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Writing Skills Assessment (WSA)

The Writing Skills Assessment (WSA) score provides a quantitative measure of students’ ability to think analytically and communicate ideas in writing.

The 90-minute assessment consists of two handwritten essays – a persuasion task and a position task – that students write in response to prompts. We encourage you to prepare as best you can by reviewing the study guide and taking the online practice exam, or by attending an in-person workshop.

Register for the last remaining WSA for the October 5 application deadline.
Date: September 29, 2018
Time: 9:00AM
Location: Provided with confirmation
Registration Link

Timeline

Applying for… Take the WSA before…
Autumn admission April 5
Winter admission October 5

You can only take the WSA once per application period. Those applying for autumn admission should take the WSA before April 5th, and those applying for winter admission should take the WSA before October 5th.
We will automatically use scores from WSAs taken during the current application period unless we have a higher score on file for you. If you do not take the WSA during that time, you may choose a valid previous WSA score. Scores are valid for two years.

Preparation

The online study guide and practice assessment are designed to help you practice the Writing Skills Assessment (WSA) before actually taking the exam. We offer some tips and strategies to help before you begin to write, and then offer two sample questions—one persuasion task and one position task—that you can respond to.

When you have completed your two sample essays, you will then be guided toward learning how to score them. We have provided numerous examples of other students’ samples that you can practice scoring using our scoring guide. Once you have an understanding how the scores are formed, you should be ready to try scoring your own practice essays. Knowing the scoring guide (see the step 3 tab) will also help you understand how and what to write to earn the highest score possible.

Step 1: Get Started

To practice the Writing Skills Assessment, you will need the following:

  1. Pencil or pen. You will be able to take two pencils or pens to your WSA session.
  2. Paper. When you take the WSA, you will be given 3 sheets of 8.5″ by 11″ lined paper for each of the two tasks—two pages for writing, and a third page for brainstorming and organizing.
  3. Timer. When you take the WSA, you will be given 90 minutes to complete the two tasks. Allow about two hours of time in which to go through this workshop. Download an online stopwatch. Practice writing your answers until you can give your best possible answers to both questions in 90 minutes.
  4. Persuasion Task: You will be asked to persuade a particular reader of your point of view or recommended action. Your writing should be appropriate for the writer, reader and situation. See the step 2 tab for a sample persuasion task.
  5. Position Task: Read the question and directions fully and carefully. Take some time to brainstorm, plan and outline a response before you begin to write. Take care to organize your ideas and develop them fully, but leave time to reread your response, check it against the question, and make revisions. There is no right or wrong answer, and you don’t need to have any specific knowledge, but you can make up information if necessary and use examples from your own experience. You will be evaluated on how insightfully you think about the task, how well you support your position and how clearly you organize and express your ideas.
  6. Remember: Read the question and directions fully and carefully. Take some time to brainstorm, plan and outline a response before you begin to write. Take care to organize your ideas and develop them fully, but leave time to reread your response, check it against the question, and make revisions. There is no right or wrong answer, and you don’t need to have any specific knowledge, but you can make up information if necessary and use examples from your own experience. You will be evaluated on how insightfully you think about the task, how well you support your position and how clearly you organize and express your ideas.

Step 2: Review Rubric

Below is the WSA Scoring Guide. Refer to this guide when writing your practice assessments in step 3.

6
Outstanding A paper in this category stands out because it demonstrates clear and consistent competence, although it may have occasional errors. Such a paper exhibits most or all of the following strengths:

  • Persuasion: addresses the writing task effectively and insightfully, providing a well-reasoned solution that displays analysis of data (both numerical and verbal)
  • Position: addresses the writing task effectively and insightfully, providing a well-reasoned position that displays critical thinking
  • is well organized, with a clear overall strategy
  • is fully developed, with pertinent support for ideas presented
  • in style and tone is easy to read and appropriate for (Persuasion) the intended writer, reader and situation or for (Position) a general audience
  • displays consistent facility with written English (grammar, syntax, vocabulary, punctuation, spelling)
5
Strong A paper in this category demonstrates reasonably consistent competence, although it will have occasional errors or lapses in quality. Such a paper exhibits most or all of the following strengths:

