Writing Proficiency Exam

A Writing Proficiency Examination (WPE) is required of every McKendree University student.  The student is allowed three hours to complete the essay so he or she has sufficient time to prepare a rough draft and a fully revised paper.

The WPE is administered at the completion of the second semester of Freshman English Composition.  A student who fails the examination, but has otherwise completed the requirements for the two semesters of college composition (ENG 111 and ENG 112) would be required to take a two credit hour course, ENG 114 (or an approved equivalency) during the next semester of enrollment.  English 114 would give the student further practice in the necessary basic writing skills required to pass the WPE.  The examination would be retaken at the completion of ENG 114 (or an approved equivalency).  Should a student fail the second time, he or she would not be required to enroll again in ENG 114 but would have one further opportunity to pass the examination within the next semester of enrollment.  A third failure of the WPE would entail dismissal from McKendree University.

All students applying for transfer credit equivalent to ENG 111 and ENG 112 would be required to take the WPE within the first semester of enrollment.  Any student failing the examination would then follow the same procedure detailed above.  A student within thirty-two credit hours of graduation who has not passed the WPE would be classified as a non-degree student until the proficiency requirement is met.

The purpose of the evaluation of the writing proficiency examination is to provide the college at large and the individual student the assurance that those students show have received credit for the English requirement at McKendree University have at least a basic command of written English.  In other words, the committee, in evaluating examination papers, will not fail those that have an occasional flaw or a minor weakness but only those which, taken as a whole, show that the writers need additional study and practice in order to achieve the minimum proficiency in writing expected of college students and of college graduates.  Each examination will be rated on a scale of one to four by each reader; thus, the total scores for each paper, ranging from two through eight, will fall into the following categories: 


A. Papers with a score of 5 (3 + 2) or higher with a differential of only one:  automatic pass.

B. Papers with a score of 4 (2 + 2): student is strongly recommended, but not required, to take ENG 114.  The student has only marginally acceptable skills and should have additional training in writing.

C. Papers with a score of 3 or papers with a score of 5 or less, with a differential of 2 or more (e.g., 3 + 1): paper will be read by a third reader to determine the outcome.

D. Papers with a score of 2: failing paper; the student is required to take ENG 114 or its equivalent and to take the WPE again.  The student has failed to demonstrate that he or she has acceptable command of standard written English and the principles of written composition.


Descriptive Scale


The descriptive scale used in holistic grading is as follows:

Four Paper:  Extremely informative; clear thesis; stays directly with the point; supports ideas; accurate; well organized; relatively error-free; factual with supporting statements; relatively self-explanatory; stimulates the mind of the reader.  The writing provides fresh insights or authoritative information for the reader.

The ideas are expressed in appropriate language, including a varied and fresh vocabulary.  A sense of pattern of development is present from beginning to end.

The writer supports assertions with clear explanations, vivid illustrations, and specific details.

Sentences reflect not only a command of syntax within the ordinary range of standard written English, but also demonstrate a control of varied and sometimes complex sentence structure.  Grammar, punctuation, and spelling are generally correct.

Three Paper:  A three paper might be a little more vague than a four paper and lack some of the detail that a four paper has.  It may have a few careless mistakes, but it can still interest the reader, and the reader can read through it without being distracted by problems.  It may not be as well organized as a four paper, but it does present a discernible pattern of organization, even if there are occasional digressions.

The writer introduces some point or idea and demonstrates an awareness that development or illustration is called for.  The paper has clearly defined paragraphs with appropriate topic sentences.  The paper also has coherence, strengthened by transitions between paragraphs and sentences.  The essay demonstrates sufficient command of vocabulary to convey, without serious distortion or excessive simplification, the range of the writer’s ideas.

Sentences reflect a sufficient command of syntax to ensure reasonable clarity of expression.  The writer generally avoids both the monotony of rudimentary syntax and the incoherence created by tangled syntax.

The writer demonstrates an understanding of the boundaries of the sentence.  The writer spells the common words of the language with a reasonable degree of accuracy.  Exceptions can be made for the so-called spelling “demons” which frequency trouble even an advanced writer.

The writer shows the ability to use regularly, but not necessarily faultlessly, the common forms of agreement and of grammatical inflection in standard written English.

Two Paper:  Two papers are below average because they have inadequate explanation or unclear meaning.  A two paper may not have as many or as specific or appropriate examples as a three paper, but it does have some.

An idea or point is suggested but is underdeveloped or presented in a somewhat repetitious or mechanical way.  The point of the essay may not be entirely clear or may include some contradictions.

The paper may have weaknesses in organization or focus; it may stray from the topic or ramble occasionally.  However, the writer has been able to demonstrate a basic understanding of paragraphing and organization.  Relationships between sentences and paragraphs are rarely signaled; that is, transitions are often lacking.

The essay is restricted to a very narrow range of language, so that the vocabulary chosen frequently does not serve the needs of the writer.

The syntax often is rudimentary or tangled, and may contain occasional sentence errors such as fragments or comma splices.  However, the writer does have at least a basic command of sentence formation and sentence boundaries.

The essay may reveal recurrent grammatical problems, such as noun/pronoun agreement.  This may be due to the extremely narrow range of syntactical choices the writer has used.  There are some mechanical errors such as spelling and punctuation which are hard to overlook.  In general, the reader can understand the basic ideas of a two paper, but is sometimes distracted by weaknesses or errors.

One Paper:  A one paper may display serious deficiencies in either or both of the following areas:  (1) thesis, development, focus, organization, and/or coherence; (2) paragraph structure, sentence structure, sentence boundaries, command of basic grammar, including subject-verb and noun-pronoun agreement, punctuation, mechanics, and/or spelling.  A one paper may not respond appropriately or adequately to the topic, or it may not use enough examples or appropriate examples to illustrate an idea.  It may not address the topic at hand, or, if it does appear to address the topic, it may do so only in a very obvious, clichéd, or superficial way.  The vocabulary is likely to be simplistic, repetitious, or misused.

There may be errors, such as fragments, comma splices, run-ons, or agreement in addition to errors in punctuation, mechanics, an spelling.  A single specific error, even if recurrent, such as several misspelled words or several misused apostrophes, would not, by itself, be enough to make a paper a one; however, when such errors in combination with other problems reveal the writer’s inability to have a basic command of written English, the paper should receive a one.  The reader may not be able to see a central idea emerge from the essay, or, if an idea does emerge, it may not be adequately illustrated, or there may be serious or numerous errors that prevent the reader from reading the paper through without serious distraction.  In short, the writer has failed to demonstrate minimally acceptable skills in the basics of written English: idea, development, organization, paragraphing, sentence structure, grammar, mechanics, and spelling.