided into three sections: Registering for the WPE, Preparing for the WPE, and Scoring WPE Essays.

WPE Registration

WPE Preparation 

WPE Assessment

Taking the WPE

When should I take the WPE?
Undergraduate students are eligible to take the WPE after completing 90 units of course work and should complete the requirement before their senior year. It is best to take the exam immediately after completing 90 units of coursework and before engaging in your senior project. Graduate students should take it during their first quarter of residency and must meet this requirement before applying for candidacy within the Master’s Program.

When is the WPE offered?
The WPE is offered early in fall, winter, and spring quarters both during the week and on a Saturday morning. 

How do I sign up for the WPE and how much does it cost?
Register and pay the $35 exam fee by going to the Money Matters tab on the Cal Poly Portal, clicking the "Make a Payment Now" button, clicking the "Click here to make an online payment" button, clicking on the "Make Payment" button, clicking on the WPE information on the right-hand of the screen and following the prompts.  

When is the deadline for WPE registration?
The deadline for WPE registration is 4:00 pm on the Thursday before the exam; however, seats for the exam typically sell out prior to that day.  There is no late registration.

Once I pay the fee, may I get a refund?
If you register and pay for the WPE and do not take the exam, you may request a refund by bringing your printed receipt to the Writing & Rhetoric Center office in Kennedy Library, Room 202A.

May students with disabilities request accommodations for the WPE?
Yes. Students who have been authorized to receive alternate testing accommodations through the Disability Resource Center (DRC) should first register and pay the $35 exam fee and then take a copy of their Accommodation Plan to the University Writing & Rhetoric Center Office, Kennedy Library, Room 202A, to request alternate accommodations for the WPE. Requests for accommodations must be submitted by 4:00 p.m. on the Thursday before the first scheduled exam. Late requests will not be honored.

What if I'm a multilingual student or a non-native speaker of English?
All students must take the WPE initially. However, if you are unable to pass the exam because of language differences, you may be able to receive more time on your next attempt.

May I have extra time to take the WPE?
Some students, such as a multilingual/non-native English speakers or someone registered with the Disability Resource Center (DRC), may receive extra time to write the 500-800 word essay. Arrangements to receive extra time on the exam may be made with the Writing & Rhetoric Center Office.

What do I need to bring on exam day?
You are required to have the following:

  • One black pen
  • Your Cal Poly ID
  • Another signed photo ID, usually your driver's license
  • Evidence of your WPE receipt, either via a printed version or visible on your smartphone

You may not bring any sort of aids with you (dictionary, grammar book, etc.). All paper for notes and outlining will be provided at the time of the exam. You will receive an exam booklet.

WPE Preparation

What will the exam be like?
The WPE contains a reading passage of about 500 words, along with a question for you to consider. Generally, you will be asked to summarize the passage, consider its argument and respond to it, taking into consideration opposing viewpoints. The WPE will draw upon your background as an upper-division student, your life experience, and your knowledge. You do not need to learn any new information to respond to the topic; however, you should be aware of general and news-worthy events. You will have two hours to plan your essay and answer the question. All students receive the same topic; off-topic responses receive no credit.

What type of topic may I expect to write on?
WPE reading passages highlight general topics, often essays from the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Chronicle of Higher Ed, etc. They cover current societal problems of some complexity, asking you to argue a position, to persuade the readers to appreciate your analysis of a problem, and perhaps to give a solution. Please read the sample topics below for a better sense of what you will be expected to do during the exam.

What resources are available for WPE preparation?
Please visit our WPE Preparation Resources page.

WPE Assessment

How will my exam be graded and by whom?
Two faculty readers score your test on a scale from six (highest) to one (lowest). These scores are then combined. A total score of 8 or more reflects the two readers' agreement that the essay is passing. A score of 6 or less reflects the readers' assessment that an essay does not pass. If the test has a pass-fail split (a 4 and a 3), the exam is reviewed carefully by a third reader, and his or her score determines the final passing or failing score.

The exams are read holistically: the score is based on the total impression the essay conveys through its comprehension of the reading and prompt as well as its organization, development, and expression. Readers do not mark on the exams as they score them. Instead, readers assign a single score based on the WPE Scoring Guide.

Readers are chosen from all disciplines at Cal Poly and are trained specifically for these reading sessions. During the scoring session, the previous score is never seen by the second reader. The scores are totaled by the University Writing & Rhetoric Center Office.

For more information, see the WPE Scoring Guide.

How will I find out if I passed?
Your score will appear on your Poly Profile under "Milestones Completed" about three weeks after the exam.  A score of eight or higher is passing. Students who earn a score of 6 or below will be notified of their failing score.

What happens if I do not pass the WPE?
Appointments for a free ½-hour, private counseling session are available through the Writing and Rhetoric Center. Phone appointments are available for students no longer attending Cal Poly AND living outside the San Luis Obispo area. A writing counselor will review your essay with you and help you to understand your writing strengths and weaknesses. In addition, the counselor may explain several strategies to help you improve your writing skills in order to fulfill the GWR. Please take this opportunity to discuss your writing.

If students fail the exam twice, they are eligible to enroll in English 150. In this course, students work one-to-one with a writing consultant practicing argumentative writing, working on reading comprehension skills, and honing their grammar and punctuation skills. English 150 is a one-unit CR/NC course. To fulfill the GWR in ENGL 150, students participate in a GWR Portfolio Program, and their portfolios are evaluated by two faculty readers using a scoring guide similar to the one used for the Writing Proficiency Exam. Contact the Writing & Rhetoric Center Office for a permission number to register for ENGL 150.

Can I retake the WPE if I fail?
Yes, you can. In case you have a bad writing day or the topic stumps you, you will have many other opportunities to pass the exam. Students can take the WPE as many times as necessary to receive a passing score. There is a $35 fee for each exam.  Please note: after two failed attempts at the WPE, it is recommended that you enroll in ENGL 150 and complete the GWR Portfolio Program.

May I have a copy of my exam?
Yes, but note that exams are scored holistically and therefore will not include written comments. Instead, you might consider scheduling a WPE Review to discuss your exam with a writing tutor.  

Related Content

Upcoming Events

Writing Consultations 

Jan. 7 - March 20

Spring Quarter WPE Dates 

April 9, 10, 27

*Click here for WPE preparatory resources.

Writing Consultations

The University Writing & Rhetoric Center offers free writing consultations to all Cal Poly students. Students may visit one of three locations and work with a consultant for thirty or sixty minutes.  *Note: the center is no longer located in Building 10, Room 138; the center's main location is now in Kennedy Library, Room 111C. Click here for more information.

English Placement

The CSU determines four levels of English placement based on multiple measures of students' pre-college performance. Students placed in both Category III and Category IV are required to complete a two-quarter stretch sequence of English composition. Category IV students are also required to complete Early Start English prior to enrolling in the two-quarter stretch sequence. More information is available here.

Graduation Writing Requirement

The GWR must be fulfilled by all Cal Poly students who are seeking a degree, including a Master's degree or teaching credential.  Undergraduate students must complete 90 units before they can fulfill the requirement and should fulfill the requirement before the senior year.  Visit the GWR page for more information.