  • Persuasion: addresses the writing task effectively, providing a
    reasonable solution that may display analysis of data (numerical or
    verbal)
  • Position: addresses the writing task effectively, providing a well-
    reasoned position that may display critical thinking
  • is generally well organized
  • is generally well developed, using appropriate examples to support
    ideas
  • in style and tone is easy to read and appropriate for (Persuasion) the
    intended reader; or for (Position) a general audience
  • in style and tone is easy to read and appropriate for
  • displays facility with written English (grammar, syntax, vocabulary,
    punctuation, spelling)
4
Adequate A paper in this category demonstrates adequate competence, although it will have occasional errors and lapses in quality. Such a paper exhibits most or all of the following characteristics:

  • addresses the writing task
  • is organized and adequately developed
  • in style and tone is generally easy to read and appropriate for
    Persuasion) the intended reader or for (Position) a general audience
  • displays adequate but inconsistent facility with written English
    (grammar, syntax, vocabulary, punctuation, spelling)
3
Limited A paper in this category demonstrates developing competence. Such a paper either does not address the writing task effectively or addresses the writing task but exhibits one or more of the following weaknesses:

  • is inadequately organized
  • is limited in development
  • (Persuasion) is inconsistent or inappropriate in style and tone
    or for (Position) a general audience
  • displays limited facility with written English (grammar, syntax,
    vocabulary, punctuation, spelling)
2
Flawed A paper in this category demonstrates some incompetence. Such a paper:

  • does not address the writing task effectively. In addition, such a
    paper is flawed by one or more of the following weaknesses:

    • has poor organization
    • has thin development
    • (Persuasion) is generally inappropriate in style and tone or for
      (Position) a general audience
    • displays a lack of facility with written English (grammar, syntax,
      vocabulary, punctuation, spelling)
1
Fundamentally Deficient A paper in this category demonstrates incompetence. Such a paper:

  • provides little evidence of the ability to address the writing task
    effectively. In addition, such a paper is flawed by one or more
    of the following weaknesses:

    • has very poor organization
    • has very thin development
    • (Persuasion) is inappropriate in style and tone or for
      (Position) a general audience
    • contains a pervasive pattern of errors in written English
      (grammar, syntax, vocabulary, punctuation, spelling) so
      severe that meaning is obscured
0
Off Topic or Illegible Does not address the topic.

Step 3: Take Practice Assessment

When you take the actual assessment, you will be given 90 minutes to complete two tasks—the Persuasion Task and the Position Task. It will be up to you to manage your time; no one will tell you when to stop one task and start the other. Practice writing your answers to the Persuasion Task and the Position Task until you feel you can give your best possible answers to both questions in 90 minutes.

Persuasion Task

Kathy Edwards and Ellen Randall own an upscale infant’s and children’s clothing boutique, Mes Enfants, located near an exclusive residential district. Ellen does the buying, both from wholesale warehouses and from a number of independent crafts people who weave, knit, crochet, and sew to order. Although expensive, these orders have created loyal customers, and the shop is gaining in reputation. Sales have increased, on average, by 12 percent in each of the last four years. Last week the partners learned that their lease is not being renewed, and they will need to find a new location for the store within six months.

They have also been approached by a large national chain that sells children’s clothing and is eager to establish a store at one of the large malls in the area. They sell many of the same brands as Mes Enfants but do not work with special orders. The chain is offering $100,000 for the business. While keeping the partners on as managers, the chain would also require Mes Enfants to adopt its corporate business plan. It would also provide shop space and be responsible for advertising, a large budget item. Kathy and Ellen would be paid a guaranteed base salary of $25,000 each (about 15% less than they made last year), plus 3 percent of profits.

