Why the upper division writing exam should be eliminated

Hansook Oh

Karlee Johnson, Daily Sundial: A flyer warning students of the UDWPE registration deadline ironically carries a major spelling error.

On April 29, thousands of students lined up along the outside of Bayramian Hall to register for the Upper Division Writing Proficiency Exam (UDWPE). According to an article by the Daily Sundial, students had been waiting to register for the exam that morning since 6 o’clock, despite the doors opening at 8:30 – it was the last registration date available for the last test offered this year before June. One student told the Sundial that although he is walking on stage this semester, he will not receive a diploma until he gets a passing exam result, quite possibly limiting his work opportunities.

The UDWPE is an arbitrary test which amounts to a big waste of time and money for students and staff, creating an unnecessary step in the lengthy process of graduation. At $20 per student per exam and eight exams available per academic year, it serves as a money-maker for the university.

According to the UDWPE website, the CSU trustees have directed that “all students entering the CSU System… be required to demonstrate their proficiency with regard to writing skills as a requirement for graduation.” Students are given 75 minutes to answer an essay prompt revealed on the spot, are graded on a scale of one to 12 points – eight points the minimum score to pass – and do not receive their score for at least two weeks after the exam.

The exam fulfills the CSU trustees’ Graduate Writing Assessment Requirement, which all schools are required to complete. However, schools have freedom to choose their own methods to measure writing proficiency; according to a CSU resolution, “ten campuses require a writing exam, two campuses require completion of a course, three campuses require both an exam and a course, and seven campuses require either an exam or a course.”

For busy students already consumed with coursework, extra-curriculars and jobs, this requirement deters their success. Since Spring 1982, students have been required to take the exam after 56 units on top of the lower division writing requirement and most recently, students who do not take the exam by 75 units “will have a hold placed on their subsequent class registration and may delay their graduation.” For a campus eager to push graduating students out of the university to make more room, this requirement is problematic.

According to the Sundial, there are 2800 seats available for each exam, which means each test can produce up to $56,000. At eight exams per academic year, the university raises up to $448,000 off of students. According to Dr. Pamela Bourgeois, coordinator of the UDWPE, the pass rate is 75-80 percent. Since a significant number of students take the exam more than once, its financial capacity is increased. The UDWPE’s frequently asked questions page states that students have to cover the costs because the trustees provide no funds, despite having created the requirement in the first place.

How does a student prepare for the exam? According to the FAQ page, “there is no quick and easy way to prepare for it. The best preparation is to have done a considerable amount of reading and writing, and to have taken writing seriously throughout your high school and college years.” This vague advice sounds redundant since students already need to prove their writing proficiency upon entering the university and then take a list of required general education classes.

No students are exempt from exam, including disabled students, non-native English speakers and international students. This test can be especially frustrating for English and other humanities majors who obviously have a mastery of writing composition, who should be exempt.

The exam does not ensure that students receive a quality education, but only that they can write in a essay format under a time constraint. Writing is a valuable skill that all educated people should master by the time they leave college, but not all people will need to write essays for the rest of their lives.