WPE: Record-breaking pass rate

The fall pass rate for the Writing Proficiency Exam set an all-time record.

“Continuing a five-year trend, the rate went up slightly, to an all-time high of 80 percent,” said Tyrone Shaw, associate professor of writing and literature and the exam administrator.

“Last spring’s was 77 percent so it’s significant,” said Shaw.  “That said, it’s only one point above our previous high of 79 percent.  It’s hard to attribute this to any one thing, and I think it really reflects an ongoing effort on multiple fronts.”

Several changes were made to this fall’s exam structure, the most significant of which was allowing notes to be taken into the exam. In the past, students have had to rely on their memory, but this year a 3×5 inch note card was allowed in.

“In the past, students have complained that they’re being tested on their memory, which has never been our intent,” said Shaw. “We are testing a student’s ability to take a position and defend it using relevant, concrete support in the form of evidence.”

While the index cards might have helped the students taking the exam this year, Shaw said it is too soon to see if the cards actually played a part in raising the scores. “We’ll know more in a year or so,” he said .

Another change made to the test was allowing students taking the test on computer to use spell check. Dictionaries are provided for those taking the test longhand as well as on a computer. “I don’t think that really made a difference,” said Shaw, adding that students are not graded on spelling.

Shaw suggested that two other factors may have contributed to this fall’s pass rate. “Prep sessions have been well attended this fall,” Shaw said. “Those who attend these one-hour sessions generally fare better than those who don’t. Also the Exposition and Analysis course has pretty much incorporated preparing students for the exam into the various sections, and that also helps insure students take the test during the semester they take Expo. Whatever the causes, we’re definitely headed in a positive direction.”  

Students must pass this exam, which is the college’s way of establishing that students meet VSC-mandated standards of written communication. Students who fail the exam can either take it again in a subsequent semester to take Self-Sufficient Writer, a three-credit course.