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Writing Placement Assessment (WPA)

CSU Graduation Writing Assessment Requirement (GWAR)


WPA Sample Essays and Their Scores

Introduction to Sample Essays

These samples are provided to give you a better sense of what evaluators' scores actually mean.  By analyzing these essays and the evaluators' comments, you may become more aware of what is expected and how you might write the best essay you possibly can.

Please note that the following essays specifically analyze the article “No More Curtain Calls for Elephants” by the Los Angeles Times’ editorial board.  The analyses that appear in the following essays apply uniquely to this article.  While other authors may employ some of the same strategies, they will do so in a wide variety of ways.  Your analysis of strategies, assumptions, etc., therefore, must be relevant to the specific article that has been assigned.  Memorizing and copying any of the analyses that appear below will cause you to receive a lower score and raise the issue of plagiarism.  Please do not put yourself in that position.  Instead, read the essays below to understand how to better accomplish the writing task being asked of you in the WPA.

Essays with a combined score of:

10 | 8 | 6


Essay with a combined score of 10

“No More Curtain Calls for Elephants,” an article published in the Los Angeles Times’ newspaper and composed by its own editorial board, brings the issue of domestic elephant mistreatment to light and declares its support of the Los Angeles City Council’s consideration of a measure that would promote domestic elephant welfare.  In writing a story that was most immediately available and applicable to Los Angeles residents, the LA Times’ editorial board hopes to bring more awareness of the problem to the community and simultaneously create a broader base of support for the City Council measure.

The LA Times’ editorial board uses two strategies to appeal to Los Angeles readers.  First, the board includes a description of the average weight, age, and health complications that apply to domestic elephants in an effort to appeal to their sense of logic: “For 8,000-to-10,000-pound creatures who spend all day on their feet and can live into their 40s, the consequence of confinement was a painful middle age, marked by arthritis, cracked toenails, and sore feet.”  The use of quantifiable characteristics of the animals and evidence of real problems that result from the current state of their treatment makes the issue more substantial for readers.  The presentation of data such as this makes for an argument that readers would find unworthy of their energy and unconvincing otherwise.

The board also uses ethos to appeal to the audience’s respect for authority.  They mention and intrinsically agree with an instruction of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums to its member facilities to adopt the restriction of keepers sharing space with elephants.  By referring to an organization that has more experience with and is more knowledgeable about animals and subsequently agreeing with its propositions, the board validates its position and suggests the reader hold the position as well, or even respect the position at the least.  Due to the fact that many LA residents are average, working-class Americans, it is likely they will respect the authority of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

The editorial board’s argument is based on two assumptions that may reduce their position’s validity in the eyes of the reader.  An assumption that is implied throughout the article is the idea that elephants are the victims of the domestic mistreatment and in this way are portrayed as weak and helpless and overall benevolent creatures, especially when they describe the elephants as “gentle giants” and “brave warriors in battle.”  While this may be true in one sense, they neglect another obvious truth of the obvious danger elephants present to humans.  Their simply enormous physical state overpowers that of people, which allows for the possibility of keepers being hurt—and more importantly—not having the physical capabilities to care for the animals in certain ways.  If this idea was mentioned, readers may more readily find the issue more valid and worth their concern.

Another assumption the board infers is that improvement of domestic elephants’ lives in captivity is the only solution to the issue.  There are other solutions that they failed to mention, for instance, the suggestion of allowing elephants in captivity to be released back to their natural habitats, away from their human keepers and the issue of domestic mistreatment altogether.  By failing to propose more than the solution of supporting the LA City Council’s measure to promote captive elephants’ welfare, the issues is made to seem less genuine to readers’ eyes and perhaps based in political or financial motives rather than what is truly best for the elephants.

In conclusion, while the LA Times’ editorial board may have compiled the articles on the basis of some misleading premises, the organization and strategies that were applied made their argument effective overall.  The ethos and logos used by the board increased the credibility of the argument.  LA residents are likely to consider the issue of domestic elephant mistreatment more critically than they would if they had not read the article, and may even go as far as to support the City Council’s measure of mistreatment and prevention.

Evaluators' comments

Based on the WPA Scoring Guide, this paper meets upper division writing proficiency and demonstrates that this student possesses the reading, writing, and critical thinking skills expected of graduates of San Diego State University.  The essay not only fulfills the criteria for a score of 10, but also does so with thought and valid reasons expressed in effective language and clear structure.  The paper addresses all aspects of the prompt and offers specific details to give sufficient analytical support, creating effective communication with the audience.  In addition, the paper is well written with few distracting errors.

A strength of the essay is its awareness of audience.  For instance, in paragraphs 1, 3, 4, and 7, the writer specifically mentions that audience members are Los Angeles residents and connects that information to their potential response to the editorial.  In addition, in structuring the essay, the writer does not merely follow the order of the questions presented in the prompt, but synthesizes the information to organize it in a way that best suits the writer’s purpose. 

