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Writing Exam

 
Writing Exam Locations

In this exam, you will demonstrate your ability to produce coherent, clear, and compelling writing. As representatives of the educational profession, teachers must be able to effectively communicate with different audiences for different purposes. Moreover, teachers from all grade levels and content areas must be able to model clear and accurate communication skills for their students. Consequently, basic writing competency is required for admission to all teacher education programs at USU. This test is designed to evaluate your basic competency when asked to produce spontaneous writing, as teachers are often required to do.

Taking and passing the writing exam is required for admission to the teacher education program at Utah State University.

Introduction to the Writing Exam


When Can I Take the Exam?

You should take the writing exam at least one semester before you apply for the teacher preparation program. The writing exam will be given during the first five weeks of Fall and Spring semesters in the YETC (located on the first floor of the main education building) or at your local RCDE campus site. You do not need to sign up for the exam in advance; please just show up to the YETC or RCDE site during the five-week time frame. Be sure that you arrive at least two hours before closing in order to give you enough time to complete the exam. We also offer the exam during Summer semesters on a limited basis. For more information regarding the summer schedule, please visit Room 103 of the main education building.

What Should I Expect When I Take the Exam?  

As you enter the exam administration site, you will be asked to share a valid form of identification and to sign your name on a time sheet.

You will then be given two writing prompts: one for a descriptive essay and one for a persuasive letter. You will respond to ONE of the two prompts using a computer. You have up to two hours to complete the exam.

Before you start writing, remember to write your name, A-number, date, and writing prompt number (e.g., 14B) on top of the Microsoft Word document.

During the exam, you may use hard copy dictionaries, as well as the tools available through Microsoft Word, such as spell check, grammar check, and the thesaurus. However, you may not use other sources, such as the Internet, your cell phone, or peers.

Important Information about the Writing Exam

Before you leave the administration site, be sure to sign out on the time sheet.

Soon after you take the exam, a $5 charge will appear on your Banner account. Please pay that fee as soon as possible. Your essay will not be sent to evaluators until after this fee is paid.

What Should I Include in My Writing?

To succeed on the exam, you should know the difference between a descriptive essay and a persuasive letter. If you choose to write a descriptive essay, you are welcome—in fact, encouraged—to use first-person pronouns, such as ‘I.’ You are also encouraged to describe experiences and personal stories from your own life. Be sure to reflect on the lessons learned from these past experiences and how they might connect to your future work as a teacher.

By contrast, the persuasive letters are more formal in presentation. You will be asked to address your persuasive letter to a specific audience, and your letter should be professional and befitting of that audience. Although personal narratives may be appropriate in a persuasive letter, remember that your goal is to persuade your audience, rather than to entertain them. Therefore, your persuasive letter might also include other forms of evidence, such as statistics, examples, and information you have read from news articles.

Below are five examples of a writing prompts for a descriptive essay:

Prompt Option 1:

Teachers use a variety of texts (e.g., textbooks, novels, newspapers, etc.) to engage their students in learning. Describe a time when a teacher effectively used a text to improve your learning experience. Then, describe crucial characteristics of an effective reading assignment.  Finally, explain how you as a teacher can use reading materials in an engaging and/or productive way.

Your descriptive essay should include the following three components:

(1) a description of a time when a teacher used a text to improve your learning experience
(2) an explanation of important characteristics necessary for a good reading assignment
(3) a specific description of how you plan to use texts effectively in your classroom


Prompt Option 2:

Teachers are influential figures in students’ lives. Identify a teacher who positively impacted your education. Describe what this teacher did to either a) help you value your education more or b) inspire you to pursue the teaching profession; be sure to include at least two specific supporting examples. Then, detail how you plan to emulate this teacher in your future classroom.

Your descriptive essay should include the following three components:

(1) identify a teacher who had a positive impact on your student experience
(2) choose either option a or b, and be sure to include at least two specific supporting examples
(3) explain how you plan to emulate this teacher in your future classroom

 

Prompt Option 3:

Teachers are continually finding new ways to use technology in the classroom. Describe how technology involvement has changed over the course of your student career. Then, reflect on the effectiveness of technology for you as a learner. Finally, detail how you plan on using technology in your own classroom.

