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Writing Placement Assessment (WPA)

CSU Graduation Writing Assessment Requirement (GWAR)


WPA Sample Essays and Their Scores

Introduction to Sample Essays

Students wrote these sample essays during a field test of the WPA. They were given the reading selection, prompt, and time limitation (two hours) featured on this web site.

These samples are being provided to give you a better sense of what evaluators' scores actually mean. By analyzing these essays and the evaluators' comments, you may become more aware of what is expected and how you might write the best essay you possibly can.

Please note that the following essays specifically analyze the article "What Our Education System Needs Is More F's," by Carl Singleton. The strategies of repetition, analogy, addressing objections, use of examples, etc., are used to make Singleton's argument effective, but not all of these strategies will be used in other articles by other authors.

Likewise, the analyses that appear in the following essays apply uniquely to Singleton's argument. While other authors may employ some of the same strategies, they will do so in a wide variety of ways. Your analysis of strategies, structure, etc., therefore, must be relevant to the specific article that has been assigned. Memorizing and copying any of the analyses that appear below will cause you to receive a lower score and raise the issue of plagiarism. Please do not put yourself in that position. Instead, read the essays below to understand how to better accomplish the writing task being asked of you in the WPA.


Essays with a combined score of:

4 | 6 | 8 | 10

WPA Sample 4 Essay
Two readers gave this essay a score of 2 for a combined score of 4.

Carl makes a very good argument for the reform of the present educational system. Carl is telling his audience it is time to quit sending illiterates from high school into the world. This practice can be costly to society by having to teach people to write and read for jobs and job hunting. According to Carl, if a student does not understand or master a subject, then that student should not go to the next grade. There are teachers who will do that just to get the students out of school. Carl's suggestion or recommendation for failing more students would help bring education back home to the parents' responsibility. However, this plan only works if the parents care enough. Another plan would be to put more money into schools and the teachers. In other words focus more on quality education instead of quantity of education.

Carl's article is a very up to date article because this particular educational issue has been in the news and other media this year. Carl raises a couple of very good points that support the failing students' program of passing students. For instance failing students will make principals, board members, and voters look at the cost factor of improving our educational system. Also, failing students instead of passing them could contribute to higher standards set for (teaching methods, class room presentations and testing procedures).

With an educational system that passes people whether they are educated or not. I think failing more students early on in school will make parents, teachers, and anyone else connected to school stop and take notice.

The comment by Carl claiming that giving F's won't solve all the problems in the educational system supports his argument. He does stick by his argument that failing students who should be failed will start the ball rolling towards a better and more accountable education system. I agree with Carl's last statement that "the big fat F" will help solve the problems in the American education system.

Evaluators' comments:
Based on the WPA Scoring Guide, one of the major weaknesses in this paper is that the questions are minimally addressed. The writer attempts to "provide a brief summary of the author's argument" by stating, "Carl makes a very good argument," but then fails to focus on summarizing the actual argument and instead shifts to summarizing the article. In addition, the writer's attempt at addressing "Evaluate the extent to which you find the argument convincing" is minimally successful at best. The writer does state that he/she agrees with Singleton's argument, which could be seen as an attempt to address the effectiveness, but without supporting and explaining why he or she agrees, the writer really neglects even to address this part of the prompt. In the end, this writer only marginally made an attempt at addressing two out of five tasks that the prompt asks by merely stating "Carl makes a very good argument" and "I agree."

The writer's incomplete response to the prompt also shows an incomplete analysis of the reading. The way that this paper deals with the article is simplistic and underdeveloped. The article provides much in the way of evidence and examples that support the argument than this writer acknowledges. Perhaps if the student had made the attempt to describe and discuss two strategies, the overall structure, and premise(s) and assumption(s), the response would show a more complete analysis of the reading.

One of the prominent features of this paper is that it is mostly a series of statements that either restate what Singleton wrote or what the writer thinks. This causes the structure to be somewhat forced and incomplete. Because of this structure, the writer also fails to use and develop examples and details that further discuss and explain the writer's series of statements. Even though the prose style is not too difficult to follow and the grammar is not poor, this paper is not fluent primarily because its incomplete structure and lack of development do not allow this writer to develop and use effective transitions.

However, it is important to note that this paper earns a score of four not because of prose style, grammar, and mechanics, but because it minimally addresses the prompt, the reading is incomplete, simplistic, and underdeveloped, and the examples and details are sparse.

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WPA Sample 6 Essay
Two readers gave this essay a score of 3 for a combined score of 6.