Ellen wants to keep the boutique as it is and to rent space in a nearby shopping mall, although the monthly rent would go from the current $1,100 to $1,600, and they would have to pay to remodel the new space. She feels the special orders draw people into the shop. Although these orders account for less than 20 percent of the profit, special-order customers make additional purchases. And she does not want to lose their talented craftspeople.

Kathy, who manages the daily operations of the store and does the bookkeeping, feels that connecting with the larger company would be a wise business move. Besides providing financial stability, the chain has promised to allow them to keep their three part-time employees.

Kathy and Ellen cannot agree what to do. They have sought the services of a business consultant, Julia Simmons.

As Julia Simmons, write a letter to the partners persuading them to accept your solution to the problem. You may take either position, or combine them or come up with new ideas.

Base your writing upon analysis rather than simply restatement of information in the problem. There is no “right” view on this issue. Your goal is to argue persuasively. Consider the pros and cons of your position, and directly address objections Kathy and Ellen might have to your arguments. Use both verbal and numerical data from the prompt. You may then assume any information to support your position.

Position Task

Apply critical thinking—that is, thinking characterized by careful analysis and objective evaluation—to one of the two statements below. As soon as you have made your choice, copy the letter “A” or “B” and the first three words of the statement in the “Topic Title” blank on the front of the Position booklet. Then plan and write an essay according to the specific directions following the two statements.

A. The opinion of the majority is not the final proof of what is right.
B. There is no rule without an exception.

Directions: On the statement of your choice, write a unified essay in which you do the following: Explain what you think the statement means. Discuss why you would accept, reject, or alter it. Support your position with reasons and examples from your own experience or observations, current affairs, academic studies or other sources.
There is no “right” or “wrong” answer. Your response will be evaluated on overall quality, including how skillfully and insightfully you support your position and how clearly you organize and express your ideas, following the conventions of standard written English.

Tips and Strategies (for non-native English speakers)

Many students, who did not grow up speaking English as their first language, often have difficulty with the WSA. The problems are often related to grammar issues, incorrect or awkward word usage, differences in the way that other cultures develop and organize essays, or simply having a lack of experience writing in English. The following tips and strategies are designed to guide students towards a better understanding of English, and hopefully, a better WSA score.

Writing Fluency

Writing every day, in English, is very important. Having fluency with writing takes time, and the more comfortable you are the easier it will be to complete two essays in 90 minutes. Even just keeping a daily journal will increase your writing fluency in English.
Suggested writing practice: Write one page in a journal every day. Or choose a position or persuasion task (from the internet or the Foster School’s practice essays), and write your response.

Reading

Reading English every day, especially articles that are somewhat similar in style or tone to the WSA, will help you internalize the language so you can be more natural with your writing. Notice how the authors organize their articles, how they support their propositions, how they vary the sentence structures, how they transition from one thought to another, and how or if they relate their points back to the thesis.
Suggested reading: The Economist and Businessweek. Or start with something easier, like People or Time.

Practice exams

There is one previously used exam available at the Foster School of Business. The Odegaard Writing Center also periodically offers workshops where a couple other previously released exams are available. However, you should not feel that you need to have actual WSA exams in order to practice. You can simply respond to an article in a magazine, or respond to letters to the editor in your local newspaper. Each letter to the editor is itself a position statement by the author.

Always take some time to plan content and organization before you write. By doing this you eliminate some of the risks of going off topic or lacking organization. If you spend just a few minutes to write down an outline before you begin your essay, it will save time later when you are in the middle of writing, and can’t remember what you wanted to write about next.

Though time is important, you may want to start practicing without a time limit, and once you start to gain fluency, add in time limits, such as 45 minutes for one essay.

If you can, save 5 minutes at the end of the exam to look over your essay for errors, especially your known errors that you often make.