Your descriptive essay should include the following three components:

(1) a description of the evolution of technology seen in your student experience
(2) a reflection of how effective technology has been for you as a learner
(3) a detailed plan of how you intend to use technology in your classroom

Prompt Option 4:

Some teachers require their students to complete a service learning assignment or project. Describe a time when you were required to do service for a class. Explain why you felt like it was or was not worthwhile. Then, explain if and how you plan to use service learning in your future classroom.

Your descriptive essay should include the following three components:

(1) a description of an experience you had doing service for a class assignment
(2) a reflection of your experience with and opinion about service learning
(3) an explanation of if and how you plan on using service learning in your future classroom

 

Prompt Option 5:

Teachers often use group work as a way to engage students and encourage teamwork. Describe a time when group work was successful for you as a student. Then, describe a time when group work was unsuccessful. Reflecting on these two experiences, explain how you plan to implement group work effectively in your future classroom.

Your descriptive essay should include the following three components:

(1) a description of a successful experience with group work
(2) a description of an unsuccessful experience with group work
(3) an explanation of your plan to implement group work effectively in your future classroom



Below are five writing prompts for a persuasive letter:

Prompt Option 1:

Teachers and administrators are noticing an increase in violence and vandalism at your school. The administration has proposed random weekly locker checks as a solution to this issue. Write a persuasive letter to your administration in which you support or argue against this proposal.

Your persuasive letter should include these three components:

(1) a clear statement in which you identify your position on this issue
(2) several reasons that support your position (include personal examples when appropriate)
(3) a professional tone and presentation appropriate for a letter to administrators

 

Prompt Option 2:

Studies show that somewhere between 40 and 50% of teachers leave the profession within their first five years. Some credit this burnout to large class sizes, required involvement in extra-curricular activities, lesson planning, minimal preparation time, classroom discipline, and more. Write a persuasive letter to your district superintendent in which you offer suggestions on how to prevent or relieve teacher burnout.

Your persuasive letter should include these three components:

(1) a clear statement in which you identify your position on this issue
(2) several reasons that support your position (include personal examples when appropriate)
(3) a professional tone and presentation appropriate for a letter to your district superintendent

 

Prompt Option 3:

Current statistics highlight an increasing gap between the earning potential of high school graduates and college graduates. Because of this gap, your principal has decided to emphasize college preparation for all students by focusing on things like the ACT, SAT, and college entrance essays. Some teachers are concerned that, realistically, many students will not follow a traditional college route; this new emphasis could deprive these students of valuable preparation for their diverse post-high school plans. Write a persuasive letter to your principal in which you support or argue against his plan.

Your persuasive letter should include these three components:

(1) a clear statement in which you identify your position on this issue
(2) several reasons that support your position (include personal examples when appropriate)
(3) a professional tone and presentation appropriate for a letter to your principal

 

Prompt Option 4:

Because of the state’s added emphasis on end-of-year test results, the principal at your elementary school has decided to spend less time on extra-curricular subjects (PE, music, art, etc.) in order to create more instructional time for core subjects. Write a persuasive letter to your principal in which you support or argue against this plan.

Your persuasive letter should include these three components:

(1) a clear statement in which you identify your position on this issue
(2) several reasons that support your position (include personal examples when appropriate)
(3) a professional tone and presentation appropriate for a letter to your principal

 

Prompt Option 5:

Sports can be a great way to get students involved in school; however, competitions and practices can take students out of important classroom instruction time. Your administration has proposed that student athletes maintain a minimum of 80% attendance in all classes to remain eligible to play.  Write a persuasive letter to your administration in which you support or argue against this proposal.

Your persuasive letter should include these three components:

(1) a clear statement in which you identify your position on this issue
(2) several reasons that support your position (include personal examples when appropriate)
(3) a professional tone and presentation appropriate for a letter to your administration

Please note that all writing prompts for persuasive letters will ask you to take a position on an educational issue. It is optional, though not required, for you to use a five-paragraph essay structure as you write this letter. For information on how to structure a five-paragraph essay, visit https://cehs.usu.edu/teached/five-paragraph-essay-format.