An F is a grade given to a student who has failed a class's expectations. According to Carl Singleton, author of "Chronicle of Higher Education," there aren't enough F's being given to students of all grade levels. He's not saying just to give them out randomly but more giving them to students who truly deserve them. To back up his argument, Singleton talked about possible benefits and how not giving F's out correctly has hurt us today.

The benefits aren't just for their parents. The benefits for students themselves are that they will soon realize that just showing up to class and staying on the teacher's good side isn't enough. Soon they will start opening the books and turning off the T. V. Since the students may not find it hard at first, they will though benefit. Parents also get a reality check when their children bring home F's. Parents today don't pay much attention to their children's schoolwork. Many time's a parent will take their child's word that the homework was done. The parent's too will turn off the T. V. and get more involved because they are no longer just taking their word but actively checking the work and seeing if it was done correctly.

As with most things, what we do today will affect us later down the road. Singleton discussed how at first teacher's let F student's slip by with a D and then D's became C's. Students are not as dumb and they realize that they can do less work and still walk out with a passing grade. If you teach kids this at a young age, they grow up expecting everything to turn out that way. Singleton points out that if things are done about student's not making the grade then they will do better in the future. We can stop increasing the numbers of illiterate adults.

The overall structure of the article was good and helped Singleton's argument. I liked how he clearly pointed out his ideas so that I was able to understand his side better. He pointed out that he wasn't trying to say that F's will solve everything. I feel that when someone admits flaws then they truly understand what are discussing. It also made me as a reader give his argument more credit. In his lost sentence he commented on the use of red ink. I felt that was good because I believe that most people associate red ink with something done wrong.

I found that his argument was very convincing. It made me think that if I were to become a teacher I would make sure that failing student's got the help they needed. I also started thinking back at past grades and wondered if I truly deserved that grade. I have always felt that if a person's argument can make me think, then it's a good thing, even if I don't agree with what they are saying. I was a little lost on his comment about Gov. Maddox. I had to go back and re-read it because I didn't see why or how that was necessary & it did hurt his argument a little.

Singleton assumed that his audience would have been educated. I believe this was a good assumption because an uneducated person would not know how to read. This assumption aids his argument because educated readers will understand where he is coming from. Also the majority of readers have probably found themselves at that point.

Evaluators' comments:
Based on the WPA Scoring Guide, the major limitation of this paper is its failure to develop a meaningful response to the prompt. Even though the student states the argument in simplistic terms, he or she does not summarize, discuss, or explain the argument. In fact, the last sentence of the first paragraph is where the student loses focus on what the prompt says and sets up an off-topic response. The next two paragraphs do discuss what the student states, but the prompt asks for an analysis of strategies, structure, assumptions, and whether the reader found the argument convincing, not simply restating what Singleton says about "possible benefits and how not giving F's out correctly has hurt us today."

The remainder of the paragraphs do appear to respond to the prompt, but other than briefly stating the structure, assumptions, and whether he/she found the argument convincing, the paragraphs do not develop or support those statements. The structure paragraph is a summary instead of a discussion of the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of the author's structure (or organization); the convincing paragraph is a personal reflection with a brief mention of part of the article that was less convincing instead of developing examples and reasons that explain why or why not the article was convincing; and the assumption paragraph is what the author assumed instead of the principles, propositions, beliefs, and values upon which arguments or parts of arguments rest. In all of the above, the writer needed to describe, explain, and discuss his/her analysis of what the prompt asks. The lack of a focused response to the prompt also shows that the analysis of the reading is underdeveloped, and that the use of examples and details that support a focused response to the prompt are sparse and ill chosen.

The structure, prose style, grammar, and mechanics are all adequate, and if the student had developed a focused response to the prompt and described, explained, and discussed examples and details that supported the response, this paper could have scored higher.

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WPA Sample 8 Essay
Two readers gave this essay a score of 4 for a combined score of 8.

In recent years we have heard a lot about what needs to be done to raise the quality of the American education system. Some claim its a lack of funding, and if we just throw money at the problem the problem of a sub-par education system will just go away. Others claim we need to get back to basics or have more stringent certification procedures. The excuses are abundant. Carl Singleton offers more radical advice. He claims what we need more is more F's. Singleton believes F's would virtually overnight save our education system. Will more F's save the American education system?

The idea of throwing out F's by the millions may sound harsh, but Singleton claims by doing so it would elevate the educational problems we face today. Why give a passing grade to a student who doesn't know his or her material? The school system just perpetuates the endless cycle. The teachers of today are incompetent because they came out of the same educational system their students are in. Will this cycle ever come to an end? Singleton claims yes, if we start handing out F's left and right, it will force students to buckle down and learn the material.

