Writing & Rhetoric Center

Right here. Write now.

Writing Proficiency Exam Scoring

In general, keep in mind the following three things:

  1. A well-organized essay has clarity both at the paragraph and essay level. Ideas flow logically through the essay and connections between ideas are made for the reader.
  2. A well-developed essay has appropriate examples which support, amplify and clarify points made. Ideas are explored rather than repeated.
  3. A well-expressed essay has not only sentence control and sentence variety but adequate control of grammar, punctuation, spelling and vocabulary.

Scoring Criteria

The exams are read holistically: the score is based on the total impression the essay conveys. Each paper is scored on four areas: comprehension, organization, development and expression.

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' decision 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 decision determines the final passing or failing score.

6—Exemplary Paper

  • Comprehension: Demonstrates a thorough understanding of the article in developing an insightful response.
  • Organization: Answers all parts of the question thoroughly; demonstrates strong essay and paragraph organization.
  • Development: Strongly develops the topic through specific and appropriate detail; logical, intelligent, and thoughtful; may be creative or imaginative.
  • Expression: Exhibits proficient sentence structure and usage but may have a few minor slips (e.g. an occasional misused or misspelled word, or comma fault); may show stylistic flair.

5—Proficient Paper

  • Comprehension: Demonstrates a sound understanding of the article in developing a well-reasoned response.
  • Organization: Displays effective paragraph and essay organization and answers all parts of the question.
  • Development: Skillfully and logically employs specific and appropriate details but may lack the level of insight or intelligence found in an exemplary paper.
  • Expression: Structures sentences effectively but may lack stylistic flair; keeps diction appropriate but may waver in tone; maintains sound grammar though may err occasionally.

4—Acceptable Paper

  • Comprehension: Demonstrates (sometimes by implication) a generally accurate understanding of the article in developing a sensible response.
  • Organization: Shows adequate paragraphing and essay organization but may give disproportionate attention to some parts of the question.
  • Development: Shows adequate logical development of the topic but may not be as fully developed as a superior essay or may respond in a way which is somewhat simplistic or repetitive.
  • Expression: Shows adequate command of sentence structure, using appropriate diction but may contain some minor problems in grammar, punctuation, or usage (problems which might annoy a reader but will not lead to confusion or misunderstanding).

3—Failing Paper

  • Comprehension: Demonstrates some understanding of the article but may misconstrue parts of it or make limited use of it in developing a weak response.
  • Organization: Does not address major aspects of the topic; presents a predominantly narrative response; is deficient in organization at the essay or paragraph level; lacks focus or wanders from the controlling idea.
  • Development: Consistently generalizes without adequate support; presents conclusions which do not logically follow from the premises or the evidence or consistently repeats rather than explores ideas.
  • Expression: Shows deficient sentence structure; uses a primer (grade school) style, or contains errors in mechanics (including spelling) which are serious or frequent enough to affect understanding.

2—Seriously Flawed Paper

  • Demonstrates poor understanding of the main points of the article, does not use the article appropriately in developing a response, or may not use the article at all.
  • Shows serious flaws in more than one important area of writing (organization, development, or expression).
  • Sentence level error is so severe and pervasive that other strengths ofthe paper become obscured. Clarity may exist only on the sentence level.

1—Ineffectual Paper

  • Demonstrates little or no ability to understand the article or to use it in developing a response.
  • Shows virtually no ability to handle the topic.
  • Reveals inability to handle the basic elements of prose.

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.