Every campus in the CSU is subject to the
Graduate Writing Assessment requirement, or
GWAR. At SDSU, students take the WPA, or
Writing Proficiency Assessment test to fulfill the
GWAR requirement.
CSU Vice Chancellor David Spence says that
the GWAR “certifies that students are prepared
to address writing demands in the workplace or
in graduate school, and ensures that all
students in all majors have he opportunity to
learn to write well.”
What does the WPA focus on?
• “The WPA focuses on your ability to read
and analyze written arguments. It
measures your ability to express yourself
clearly, logically and specifically and to
organize and develop your ideas well. In
addition, it assesses your ability to write
coherent paragraphs and appropriately
structured sentences.”
What does the WPA focus on?
• “You will be given a short reading in the form of an
argument and asked to write an essay that responds to
a series of questions that relate directly to the reading
selection. The questions you will be asked to address in
the essay will focus specifically on analysis of the
argument presented in the reading rather than a
personal response. You will be asked to assess the
argument's structure, to explain how the author uses
rhetorical strategies to persuade an audience, and to
evaluate (using evidence from the reading itself) how
convincing the argument is…You will be allotted two
hours to complete the exam.”
A Sample WPA Exam Question
• “Craft a coherent essay (i. e. one that is not just a series
of paragraph responses to the prompt) in which you
respond (in an appropriate order) to all of the following
components: Identify and provide a brief explanation
of the author’s argument; Describe and discuss two
strategies that the author uses to support his or her
argument; Describe the overall structure of the reading
selection and explain whether it furthers the aims of the
author’s argument; Discuss the premise(s) and/or
assumption(s) on which the argument is based;
Evaluate the extent to which you find the argument
Key Terms Used in the WPA
• Here are some terms to look for along with brief
• Brief Explanation: Requires you to put the author’s
argument in your own words. You want to keep this as
brief as possible by limiting this discussion to only 1
• Describe, Explain, Discuss: Moving beyond summary,
these terms require you to analyze, to go beyond what is
written to how it is written. Effective description,
explanation, and discussion are objective and
impersonal, rather than subjective. Furthermore, they
employ specific, direct, concrete language. [Do versus
Key Terms Used in the WPA
• Strategies: Strategies are moves or devices that help build and
support arguments. Commonly used strategies include examples,
statistical support, appeals to the emotions of the reader (pathos),
demonstrations of authorial credibility (ethos), analogies and
comparisons, irony, refutations of opposing arguments, and
quotations from experts and famous sources. Stylistic devices such
as repetition, alliteration, and metaphor can also be characterized as
• Evaluate: More subjective than objective analysis, evaluation
requires judgment and assessment based on explicit criteria,
reasoning, and evidence. Evaluating an argument goes beyond
declaring whether or not you agree with it. You are required to
assess how its strengths and weaknesses contribute to or
undermine its convincingness. Attention to the writer’s efforts to
respond to potential opposition is particularly important.
Key Terms Used in the WPA
• Structure: The way a piece of writing develops
and unfolds over time.
• Premise and Assumption: Treated as
synonyms in this assignment, premises and
assumptions are the principles, propositions,
beliefs, and values upon which arguments or
parts of arguments rest. Premises and
assumptions can be explicitly stated or implicit
(merely implied or suggested) in an argument.
They are effective to the extent they come to be
shared by the reader and writer, thus forming
“common ground.”
Frequently Asked Questions
• Q: When do I take the WPA?
A: Continuing students must take the WPA during the semester in
which they are completing 60 units or in the semester immediately
following. Transfer students are eligible to take the WPA once they
have received an offer of admission. They must take the
examination by the end of their first semester at SDSU.
• Q: How many times can I take the WPA?
A: Students are allowed to attempt the WPA twice within the time
frames and restrictions described in the question above.
• Q: What happens if I don't take the WPA during the required
time frame?
A: Students who do not take the examination by the end of the
required time frame will not be able to register for future terms.
Q: Can I see sample WPA tests and
explanations of how they were scored?
A: see the GWAR site:
Q: What are the scoring criteria?
A: They are listed here, and connect
closely with skills covered in RWS 100
Score 7
or less
RWS 305W
(60 credits)
8 or 9
RWS 503W
RWS 500
No "W" class req'd
unless major req's
it: English, History,
etc. (See your
• You will likely take RWS 200 next semester.
• I suggest you take the WPA right after that,
when you are most familiar with material from
RS 100 and 200.
• If you take it early and don’t score well, you can
take it a second time and still have plenty of time
to prepare (rather than leaving it late, when you
are getting ready to graduate.)
For more info…
• See the WPA site: