General Studies Writing Program
GSW recognizes that students’ writing skills are not and cannot be measured adequately by a standard aptitude test such as the SAT or ACT. As a result, incoming students are asked to demonstrate their writing in a placement essay.
The GSW placement process is predicated on a set of core beliefs about effective placement:
- Begin with carefully defined and logically sequenced curricula for composition courses.
- Base placement decisions on actual writing sample(s), not on a standardized test score.
- Articulate the criteria for placement, tying criteria to skills taught in the courses.
- Employ experienced instructors of the courses as placement evaluators and provide them with additional training in criteria-based, holistic placement.
- Place students into actual courses, not arbitrarily scaled levels (e.g., 1-6).
Currently completed entirely online, the test provides writers with a brief article of general interest to spark their thinking on a topic. Articles chosen as readings for the test must be easily accessible to the diversity of students who will be taking the writing placement test; as well, they must contain elements of a debatable issue but must not require previous knowledge about the topic. After reading the article, writers are asked to select one of three prompts provided to them; each prompt focuses on a different aspect of the topic and directs the student to write a persuasive essay in response. Writers have a window of 24 hours within which to draft, revise, edit and proofread their essay before submitting it electronically.
Features of the test were chosen specifically for their compatibility with the GSW curriculum. First, the directions and the 24-hour submission window strongly encourage writers to employ a process-based approach to crafting their essay response. There is ample time for thinking somewhat critically about the issue, and then drafting, revising, editing, proofreading and spell checking. Second, because GSW composition courses focus on building facility with academic argument, requiring that placement essay writers adopt a persuasive strategy when responding to a prompt provides evaluators with a clearer sense of the writer’s skills relative to program curriculum.