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Writing Placement Assessment (WPA)

CSU Graduation Writing Assessment Requirement (GWAR)


Understanding the WPA

Abilities Tested

The Writing Placement Assessment (WPA) is a writing task that should be familiar to all college students. Instead of responding to a general question that asks you to write about personal experiences that you may or may not have experienced, you will be asked to analyze a short reading selection and write a coherent analysis.

The WPA tests not only reading comprehension but also the ability to analyze and think critically about a text, which is demonstrated through clear, precise writing.

Basic Skills Necessary

Evaluators score essays on the writer's ability to analyze a written argument; to develop and organize ideas; to support these ideas with evidence or specific examples; to understand your essay's intended audience (i.e., faculty from a variety of disciplines); to employ language skillfully; and to demonstrate appropriate paragraphing, sentence structure, grammar, punctuation, and spelling.

General Tips

1. Use this website to familiarize yourself with the requirements, scoring criteria, sample readings, the prompt, and for advice on ways that you can prepare. Also, visit the Testing Services website for any other requirements and information about the administration of the test,

2. Read the prompt carefully (at least twice--more times if necessary) before reading and writing. Circle key words. This will help you focus on the assigned task. The prompt is located at the end of the Reading Sample.

3. Read the Reading Selections before writing. Employ reading strategies that include underlining, circling, or (better still) annotating parts of the reading that contain information that you may need to use in your written response.

4. Use a form of prewriting to brainstorm. If activities such as mapping/clustering, listing, or outlining help you get started and organize your thoughts, then use prewriting strategies.

5. Organize the time allotted for the writing task. A poorly written essay can be the result of inadequate planning or inefficient use of the time allotted. You have two hours to read a short argument and write an analytical response--so manage your time.

6. Allow time to read and edit your paper. You will not have time to make extensive revisions, but you should leave enough time to make minor ones to clarify a point, add evidence or further explanation, add more to a part that is slighted or missing, and/or conclude your essay. As you read, make sure that you also correct minor flaws such as grammar, punctuation, and spelling errors.

7. Use quotations. Keep them short, explain, and use quotation marks at the "beginning and end."

8. Write legibly: use your normal-size handwriting and the margins in the booklet. Faint or irregular handwriting is difficult to read.

The following essay prompt will be used for each WPA
offered this semester.

WPA Prompt

Identify and provide a brief explanation of the author’s argument; identify two persuasive strategies that the author uses to support his or her argument and analyze how those strategies might persuade the reader to support the claim; discuss the assumption(s) on which the argument is based; and evaluate the extent to which the reader would find the argument convincing.

Be sure to follow these directions carefully, rather than simply agreeing or disagreeing or writing an extensive summary of the article.

Important Terms Defined

Pay close attention to how the writing prompt is phrased. It is very important to focus on the exact assigned task and address all parts of the writing prompt. If you address what you are being asked, you increase your chances of earning a better score.
Here are some terms to look for along with brief definitions:

Summarize: Requires you to put the author's argument in your own words. You want to keep this as brief as possible by limiting the summary to only one paragraph.

Describe, Explain, Discuss: Moving beyond summary, these terms require you to analyze, to go beyond what is written to how it is written. Effective description, explanation, and discussion are objective and impersonal, rather than subjective. Furthermore, they employ specific, direct, concrete language.

Evaluate: More subjective than objective analysis, evaluation requires judgment and assessment based on explicit criteria, reasoning, and evidence. Evaluating an argument goes beyond declaring whether or not you agree with it. You are required to assess how its strengths and weaknesses contribute to or undermine its convincingness. Attention to the writer's efforts to respond to potential opposition is particularly important.

Strategies: Strategies are moves or techniques that help build and support arguments. Commonly used strategies include examples, statistical support, appeals to the emotions of the reader (pathos), demonstrations of authorial credibility (ethos), analogies and comparisons, irony, refutations of opposing arguments, and quotations from experts and famous sources. Stylistic devices such as repetition, alliteration, and metaphor can also be characterized as strategies.

Assumptions: Assumptions are the principles, propositions, beliefs, and values upon which arguments or parts of arguments rest. Assumptions can be explicitly stated or implicit (merely implied or suggested) in an argument. They are effective to the extent they come to be shared by the reader and writer, thus forming "common ground."


The information comes from Writing Arguments: A Rhetoric with Readings (2004) by John D. Ramage, John C. Bean, and June Johnson.