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Writing for College Success



Study Hall
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Before the Test   I   Budget your Time   I   Choosing a Topic   I   Strategies for Writing

Before the Test

  • Students should arrive fifteen minutes before the exam is scheduled to begin.  If registered with the Office of Educational Accessibility (757-683-4655), students should contact that office ten days before the scheduled exam to make specific testing arrangements.

  • Do not bring notes to the exam.

  • A passing essay must

    1. Answer the question and demonstrate logical consistency

    2. Sufficiently develop supporting evidence

    3. Possess clarity in sentence structure and word choice

    4. Show reasonable freedom from mechanical errors

Budget Your Time Carefully

On the basis of your experience with writing tasks and your knowledge of yourself as a writer, divide the three hours into blocks of time for basic activities: thinking, writing, revising, and proofreading.

Set aside time for thinking; writers do this best on scratch paper as free writing or clustering. Establish a plan for organization, and make notes about the general statements and specific details that you will use in developing your ideas. Remember that the following criteria will be used in evaluating your essay:

  • PURPOSE - Your purpose, i.e., thesis statement, should be clearly stated and should be the controlling force throughout the paper. The essay must address the question directly.
  • CONTENT - You should fully develop the ideas presented in the essay, supporting all generalizations with specific details and examples.

Write an essay. At this point, don't agonize over word choice and grammar, spelling, or punctuation. Try to write what you have to say as clearly as possible in essay format.

Set aside time for revision. Check the essay to make sure that the essay contains all that you need to write. Do not assume your reader knows what is on your mind; you must tell your reader what is on your mind. It is not necessary to recopy your essay. After you have checked and revised with regard to sufficiency of information, check for the following:

  • CLARITY/SYNTAX - The reader should have no need to backtrack or stop to puzzle over your intent. Sentence structures should provide a smooth and efficient flow of information. The sentences should not be malformed, rambling, or choppy, and words should be used appropriately. The writing should be stylistically mature: sentences should not be repetitively simplistic, words should not be repeated ineffectively, and there should be no abrupt transitions or omissions.

Finally, set aside time for proofreading what you have written. It is helpful at this point to take a break. If you can successfully separate yourself from the mental process of writing, you will be more likely to view your writing critically. Do not recopy your corrected essay. Check your writing for the fourth criterion by which your writing is evaluated.

  • CONVENTIONS - Search for and correct errors of spelling, grammar, or punctuation - particularly errors that you have made in the past and those that might confuse or distract the reader.


Choosing an Exit Examination Topic and taking the Exam

When you register for the Exit Examination of Writing Proficiency, you will see a list of topics upon which examination questions for the scheduled test will be based. Different sets of topics will be used on different examination dates. There will be three general topics and two topics for each college. You will choose only two topics; you may select topics in the general category and/or from the college of your major or minor. By selecting topics in advance, you will have the opportunity to become familiar with issues relevant to the topics.

At the time of the scheduled examination, the examination administrator will give you a short reading passage and a question relating to the passage for each of the two selected topics. Carefully read the question and the article for each of the topics and decide which one you prefer. The article accompanying the question is most often intended to help you think about the question. In writing the essay, you are not required to use information provided in the article unless the question specifically asks you to do so. For example, if the question asks if you agree or disagree with the author of the article, you will, of course, need to base your position on information from the article. You will then write an essay that answers the question selected. The essay should not be a summary of the reading passage, nor should it quote directly from the passage.

The three-hour testing period should be used to select one of the two questions; plan, organize, and write the essay; and revise/edit the essay for final evaluation. Although the length of the essay is not as important as its development, graders expect the paper to be at least 500 words.


Strategies for Writing a Passing Paper

Prepare beforehand. Practice writing about the topics you have chosen, and identify editing strategies for finding and correcting the errors you know you are likely to make. If you need help, take a workshop at the Writing Center, take a course in the English Department, hire a tutor or take advantage of the free Writing Tutorial Services at 757-683-4013 before you take the exam.

Prepare a "proof list" - a list of errors or problems for which you know you must proof in all of your writing. The most common mechanical errors are comma splices, run-on sentences, sentence fragments, pronoun or subject-verb agreement errors, comma and apostrophe errors, and spelling errors.

Another common problem is lack of development. Perhaps you have stated an opinion-and perhaps stated it well. But you need to explain why you hold such an opinion and give the reader specific details or illustrations to support your point of view.

Clarity of word choice and sentencing should always be one of your goals in any good writing. Proofread with the reader in mind. Use the writing style with which you are most comfortable for sentence structure and word choice. If your sentence isn't clear, rewrite it. Remember that the reader has no access to what is on your mind-only to what is on your paper. If a sentence is slightly confusing to you, it will be very confusing to your reader. Even though you may have a thesaurus with you, don't use it to explore new vocabulary or impress the reader with your ability to say the same thing over and over again in different ways.

Be consistent in point of view. Do not switch from third to second person (from he or she to you). In fact, it is best to avoid using you entirely. Personal experience to illustrate a point is one of several ways to develop essays; therefore, using the pronoun I is appropriate. However, do not shift to first person needlessly by wrongly using expressions like "I feel," "I believe," or "I think."  In addition, avoid heavy-handed expressions such as "This author" and "This writer's opinion."