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Graduate Writing Proficiency Exam at HSU

Since the late 1970s, demonstration of writing proficiency at the upper-division level has been a requirement for graduation from Humboldt State University and all other institutions in the California State University (CSU) system.  This page provides information on all aspects of the Graduation Writing Requirement (GWAR), particularly the Graduation Writing Proficiency Examination (GWPE), which fulfills this requirement at HSU.  Please note that the information presented here supersedes that found in some earlier publications, including the University's General Catalog.

History of and Rationale behind the Graduation Writing Proficiency Examination Requirement

Because of a noticeable decline in student writing skills, the CSU Chancellor appointed a Task Force on Student Writing Skills to investigate the problem and recommend appropriate solutions.  The major portion of the Task Force's recommendations, reviewed by the Educational Policies Committee and supported by the CSU Academic Senate, was accepted by the Board of Trustees in 1976.  One of the central aspects of this policy required the demonstration of writing proficiency at the upper-division level as a requirement for graduation from every campus within the CSU system.  The resolution approved by the Board of Trustees at its May 1976 meeting required that students demonstrate adequate writing skills prior to graduation.  Mandatory catalog copy has since stated that "All students subject to degree requirements of 1977-78 and subsequent general catalogs must demonstrate competency in writing skills as a requirement for graduation."  Unlike the other major provision of the policy, the English Placement Test (EPT), it was ultimately decided that the Graduation Writing Requirement would not be based on a single, statewide examination.  Instead, it was left to the nineteen individual campuses to devise their own means of fulfilling this requirement, and no state funds were provided for its implementation.  Certification by whatever means used (examination, course work, etc.) must, the Trustees decreed, be self-supporting.

In the spring of 1979, a committee of HSU faculty was formed to determine the means by which HSU would fulfill the Trustees' mandate.  Following consideration of various alternatives, the Committee determined that the most efficient, reliable, fair, and economical, method of testing writing skills--as opposed to content, mechanics, and so on--would be the implementation of a special writing examination.  After discussion of cost and effectiveness, the Committee agreed that the required examination should consist of two forty-five minute essays.  Accordingly, the first such examination was administered during the fall quarter of 1979 and has been administered every successive term.  The exact nature and character of this examination, eligibility requirements, and questions relating to the examination and the GWR are explained in the remainder of this page.  In addition, sample essays representing the various possible scores are available from this site.

Eligibility & Requirements

With the exception of those students working toward a teaching credential who are enrolled under a pre 1985-86 catalog and have fulfilled the English 310 requirement, all students graduating from HSU with a baccalaureate degree under the 1977-78 and subsequent general catalogs must take the GWPE.  Students become eligible to take the GWPE upon completion of at least sixty semester units (i.e., having attained junior standing) and successful completion of the General Education Area A: Written Communication course (or an equivalent college-level composition course with a grade of C- or better). It is recommended that, the examination be taken during students' junior year.

Examination Procedure

The HSU GWPE consists of two forty-five minute essays: one in response to a personal experience prompt, the other in response to an analytical prompt.  The personal experience essay question presents a situation of general experience or knowledge stated in a brief passage or quotation and then delivers a series of related prompts: 

  1. You are asked to select a specific instance of this situation from your personal experience or knowledge and describe it in some detail;

  2. Following the description, you are asked to reflect, explain or evaluate in some way what has been described; and

  3. You are then asked to comment on, explain, or discuss in some way (usually how the experience described affected you) the subject treated in 1 and 2.

Writing this essay requires the rapid choice of a specific topic and the ability to describe the experience chosen in a clear and straightforward manner.  A full and direct response to the question posed is also necessary: marginal responses or broad generalizations which avoid the specific questions are unacceptable.  Essentially, this essay topic requires you to move in a clear and organized manner from the description of a specific personal experience to a more abstract evaluation of the meaning and significance of that experience.  The ability to write a personal experience essay is important because it performs functions such as communicating personal experience to others, relating the self to the environment, and conveying individual thoughts to an audience.

The analytical question requires that you read and respond to some specific material, usually one or two short statements or quotations, that essentially frame a comparison/contrast topic:

  1. You are required to evaluate the two items, pointing out how they are the same (comparison) and how they are different (contrast).

  2. Then you must make a judgment or evaluation regarding the relative validity, preferability, etc., of the two statements or quotations.

  3. Finally, you are asked to take a position on the subject and to support the evaluation or judgment made on the basis of your own observation and experience.

The analytical essay thus typically requires the ability to interpret and evaluate the passages provided, compare and contrast them, and construct an argument based upon the analysis performed.  Here, again, it is necessary to concentrate on the main question and to avoid a personal reaction to some aspect of the topic.  The ability to write an analytical essay is important because this form demands careful reading of the statements or quotations in order to discern similarities and differences of thought as well as  the ability to construct a coherent essay which demonstrates an understanding of the passages.

Examination Scoring

Each essay is read and scored on a scale of one to six by at least two trained readers from the HSU faculty (i.e., at least four different readers for the complete examination).  Prior to the reading, the first page of the booklet bearing the student's name and other information is removed, and the booklet is assigned a numerical code.  The readers cannot, therefore, know whose examination they are reading.  No marks are made on the papers by the readers, and the readings are "blind"; that is, scores are not visible to readers so that each reader does not know, and hence cannot be influenced by, the score assigned by a previous reader.  If the scores assigned by the two readers are split by more than one point (e.g., a three and a four are acceptable, but not a two and a four), the essay is given to a third reader for a resolution of the discrepancy.  The final score is the total of the scores assigned by the individual readers for each of the two essays.  Since each reader assigns a score of from one to six, the maximum score attainable is 24(six plus six for the first essay and six plus six for the second).  The minimum passing score for students who are United States citizens or permanent residents is 14; the minimum passing score for foreign students attending HSU on a student visa whose native language is not English is 10.  (Foreign students whose native language is English must achieve a score of 14 or better to pass.)

How to Register

As of February 2013, you can register and pay for the GWPE online.

  1. Log on to myHumboldt from the site
  2. Select the “Financial Matters” tab
  3. Locate “Financial Links”
  4. Select the “Register/Pay for GWPE” link
  5. Select the appropriate option and complete the transaction

Examination Time and Location

You will receive an email from the HSU Testing Center providing your test location on the HSU campus, instructions for what to bring, and our new cell phone policy. Note that if your cell phone is visible to the test proctors at any time during the exam, you will be asked to leave and will have to re-register (and re-pay) for the GWPE at another date.

What to Bring to the Exam

The GWPE essays are written in booklets distributed at the examination or typed in a computer lab, so you do not need to bring paper.  You will, however, need to bring a ballpoint pen, the information your were sent regarding your test time and location, and a piece of identification--such as your HSU student card or drivers license--bearing your photograph and signature.  Please note that you cannot be admitted to the examination without proper identification.

For additional information about the GWPE, please contact: