Please turn off all cell
phones, and, please,
no flash or other
photography during
the workshop
Thank you for your
Welcome to the Writing
Placement Assessment
(WPA) Workshop
Presented by
the Department of Rhetoric and
Writing Studies
SDSU’s GWAR (Graduation Writing Assessment
Requirement) is a Rhetorically based Writing Placement
Assessment (WPA)
Overall, the WPA asks students to:
•Write an essay responding to a series of statements that
relate directly to the reading selection in an engaging and
informed way.
•Write an analysis of the argument presented in the
reading rather than a personal response to the topic of the
To be more specific, you are being asked to:
•explain the point of the author’s argument
•identify and explain the type of structure used
• explain how the author is using rhetorical strategies
to persuade an audience
•identify and explain the core premise/assumption of
the article
•most importantly: you must analyze and evaluate
the effectiveness of each of these components. (Did
this strategy/structure/premise work to convince the
audience? Why/why not?)
Wondering why you have to take the WPA?
Here’s some perspective to take the edge off:
• At least five campuses require passing an exam.
• At least four require coursework only.
•About four, including SDSU, require an exam, then
coursework only if necessary.
• Single-essay exams range from 180 to 60 minutes.
**So, think of it this way: SDSU provides students the opportunity to test
out of any upper division writing courses and our assessment is a
whopping 2 hours long--rather than just one hour.
How the WPA is scored:
2 independent readers
Score from 2-5 each
Split Scores (3-4, 4-5) evaluated by a third reader
Evaluated by WPA Coordinator/Chief Readers
Total score of 10: Requirement fulfilled (about 15% of students
taking the test, based on 2007 figures)
Total score of 8: Demonstrates competency for an upper division
writing course (around 55%)
Total score of 6 or below: Need to take RWS 280 or 281 AND an
upper division writing course (about 30%)
What to do before the exam:
Explore the internet for information on rhetorical strategies
and rhetorical vocabulary. Some suggestions:
•Google “Rhetorical Strategies”
 Write a practice essay while you time yourself! Many students
say the time limit is the most challenging aspect of the
The day of the assessment:
Bring two #2 pencils, two pens, your student id, and
entry ticket. You may also bring a highlighter.
Exam book and reading are provided
120 minutes to read and write
Manage your time: approximately 15-20 minutes
to read the prompt, the article and pre-write, 80-90
minutes to write, and 15-20 minutes to edit and
While taking the WPA:
Read the prompt.
Identify “writing tasks” (what is the prompt actually asking you to
Carefully read the selection.
*Underline and annotate as you read.
Draft a thesis, controlling idea statement, etc.
Plan the structure of your essay.
*It need not follow the order of the tasks in the prompt.
Be sure to address every component of the prompt.
Be aware of the time
These times are approximates:
 15-20 minutes to read the prompt and the article
Read the prompt first and underline and annotate
Prewriting: List, map, or outline, thesis statement
 80-90 minutes to write
Don’t worry about spelling and conventions of
correctness as you write
 15-20 minutes to edit and proofread
Make minor edits and correct any errors you find
 Check the time periodically; don’t count on the
proctor to keep you informed
What the readers are looking for:
Analysis: Is your analysis of the reading reasonable, credible,
thorough, and well-thought out?
Focus: Does the essay accurately address the prompt?
Organization: Do the ideas flow from one paragraph and from
one sentence to another? *Make sure your essay doesn’t read like
a list.*
Development: Are details and specific examples used to further
prove or illustrate the thesis?
Grammar—Punctuation—Spelling: This is something you can
do little about in the days before the test. The focus, organization,
and development strategies are in your control.
The WPA prompt:
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 summary 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 convincing.
This essay is not an “agree or disagree” exercise, nor is it
intended to generate an extensive summary of the article.
Responses that emphasize personal opinion or summary will not
earn a passing score.
Breaking down the prompt:
Look at the verbs in the Prompt:
Identify: Clearly label and provide examples of the strategies,
structure, and assumptions used by the author.