The writer also demonstrates a clear understanding of the editorial’s argument.  Paragraph 2 shows a sophisticated understanding of the issue when the writer boils the comparison down to “what the elephants’ lives are and what they have a right to be.”  After this comment, the writer provides several details about the elephants’ “right to live.”  The writer also provides a specific statement of the effect of the details on the audience.

In the analysis of the first persuasive strategy, the writer does not explicitly name it.  However, the author describes it well enough that evaluators do not need a name to know what the writer is discussing. The writer also uses this level of detail for the second strategy when discussing how the editorial board’s use of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums enhances the board’s credibility because the audience would likely respect this organization.

The writer also identifies and analyzes two potential assumptions upon which the argument is based.  In each case, the author provides detailed examples and demonstrates active thinking and critical engagement with the argument.

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Essay with a combined score of 8

Elephants are popularly used in America in entertainment and exhibitions, such as circuses and zoos.  In the 2012 article, “No More Curtain Call for Elephants,” the LA Times’ editorial board argues that elephants should be protected from use in traveling shows and exhibitions in Los Angeles through the passing of a measure to prevent this use.  This article was published in the Los Angeles Times.  Through the use of persuasive strategies such as pathos and the use of examples, the authors build a convincing argument on why the measure should be passed.  The article reaches a broad audience of the readers of the Los Angeles Times in order to inform the residents of the city of the measure and why it should be passed.  Also, the board wishes to explain the argument to the City Council who will decide if the measure will be passed, as well as the employees and audiences of elephant exhibitions.  I will now examine the extent of the effectiveness of the argument made by the LA Times editorial board to pass this measure. 

The authors make appeals to emotion in order to further their argument.  The reason they believe the measure should be passed is because elephants in traveling shows and exhibitions are mistreated.  By explaining to the reader about the harsh living conditions and abuse these animals face, the authors seek to stir up empathy in the in the reader.  The thought of a gentle giant being struck with a sharp object and chained in a cage while standing on concrete surfaces causes the reader to feel for these elephants and agree with the argument to pass the measure.  The use of pathos furthers the argument made by the board because it explains why the measure is needed by the elephants in these conditions.  An example of an emotional appeal made in the article is seen as the board states, “For 8,000-to-10,000-pound creatures who spend all day on their feet and can live into their 40s, the consequence of that confinement was a painful middle age, marked by arthritis, cracked toenails, and sore feet.”  This explanation helps the reader understand why a measure was created to prohibit the use of elephants as entertainment and why it should be passed.

The authors use many examples in order to further their argument.  The reasons they think the measure should be passed are given by stating factual examples of why the use of elephants in shows and exhibitions is unfair to the animals.  One of the examples used is a testimony from Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus of how they do not mistreat their animals.  The article states, “Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus has long defended its use of elephants, saying they are meticulously cared for on the road and at its conservations center in Florida.”  The authors go on to explain how this company actually doe not treat their elephants well.  They explain, “ ‘But Ringling still chains its elephants in trains to transport them and uses bullhooks to manage them. . .’ ”  This example again furthers the argument because it explains how circuses do not treat the elephants well and why the measure should be passed.  The reader gets a further understanding of the argument because of the examples used.

The editorial board makes the assumption that all people think elephants are majestic and noble creatures who deserve to be treated with respect.  Many people have a great appreciation for animals and do not tolerate animal abuse.  This assumption helps make a connection with the reader.  If people who appreciate and respect the elephant are made aware of the abuse it faces, they are more likely to call for change and support the measure as well.

I find the argument to be convincing.  The author uses many examples to illustrate why the measure should be passed.  The use of pathos helps to create an emotional relationship with the reader and the feelings of empathy created convince the reader that the measure should be passed.  However, the authors do not attack all zoos and circuses for mistreating the elephants.  It is explained how the the Los Angeles Zoo and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums are working to fix the problems.  Before reading this article, I was not aware of the use of bullhooks and the extent of harm done to elephants as a result of traveling shows and exhibits.  The article brings awareness to the issued in a respectable way and convinces the reader of why the use of elephants as entertainment needs to end.

Evaluators' comments

The strengths of this paper include that it addresses all questions within the prompt, and each question is placed in a well-structured paragraph, creating a functional organization.  In addition, specific appropriate examples are provided to support the analysis.  For instance, the writer selected a quotation that definitely shows an emotional appeal when he/she includes the example of the “8,000-10,000 pound creatures” with sore feet.  The essay also does a solid job of explaining the editorial board’s argument. 

