Writing Proficiency Exam submissions run March 13-26

The Writing Proficiency Exam is a required test for all Northern Vermont University students as a part of the VSCS board of trustees- mandated graduation requirements. This test has historically been offered in both a longhand format and in computer labs, but moved fully online at the beginning of the C-19 pandemic and is taken via the Canvas site.

As in the past, the exam is offered once a semester. This year the submission window runs from March 13 -March 26, during which time students can submit their essay responding to one of the eight questions offered.

Not only has the pass rate increased since the move to a fully online format, but “we have found no increase in any incidence of cheating,” according to Tyrone Shaw, the Writing Proficiency Exam coordinator. The pass rate currently is about 90 percent.

He said that increased frequency of cheating was a concern when converting the exam to a fully online format, but that the system created to accommodate the test, including plagiarism-detection system Turnitin, works well.

As for the increased pass rate, Shaw said that the pass rate has always been pretty high, but suggested that the slight increase following the change in format could be attributed to students feeling lower levels of stress when taking the exam.

Once registered for the exam, which is listed as ENG 3999, students are given a list of dates for prep sessions intended to prepare them to do well when writing the essay that makes up the test. These sessions, provided via Zoom by Shaw, involve explanations of the grading system as well as strategies for maximizing success.

To register for the exam, students must do so through Sandra Noyes, staff assistant for the Writing and Literature and Humanities departments. ([email protected]) “It’s the only way you can do it,” said Shaw. “She’ll log you in and then within 24 hours you have access to the Canvas site for this semester.”

The exam requires students to choose one of eight policy questions and then take a position pro or con using concrete evidence do defend their position. This essay is then reviewed by a panel of readers. These readers, two of whom are assigned to each essay, must determine if the submission will pass or fail. If the two readers cannot agree, the essay is then given to a third reader to break the tie.

According to Shaw, should a student fail the Writing Proficiency Exam, they are given two options. “You can take it again, and if you pass, it you’re good. You can choose not to take it again and instead enroll in Self Sufficient Writer, which is a three- credit independent study for which you would have an entire semester to work with a faculty member one-on-one,” he said. Since students cannot graduate without passing the exam or its equivalent, Shaw suggests that students take the exam for the first time as early as they can so that, should they fail, they have as much time as possible to prepare for and meet the requirement. Students taking Expo and Analysis are expected to take the exam as part of their course.

As is the case with many other things right now, the Writing Proficiency Exam as it now exists is likely to change with the upcoming Vermont State University (VTSU) merger, according to Shaw. This is due to each college involved in the merger having their own version of meeting the graduation standard in writing, something that will need to be rectified.

“Two years ago, the faculty assemblies of all the Vermont state colleges presented a resolution to to the board of trustees asking them to rescind their mandated graduation standard in written communication, feeling it was superfluous and onerous, ” said Shaw. “Some faculty still strongly defend the Writing Proficiency Exam, and I understand why, but as it is, we have to have the same standard being met in the same way across all campuses going forward. I think it will be implicit in the learning objectives of the new gen. ed. not as a stand alone assessment. My guess is that soon the Writing Proficiency Exam, which we’ve had in place since the 1970’s, will cease to exist. Students coming in under the new Gen. Ed. will not be taking it.”