How Will My Writing Be Evaluated?

Your writing will be evaluated according to the following six traits: ideas and content, organization, word choice, voice, sentence fluency, and conventions. Below you will find a brief description of each of the traits.

Ideas and Content: The main points of the paper are clear and compelling. In a descriptive essay, you describe an experience and clearly state what you learned from the experience. In a persuasive letter, you take a clear stance on an issue. In both cases, you use specific and relevant examples, stories, or reasons to support your main idea.

Organization: The organization of the paper enhances your main ideas. The paper includes an introduction and conclusion, and the supporting examples or details fit where they are placed. Transition words, phrases, or sentences indicate how ideas in previous paragraphs are related to ideas in later paragraphs.

Word Choice: Precise, varied words convey your message in a convincing or interesting way. You avoid needless repetition of words, and you avoid overused verbs and adjectives that do not add life or specificity to your paper.

Voice: The tone is appropriate for the audience and purpose of your writing. In a descriptive essay, you include personal, vivid examples that are engaging and sincere. In a persuasive essay, you include appropriate evidence and language that would appeal to the audience for whom you are writing.

Sentence Fluency: When read aloud, the paper sounds expressive. To achieve this goal, you use varied sentence structures, including sentence beginnings. Fragments, if used at all, achieve their stylistic purpose.

Conventions: Writing conventions are used to enhance communication. These conventions include correct punctuation, spelling, capitalization, paragraph breaks, and grammar. Errors are so few that readers would likely skim over them without noticing them unless specifically looking for them.

Your paper will be assigned a score from 1-6 on each of these six traits. In order to pass the exam, you need to earn a total score of 24/36. View the rubric by which your paper will be evaluated.

How Can I Practice for the Exam?

 If you want to practice for the exam, you can write in response to these two model prompts and ask a mentor to evaluate your writing according to the rubrics.

You can also visit the website for USU’s Writing Center. If you scroll down to the bottom of the site, you will see a list of links under the heading Education Students. These resources offer tips for preparing for the writing exam.

What Happens After the Exam?

After your fee has been processed, two readers will evaluate your exam based on the following traits: ideas and content, organization, word choice, voice, sentence fluency, and conventions. Two readers must agree that your paper earned 24/36 possible points (6 points per trait) in order for it to receive a passing score on the exam. If one reader gives your essay a passing score and a second reader gives your essay a failing score, your exam will be sent to a third reader to resolve the discrepancy.

Regardless of whether the essay passed or failed, you and your advisor will receive your score through email about four weeks after you paid your fee. If you pass the exam, please print and keep a copy of the results for your application to the teacher education program.


What Happens If I Fail?

The failing paper, the grading rubrics, and a handout that explains each grading category will be returned to you by mail. Please visit the link below to view a video that will prepare you to take the exam a second time.

Preparing for the Writing Exam: Six Trait Evaluation Questions


Effective Test-Taking Strategies


Exam Results: Pass or Fail?



Students who fail the writing exam the second time will be required to visit the USU Writing Center (Ray B. West Building, Room 104) for assistance, which will cost $100. The Writing Center will provide intensive tutoring for up to fifteen weeks

If you are a Regional Campus/Distance Education student that had been unsuccessful in passing the writing exam after the second attempt, please make an appointment with your RCDE advisor to discuss what you should do to prepare to retake the exam for the third time.  Arrangements have been made so RCDE students are not required to come to Logan to complete the Proficiency Skills Development process.

Failure to pass the exam after three attempts will result in a final “not admitted” decision for USU’s teacher preparation program.

Academic Integrity

As you take this exam, you are expected to abide by USU’s Honor Pledge: “I pledge, on my honor, to conduct myself with the foremost level of academic integrity.” In accordance with this pledge, you may not ask other students to reveal their writing prompts, and you may not reveal your writing prompt with other students. You may also not consult outside resources while you are writing your paper. Students who break their honor pledge will not be accepted to a teacher education program at USU.

Evidence of academic dishonesty will be handled in compliance with university policies on academic dishonesty, which are outlined in Article VI, Section 2 of the Code and Policies and Procedures for Students at USU.