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Writing Proficiency Exam

Hofstra's Writing Proficiency Exam is an essay exam intended to ensure that Hofstra students display competence as writers, regardless of their majors or the number of writing courses they have taken.  Passing this exam (currently given at the end of WSC 2 or in the Fall and Spring semesters for transfer students) is a graduation requirement for all undergraduate students at Hofstra.  Students who do not pass the exam will be able to strengthen their writing through a 1-credit Writing Workshop class or through one-on-one tutoring at Hofstra's Writing Center.

Tips for Passing the Proficiency Exam


Format of the Exam

Approximately one week before you take the exam, you will log into Blackboard and will receive access to an essay, which you should read vigorously.  Print it out and mark it up -- make notes in the margins!  Look up all unfamiliar words, names, references, and ideas in the essay.  Think about your reaction to the essay: Do you agree or disagree with the author's ideas?  Why?  Begin to outline what you think and why you think so.  Consider why someone might disagree with you and why your position may nevertheless be correct.  BRING YOUR MARKED-UP COPY OF THE ESSAY TO THE EXAM.

At the exam (held during Finals Week for WSC 2 students and in the middle of semester for transfer students), you will receive a second, shorter essay connected to the same topic.  Your mission is to write a clear, concise argumentative essay based on BOTH of the essays that have been provided to you.

Tips for Success

  • Begin your argument with a clear thesis paragraph that states your thesis, including the 3-6 main points you'll make in your paper (in the same order in which you'll make these points).  Include the authors' full names and the titles of their articles.
  • Begin each body paragraph with a strong topic sentence that tells the reader which argument you'll make in that paragraph.  Add transition words and phrases to show the logical connections between neighboring sentences.
  • Back up the points you make with evidence (direct quotations and citations) from BOTH articles
  • Analyze your evidence -- explain how examples and quotations support the points you're making.
  • Do NOT merely summarize the articles, and do NOT let quotation substitute for argumentation.
  • Do not base your argument entirely on personal narrative.
  • Proofread carefully on the sentence level.
  • Add an effective conclusion that neatly wraps up what you've been arguing.

Grading Criteria


4 (high pass)

3 (pass)

2 (fail)

1 (fail – 2A)


This essay takes an insightful position that demonstrates critical engagement with the required readings

The essay takes a supported position and consistently develops it with references to the required texts.

This essay tends to summarize or merely to assert that there are differences and/or similarities among the required texts.

The point of the essay may be difficult to determine.



Claims and textual references are integrated into the paragraph in rhetorically compelling ways

Claims in the paragraphs are tied to explicit textual references.

Claims in the paragraphs are often unclear or unsupported.

Claims in paragraphs are unfocused.


The essay demonstrates mastery of a citation system (MLA, APA, etc.).



Quotations are responsibly handled and effectively integrated into the essay.

Quotations are frequently mishandled (i.e., merely “dropped” into paragraph without adequate context or explanation.

The essay may rely entirely upon quotation, or it may exclude textual references altogether.


The essay displays global coherence, and the paragraphs are logically organized.

The essay displays global coherence and the relations among paragraphs are apparent.

The essay lacks coherence and/or the order of the paragraphs seems, at times, random.

The essay is difficult to read and may reveal substantial reading comprehension problems.

Grammar and Mechanics

The essay displays a command of grammatical and stylistic principles. The sentences are well structured and rhetorically effective.  

The essay displays occasional grammatical errors, but the majority of the sentences are correct. 

The essay displays a pattern of grammatical error in one or two critical areas (e.g., sentence boundaries, agreement, punctuation, word choice).

The essay displays a pattern of grammatical error in several critical areas (e.g., sentence boundaries, agreement, punctuation, word choice).

Writing Strategies

Some or all of the following steps may help you to write a clear, coherent, substantial essay.

  • Brainstorming: Considering BOTH essays, ask yourself why your thesis is true. Write down your reasons.
  • Outlining: Sketch out an outline with
    1. an introduction and thesis statement,
    2. three to six points you want to make, and
    3. a conclusion pointing out what your essay has demonstrated or implied.

Proofreading Tips

Allow plenty of time to proofread your work carefully to show off your very best writing.  Here are some effective proofreading strategies:

  • Read your work aloud softly to catch any awkward wordings or mixed constructions.
  • Read your work back-to-front (last sentence, 2nd-to-last sentence, 3rd-to-last sentence, etc.) to catch sentence fragments.
  • Look carefully at all words that end in "s" and determine whether they're possessives that need an apostrophe.
  • Look carefully at all words that have an apostrophe and make sure that you haven't accidentally used an apostrophe to form a plural.
  • Review the essay several times, proofreading for a different specific issue (run-on sentences, subject-verb agreement, comma use, etc.)

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