Singleton uses two distinct strategies to support his argument. His first is his analogy of Gov. Lester Maddox's famous quote about the prison system: "We'll get a better grade of prisons when we get a better grade of prisoners." By using this analogy, he is saying that schools will not be better until the students are better, which helps to support his point about the way the fix the education system is to fix the students by giving them F's when they deserve them. Students who are given F's will naturally want to improve, will become better students, and by doing so will improve the schools. It is interesting that Singleton says that he is "tempted to make an analogy," then includes the analogy, then says, "but I shall refrain."

The other strategy that Singleton uses is repetition. He repeats the same words over and over in just about every paragraph. By repeating "giving more F's" or words similar to that, Singleton drives home that the students should be given the grade that they deserve and that by doing so, today's schools will not produce illiterate high school graduates and college students who lack basic reading, writing, and math skills. Hardly a paragraph goes by where Singleton does not use the words "give more F's" or words to that affect. This use of repetition helps Singleton reinforce the idea that the answer to educations problems is to fail students who deserve it, and this use of repetition helps the reader get use to the idea and accept it at the end.

Singleton carefully arranges his article in a way to further his argument. Singleton first shocks his reader by claiming what we need is more F's. Then with several short paragraphs he tries to prove his argument. He explains to the reader about the evolution and decline of the American educational system. How F's became D's then D's to C's and finally B's as an average grade. Then he hammers home his point by explaining how wide spread F's would reform our system. Parents would take an active roll in their kids education, teachers would have to excel if they themselves were not to become failures, the voters, politicians, and school boards would finally become aware of our problem when kids by the millions were held back. Then to sum up his argument Singleton states, "The single most important requirement for solving the problems of education in America today is a big fat F, written decisively in red ink millions of times in schools and colleges across the country."

Singleton writing is quit negative, and his contempt for the current educational system is apparent. He tries to find common ground with his readers by pointing out situations we all know to be true; illiterate high school graduates, college students who have to take classes they should have taken in high school and incompetent teachers. At least he is hoping we have all noticed these problems, because his premise is based on the idea that Americans know that there are problems with our education system and that we should all care enough to try such drastic measures.

Singleton's proposal is harsh and controversial, but I found it convincing. Higher standards would force students to actively learn their material. The famous college slogan "C's get degrees" would vanish. Teachers would deserve raises and get better benefits if they were all highly qualified and able to teach their material. So would wide spread F's solve our current educational problems? Probably, but I can say this for now that I'm finally done with college and won't have to face new and tougher standards!

Evaluators' comments:
Based on the WPA Scoring Guide, this paper meets junior-level writing competency. This paper scores a solid 4 and is clearly adequate in every way. The writer has responded to every aspect of the prompt, showing that he or she understands both the reading and the writing task, the structure is functional, examples and details are good, and the prose style, grammar, and mechanics do not distract the reader from what the writer communicates.

The difference between this paper and one that would score a 5 is in the details. While the discussion of the strategies is good, this writer needs to demonstrate a greater understanding of how and why the use of analogy and repetition help make the author's argument more effective. Also, a writer of a 5 paper would not just mention, "It is interesting that Singleton says that he is 'tempted to make an analogy,' then includes the analogy, then says, 'but I shall refrain,'" but would analyze why Singleton includes that comment in parenthesis.

Again, the writer's discussion of structure and the premise is good. What would make the discussion of structure better is to focus more on what the author is doing in various parts of the article instead of listing what the author says in a particular order. More important, this writer needed to include, develop, and explain how and why the structure "furthers the aims of the author's argument." The choice of the premise is a basic one and one that would be necessary for any article suggesting improvements in education. Instead, the writer should hone in on a premise that is specific to this article.
Everything about this paper is good, i. e., the student writer meets junior-level competency and is ready to take a more rigorous upper division "W," course.

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WPA Sample 10 Essay
Two readers gave this essay a score of 5 for a combined score of 10.

In "What Our Education System Needs Is More F's," Carl Singleton proposes a panacea for the decline in student performance. Singleton issues a simple hypothesis stating that "giving an F whenever and wherever it is the only appropriate grade would force principals, school boards, and voters to come to terms with cost as a factor in improving our educational system." He believes that because grading systems have become increasingly lenient, students are now being passed with C's or B's even when they have failed to learn the material. As a result of this breakdown in the educational system, high schools, colleges, and workplaces are perpetually forced to reeducate individuals on material they should have previously mastered. This phenomenon, says Singleton, is culpable for the proliferation of illiteracy in our society. His actual argument is not merely to give F's to students who do not master the material, but furthers the idea that most other improvements to education will not be effective until we begin to hold students accountable.