Grammar: Removing bad habits from your writing requires diligence and lots of practice. How do you know what your common English errors are? You might look back at your first drafts of your essays in your composition courses for a start. Once you have a list of errors, devote time to each of these issues, one at a time. The web offers an amazing amount of exercises on any grammar point. After you have practiced one of these problematic areas, read an article and look for how the author uses this correctly. Spend as much as a week or so on each grammar problem, looking for or listening for correct usage all the time, and concentrating on always getting at least that one point correct whenever you write.
Below are a number of common errors we have seen students make on their WSAs, but this is by no means comprehensive:

Subject-Verb Agreement
Pluralization
Article Usage, (ex. – the, a, my, this, that, etc.)

Suggested practice: There are many websites dealing with these grammar problems. Just type the above terms into a search engine to find any of them, and then begin practicing to fix your problem area(s).

Study Plan 1

  1. Choose a common grammar error.
  2. Find exercises online to help remove that error and do lots of them.
  3. Read an interesting business-related article, and look for how the author uses that same grammar point correctly.
  4. Respond to that article. This could be a position essay about something you agree or disagree with in the article. Or, you might find a point in the article that you can write a persuasive letter about. Remember, the topic is not as important as the practicing.
  5. Wait a day or two and review your essay using the grading criteria listed on the WSA handout. How do you think you did?
  6. Review your essay and look for usage of the grammar point you are focusing on.
  7. If you know a native speaker with strong skills, or a writing tutor, ask for feedback. There is no need to be concerned about the score of the essay with these practice essays. Rather, attempt to make some improvement with each essay you write.

Study Plan 2

A plan that includes organization, strategy, and development.

  1. Choose a newspaper, and find the letters to the editor.
  2. Write a rebuttal or positive response to one of the letters.
    • Make an effort to stay on topic, and try to ensure you know exactly what the topic is. Often, students who are not fluent in English have a difficult time capturing the essence of the position statement, and end up off topic.
    • Try to arrange your essay by writing an outline first, so that you can ensure a good organization of your paragraphs.
The OWRC offers a WSA preparation workshop that all applicants are welcome to attend. No advanced registration is required; however, the lecture-style room only seats 100 people, so only the first 100 students to arrive will be admitted to each day’s workshop.

Material covered in the workshop will include: some basic test logistics, descriptions of the two types of writing tasks, a chance to offer your initial response to one persuasion task, overview of the official scoring criteria, a chance to review scored sample essays, and a discussion of best practices and test-taking strategies in this context.

Please note that this WSA workshop is not administered by the Foster School of Business. Questions regarding this workshop should be directed to the Odegaard Writing & Research Center at OWRC@uw.edu.

Registration

Register for available times below. Once payment is confirmed, we will send you a detailed email with reminders about what to bring with you on the day of the assessment and the location. We do not offer refunds, transfer payments between campuses, or allow students to change their assigned WSA date once confirmation has been sent.

Be sure to bring a valid picture ID with you to the testing session.
 

On-Campus (Standard) Registration
Register for the last remaining WSA for the October 5 application deadline.
Date: September 29, 2018
Time: 9:00AM
Location: Provided with confirmation
Registration Link

To take the WSA at UW Bothell or UW Tacoma, contact those institutions. If you wish to test at an institution other than the University of Washington or you need special accommodations complete the respective registration form. See below for details.

Special Accommodations Registration

Nonstandard testing arrangements are available for students with current documented disabilities.

  • Complete the Special Accommodations Request FormWe will not accept requests after September 21.
  • Please include your academic accommodations plan from your current college or university—we do not need your diagnosis paperwork.
  • You will be contacted to schedule a testing time during normal business hours: Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Out-of-Area Registration
If you live more than 50 miles from or have more than a 90 minute commute to any UW campus, you may use the following form to register to take the WSA at an institution other than the University of Washington. If you require special accommodations, please include supporting documentation with your registration form. Note: International testing is not available.

Complete the Out-of-Area Request Form. Out-of-area requests must be received, with proctor approval, by September 21. Please give yourself enough time to ensure the materials can be mailed and test taken by the October 5 deadline.