The California State University has a system-wide Graduation Writing Assessment Requirement (GWAR). This means that every CSU campus has some kind of upper-division writing test or course. The Graduation Writing Test, or GWT, is Cal Poly Pomona’s method of satisfying this requirement. The GWT is very similar to the equivalent writing exams at other CSU campuses such as Northridge, Long Beach, and Cal State L.A. You cannot graduate from a CSU campus without meeting this requirement.
Vice Chancellor David Spence says that the GWAR “certifies that students are prepared to address writing demands in the workplace or in graduate school, and ensures that all students in all majors have the opportunity to learn to write well.”
You must take the GWAR exam or course (Cal Poly Pomona does not have a course) at the campus where you are enrolled. However, if you pass the requirement at one CSU campus and then transfer to another one, you do not need to pass the requirement again.
The GWT is a single essay written in 75 minutes under controlled conditions. The topics are designed for a general student population and do not require any specific knowledge. You will not know what the topic is before you sit down to write the exam. You are required to write a thesis-driven college essay, supported by personal experience and any other knowledge or reasoning you can bring to the topic.
The majority of students pass the GWT on the first attempt. If English is not your first language, if writing has never been easy for you, or if it has been a long time since you have written an essay, you may find the GWT difficult to pass. Writing practice essays, increasing the amount of reading you do in English, and working with tutors in the Writing Center can help you improve your writing skills and pass the GWT.
The GWT essays are graded by a group of faculty from across the University. The chief reader starts out the grading session by going over the topic and the six-point scoring guide. Then the graders score and discuss two sets of essays chosen as “rangefinders” or “anchors.” These essays represent the six score points on the scoring guide. These are followed by more sample papers. After each paper has been read, the chief reader asks how many people gave the paper a six, a five, a four, etc., and records the show of hands. When almost all the hands in the room go up at the same time, the graders are ready to grade.
Each paper is read by two readers and the scores are totaled. A passing score is “7.” If there is more than one number between the scores, for example if one reader gave the paper a “3” and the other a “5,” the paper is re-read by a third reader.
At Cal Poly Pomona, students who have failed the Graduation Writing Test at least five times are offered the chance to apply for a waiver of the requirement. If the waiver is granted by the waiver committee, you are allowed to graduate, but your transcripts will say “Writing Competency Not Certified–Special Waiver Granted.” It is not possible to remove this notation, and you will not be allowed to take the GWT again.
The rules for the waiver state: “The student must be able to provide documentation of extra effort completed in the three quarters before the last test is taken.” One option to complete the requirements for the waiver is to write at least six handwritten practice essays and go over them with a writing center tutor. Each of these essays must be revised at least once. Because these practice essays and revisions are designed to help you pass the test, all of the essays and revisions must be completed before the last attempt of the GWT. If you have completed all your course work and are working full time, or if you have moved away from the area, it is possible to submit the essays for a response from a tutor by fax.
The Writing Center strongly emphasizes, however, that in most cases the waiver is not the best choice for the student. When a potential employer sees the notice “Writing Competency Not Certified–Special Waiver Granted” on your transcripts, you may not get the job. It is much better if you actually pass the exam. We have worked with many students who have failed the GWT four, five, six or more times. Many of them are very close to passing. What we try to do is help you improve your writing skills so that you can pass the exam, but do it in such a way that you qualify for the waiver if you need it as a last resort.