Carl Singleton's idea of a "widespread giving of F's" to students who do not master the material in school will shock many readers, and will probably seem overly harsh to many educators and parents. The shock value of this simple and direct approach to improving education is initially intriguing, but many readers will dismiss such an idea as preposterous shortly after he advocates, in the first paragraph, that a "widespread giving of F's" will solve the many problems with education. However, Singleton does not give the reader any time to marshal objections to his idea, because he immediately employs a strategy of anticipating and addressing the two most likely objections to his argument as "simplistic and banal" right after he states his initial argument. By addresses these potential objections, he keeps the attention and interest of his readers because he admits the potential weakness of the idea, but then strengthens it by making the reader contemplate the effect that such a move would have on forcing every inadequacy of American education out into the open (Singleton). By doing so, Singleton makes his idea more reasonable and credible. Giving F's may seem like a simple solution, but it is not meant to be the only solution, it is just one that has to take place in order for more complicated solutions to be effective.

To back up his claim for "giving F's" as a solution to America's educational deficiencies, Singleton needs to provide his readers with some kinds of evidence and examples. He does not quote or cite statistics, studies or reports, because presumably there are none. Most of Singleton's evidence is in the form of examples where he makes a claim and then provides reasons about how giving F's will help improve the multitude of problems with education. One of Singleton's examples about how giving F's will help has to do with parents. As Singleton states, "sending students home with final grades of F would force most parents to deal with the realities of their children's failure." This would not only let parents know where the child actually stands but would also give parents the opportunity to address reasons as to why their child might be failing. As long as schools pass students who do not deserve it, parents do not shoulder their responsibility. Singleton uses this same strategy of developing other examples and reasoning throughout the article.

The structure of this article also plays an important part in its persuasiveness. First, Singleton lets his reader know what his article is about, by reacting to a series of suggestions meant to improve the quality of education. At the end of this list, he clearly states his thesis about giving F's. He then anticipates and addresses his readers' potential objections, as discussed above. Most of the remaining paragraphs provide a variety of examples where the author makes his case by stating the specific instances in which giving F's will improve a variety of problems with education. Singleton keeps each paragraph relatively short. They range in length from two to three sentences. Not only does this condense what is being said, it makes each sentence useful. By using such a paragraph structure, Singleton is able to provide a plethora of examples to support his complete argument which comes at the end of the article and serves as the conclusion.

As a student, the idea of giving out a copious amount of F's is disheartening. Yet, at the same time I do agree that it would force students to improve. Raising academic standards will not cause everyone to fail; but on the contrary, I believe that it will cause more people to succeed. The authors premise upon which his argument is based is giving F's to students will make them work harder to master the material in order to earn better grades. By not allowing unqualified success, we can be sure that the people passing truly deserve to. Not only will this make people smarter, it will also streamline the education system by allowing it to focus on those students that have earned admittance into higher levels of education. Making standards more stringent will require more work on everyone's part. Yet, in the long run it will produce vastly superior results in the students that we currently cultivate. The fact that Singleton was able to convince a student of this argument is a testament to his persuasive techniques.

Singleton was able to successfully convince me because he never shows any weakness in his argument. He even stops to tell the reader address his readers concern that might "hastily dismiss the idea as banal and simplistic." Moves such as this draw a reader in and strengthen the idea that F's improve education. Singleton states this contention at the beginning, supports it through the use of examples and reasoning, and then reiterates it at the end. He does not do this in an offensive way. Rather he is straightforward and candid. Presenting his ideas in this manner not only allowed for a coherent argument, it also convinced me to agree with him.

Evaluators' comments:
Based on the WPA Scoring Guide, this paper meets upper division writing proficiency and shows that this student possesses the reading, writing, and critical thinking skills expected of graduates of San Diego State University. When compared with the paper that scored an 8, it is easy to see that this paper effectively and entirely addresses the prompt by providing a solid analysis of the reading that is well developed through the use of examples and details that support the analysis. The structure of this paper is strong and meets the needs of the analysis. In addition, the paper is well written with few distracting errors.

The particular strengths of this paper are found in its content. The writer is able to focus in on the complete argument instead of just part of it. The strategies chosen are particularly thoughtful and well developed. This writer is able to clearly show their analysis of the strategies and show the reader how and why they are effective. The writer also focuses on discussing the actual structure of the article, and the evaluation of the article is combined with a statement of a basic premise. The writer could develop more on the premise, but the development in the rest of the essay more than makes up for the lack of discussion here. Also, the organization of this essay follows the order of the tasks in the prompt, and it is worth mentioning that there are more effective organizational strategies. Despite these minor criticisms, this paper is still a 10 because of the accuracy, depth, and detail of its analysis.

This student writer meets upper division writing proficiency and is ready for the reading and writing assignments they will face in their upper division courses.

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