Provide an explanation: Put the author’s argument in your
own words. Be brief! (Limit to one paragraph.)
Describe, Explain, Discuss: Push beyond summarizing the
article. You should analyze, go beyond what is written to explain
how it is written. Thoroughly discus how the author is using this
information to support his/her argument.
Evaluate: Judge or assess something based on explicit
criteria and evidence. Try to avoid simply agreeing or
disagreeing with the article. You are assessing how the strengths
and weaknesses contribute to or undermine the degree to which
you find the article convincing.
?? Describe two strategies??
Strategies are moves or devices which help build and
support arguments.
Find two the author uses in making his or her argument:
Are examples provided?
Is evidence presented?
Are opposing arguments refuted?
Are appeals made:
-To emotions (pathos)?
-To logic (logos)?
Are narrations, descriptions, or settings provided?
Does the author use stylistic devices: repetition,
alliteration, or metaphor?
?? Strategies ?? continued
 Does the writer of the selection:
– Use descriptions?
– Provide definitions?
– Share personal experiences to appeal to
– Use a concept or idea to interpret another
idea? Use analogies?
– This is only a partial list. Do some research
on the internet to learn more terms!
**In addition to identifying and describing these strategies, you must
also evaluate their effectiveness (Do they “work?” Why/why not?)**
?? Describe the overall structure ??
How are strategies organized in the text?
How are claims in the text organized?
How are examples or evidence arranged in the reading?
How do the parts of the reading function?
How is information “chunked” together?
How does the structure affect the persuasiveness of the reading
as a whole?
Consider these structural relationships:
**In addition to identifying and describing the structure, you must also evaluate
its effectiveness (Does it “work?” Why/why not?)**
?? Discuss the premises and/or assumptions ??
 Assumptions and premises are the components of the argument that
are accepted as true by both the writer and the audience. An
Assumption is defined as a fact or statement taken for granted while
a Premise is defined as proposition proved by argument or
 Assumptions and premises constitute the principles, beliefs and
core values the author assumes the audience holds true.
 Look for “obvious” things that “need no explanation,” yet are vital
to the writer’s argument.
**In addition to identifying and describing the assumption/premise, you
must also evaluate its effectiveness (Does it “work?” Why/why not?)**
?? Evaluate the extent to which you find the argument
convincing ??
Make your own argument regarding the effectiveness of
the author’s argument; NOT your stance on the topic.
Use examples from the reading.
Use quotations to support your analysis.
*If you quote from the article, use no more than a
short phrase.
*Provide an analysis of the quotation, explaining how
it supports your argument.
Do not just summarize; respond to all parts of the
Address the credibility of the author.
Time is almost out
Spend 15-20 minutes proofreading.
Do not proofread while writing.
Do not sabotage yourself by trying to squeeze
in too many re-writes.
If you need to shift chunks of your writing,
simply give clear directions for the readers.
Look for errors you typically make.
Be careful of very basic errors, such as
confusion of their/they’re or its/it’s.
Whew! You have finished the WPA!
If you plan on retaking the WPA, you can (and
should) meet with the WPA adviser to review your
essay. This is highly advised!
Consider RWS 305W alternative classes. Some majors
(history, journalism) require upper division writing
Look at the Test Office website:
2010 Pass Rate Summary Continued
General Academic Writing Tips:
• Avoid referring to the author by his/her first name.
•Be careful of using “you” and “like.”
•If you “know” something, be sure to explain how and
why you know it.
•Create topic sentences for your paragraphs that are
attention-grabbing and informative. Avoid: “The
author’s first strategy is . . .”
•Don’t assume the readers will automatically know
what you are trying to say.
There is no automatic formula for earning a “10” on the
These essays are written by humans (you) and read by
humans (SDSU faculty). It is important to engage and
interest the readers while creating a clear, concise, and
effective analysis of the author’s argument.
You are ultimately making an argument about the
effectiveness of another author’s argument.
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