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. 

WPE Dates 2017 - 2018

July 7, 14, 21, and 28 (for summer graduates only; call 805-756-2067 to register)
August 14, 2017 (for incoming transfer students only)
October 4, 7, 10 (for all eligible students only)

Important:  Students who intend to graduate in spring or summer of 2017 and who still have not fulfilled the GWR should contact the Writing & Rhetoric Center office (Building 10, Room 130; 756-2067) immediately.

Please read carefully below: the WPE registration system has changed.  

WPE registration is now following 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 or summer of 2017 had priority registration for the spring quarter WPE and received an email during the week of April 03, 2017, with their designated WPE registration appointment day and time.  Depending upon seat availability, a second round of emails went out to students with a fall 2017 expected graduation term.

Register and pay for the WPE online 

  1. Go to the Money Matters tab on your Cal Poly Portal;
  2. click on the yellow "Make a Payment Now" button;
  3. click on the "Click here to make an online payment" button;
  4. find and click on the link that says "Make Payment";
  5. notice the information about WPE registration on the right-hand side of the screen under the "Categories" heading and follow the prompts to reserve your seat. *If the WPE is not listed under "Categories," then either you are not scheduled to register at that time or the exam is sold out.

​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.

Attend a WPE Preparatory Workshop

**Check back for information on fall 2017 WPE Preparatory Workshops. 

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

The Writing & Rhetoric Center Office (805-756-2067) 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: Taking the WPE, Exam Scoring, and WPE Preparation.

Taking the WPE 

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 course work 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 on a Saturday morning at 9:10 am. The exam is also offered at additional times during the week, which vary each quarter.

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 Building 10, Room 130.

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 VISA (Verified Instructional Services & Accommodations) to the University Writing & Rhetoric Center Office, Building 10, Room 130, 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 non-native speaker of English?
All students must take the WPE initially. However, if you are unable to pass the exam because of language interference, 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 need 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 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.

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.

What happens if I do not pass the WPE?
Appointments for a free ½-hour, private counseling session are available through the University Writing & 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 it is recommended that you make an appointment to review your exam and go over its contents with a WPE Counselor.  Also, note that because exams are scored holistically, readers do not provide written feedback on exams.

Related Content

Upcoming Events

Summer Tutoring 

July 10 - August 31
Mon., Wed., and Thurs. 
10 am - 4 pm

WPE Dates 

July 7, 14, 21, and 28
*For summer graduates

August 14
*For incoming transfer students

October 4, 7, and 10
*For all eligible students


Writing Consultations

The University Writing & Rhetoric Center offers free writing consultations to all Cal Poly students.  Students may visit one of four locations and work with a consultant for thirty or sixty minutes.  Plan ahead and visit with a writing consultant before a writing project due date to make the most of your visit!

English Placement Test (EPT)

On the basis of pre-college exam scores, students are deemed ready, conditionally ready, or not ready for college-level coursework.  The CSU requires conditionally ready first-year students to show that they are exempt from English remediation before they can enroll in ENGL 133 or 34. Any student who does not clear a conditional status is placed in writing courses to prepare them for academic success on campus. If developmental coursework is required, students must fulfill the yearlong stretch course by the end of the first year or risk disqualification. 

Graduation Writing Requirement (GWR)

The GWR must be fulfilled by all Cal Poly students who are seeking a degree, including Master's degree and teaching credentials.  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 on how to complete this requirement.