In terms of areas to improve, the essay’s analysis could be more fully developed. The discussion of the board’s use of emotional appeals in paragraph 2 does discuss why such appeals are used.  However, it could provide a more detailed explanation of how they function in the article and in terms of the target audience.  The writer then discusses the board’s uses of “many examples” in the third paragraph.  Here, the writer may want to be more specific and identify a specific type of example that seems to be used effectively.  The writer eventually does this, noting the “testimony” from Ringling Bros., and the author does attempt to answer how the example functions in the argument in the final sentence.  To strengthen the analysis, the writer may want to explain more fully how and why the particular examples are working to persuade the audience.  In addition, the essay could provide more discussion of the intended audience, which would demonstrate an awareness of the board’s communicative intent.

Although the essay does identify an assumption in the article, it could more fully analyze the article’s assumptions and explain what they might mean in terms of the intended audience.  The more limited development of this aspect of the prompt is apparent when comparing this essay to the previous one.

Overall, the student writer meets junior-level competency and is ready to take a more rigorous upper division "W" course.

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Essay with a combined score of 6

“No more Curtain Calls for Elephants” was an article written by the L.A. Times’ editorial board.  The article’s main argument is rather simple—“elephants are majestic animals, not performers.  The City Council should act to protect them.”  The author tried to connect the reader with the elephants.  The author also uses examples of elephant protection to show the reader what can come with progress. 

The first persuasive strategy the author uses is trying to connect the reader with the elephant.  The argument starts off rather basic, stating the problem of the argument.  Soon thereafter the author adds an affectionate twist to their words in order to connect with us and the elephant.  “A growing appreciation for the world’s largest and Most majestic land mammal.”  Simply by adding this little play of words, draws readers’ sympathy for the animal, already giving them a sort of bias feeling from the beginning.  If you start by feeling sorry for the animal, chances are you are going to support whatever it is they are pushing.  Another strategy the author uses to try and convince his reader is showing there is a definite improvement to the treating of elephants, but not enough.

Many zoos are starting to have “protected contracts” with the elephants.  Zoos are no longer chaining up their elephants at night.  Elephant enclosures have gotten much larger and more comfortable for the elephants.  The Los Angeles Zoo spent over $40 million building a new habitat for their elephants.  The author states that even though these improvements are great, the fact that they still have to be trained to do things is not gentle.  He argues that “elephants are not horses,” meaning there really is no such thing as a domesticated elephant.  And getting any undomesticated animal to do anything takes training, which equals force.  So even though the elephants are being treated much better as a whole, we are still forcing unnatural processes upon them.

Personally, I find this particular article quite convincing.  The persuasive strategies that the author used really hit home for me because I am an animal lover.  Which is what I believe the author was really going for.  Not only were their strategies persuasive, the way it was organized was in itself persuasive.  The author does a good job of really making the reader feel sorry for the elephants in the beginning.  Explaining what elephants do in the wild and why they are chained up.  They then continue to make the reader feel a little better about the elephant’s situation.  They explain the improvements made for elephants and the new programs in place that will help protect them.  Almost in the same breath, they add that these improvements are not enough.  This tactic works beautifully because it really gives the reader a false sense of hope.  The reader starts off feeling sorry for the elephants, followed by a sense of uplift while reading about the improvements made.  Then it’s right back to feeling sorry for the elephant again.  This I think really reinforces their argument to readers that things need to be done now.

Overall this essay certainly did its job of convincing me, the reader, that improvements have to be made regarding elephants.  Their tactics of persuasion were very convincing, as was the way the article was organized.  First, they made the reader feel sorry for the elephants.  Then they raised the spirits just a tad.  And then it was right back to feeling bad again.  This essay (article) was very good at persuading me of what it was trying to persuade me of.

Evaluators’ Comments

This response starts off well with information about the editorial board’s claim and a paragraph that shows how the authors attempt to get the reader involved in the issue. The strengths of the essay include that it demonstrates an understanding of the prompt and attempts to address most of the questions in the prompt. It also moves in the right direction in terms of explaining the authors’ argument, and it is fairly well organized.

However, based on the WPA scoring criteria, a significant limitation of this exam is its depth of analysis, particularly concerning persuasive strategies.  For instance, although the writer attempts to address the emotional appeal of the essay in the second paragraph, he or she does not fully discuss why and how such strategies are persuasive.  In addition, in the third paragraph the author mentions that in the last fifteen years there have been improvements in the treatment of elephants.  In this paragraph, the essay primarily summarizes some of the changes.  However, the author does not frame the discussion in terms of why the authors mention these changes and how they function in terms of persuading the audience that the Los Angeles City Council should prohibit public elephant performances and the use of bullhooks.  Further, a typo or misunderstanding of a concept in the third paragraph makes it difficult for the reader to follow.  For instance, the essay states, “Many zoos are starting to have ‘protected contracts’ with the elephants.”  However, the article mentions that at the L.A. Zoo, keepers maintain “protected contact” with elephants, “meaning that man and pachyderm rarely share the same space.”  In this paragraph, the author mentions the concept of “protected contact” but does not explain what it is and how it relates to the editorial board’s argument.

In addition, the essay does not respond to all aspects of the prompt, namely it does not address the assumptions on which the argument is based. 

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