Upper division writing exam ineffective


One of the experiences all CSUN students must go through is the test known as the Upper Division Writing Proficiency Exam. While all tests are stressful, the Writing Proficiency Exam is well known to CSUN students as being one test you don’t need to stress over, and starting this semester, students will once again not have to worry about the exam.

Both the old and new versions of the exam involved students receiving and a prompt and being told to write about it. The old exam involved a bit of creativity, requiring that students come up with an idea, for instance an invention that has changed the world, and explain their reasoning.

The new exam takes a different approach. Instead of requiring the student to create a concept, the new prompt gives test takers an article about a subject such as credit card debt and gives them all the information they need to formulate a response. While experience and creativity certainly wouldn’t hurt, the new exam doesn’t require nearly as much.

No wonder students like it better. If there’s one thing the average student hates it’s being creative, especially when they have to do it under such a severe time constraint. Instead of forcing students to think a little, the new exam allows students to simply regurgitate the information fed to them.

Still, it seems that the new test is more difficult for students to pass. While the current pass rate is about 80 to 85 percent, there are people who often have to try taking the exam several times before they’re able to pass. The university does allow for this inevitability, offering students free practice exams in addition to a class focused on passing the Exam.

What disturbs me most about the exam is that we still force students to take the exam when 80 percent of those who take it pass. This wouldn’t be a problem if all of those people were good writers, but they simply aren’t. They prepared us for the Upper Division Writing Proficiency Exam in my freshman composition class, a full two years before I would have to take the test. It’s not like it was a challenge, even then. The class the university uses to teach people to pass the exam is at a less-than-freshman level. If they’re teaching freshman how to pass, the exam can’t really be expected to require the level of skill to pass that upperdivision undergraduates should have.

In some of the upper division classes I’ve taken that required essays, I’ve been amazed at how badly people can write and still pass. In one class, a group of students had to turn in a 10-page paper. Instead of one of us writing all 10 pages, I suggested that instead the five of us each write two pages and I would edit it all together. The difficulty in editing these together came not from putting together the different styles but from having to figure out what the writer meant half of the time.

That was when I realized how exceptionally bad some CSUN students writing really is, and by having such a weak Upper Division Writing Proficiency Exam we aren’t solving the problem. Instead of having such an exam we should just expect more of students in their classes and not pass them when their writing proves to be subpar.