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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 as you can by reviewing the study guide and taking the online practice test, or by attending an in-person workshop.

Timeline

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

You may take the Writing Skills Assessment once per testing period. The two testing periods are:

Autumn quarter application testing period: December 1-May 31
Winter quarter application testing period: June 1-November 30

Please note that the testing period dates are inclusive of all three UW campus business schools. It is the applicant’s responsibility to verify WSA deadlines at each campus.

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.

We have also included our scoring guide. Once you have an understanding of how the scores are formed, you should be ready to try scoring your own practice essays. Knowing the scoring guide (see the step 2 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:You will be asked to explain and then defend a position on a given statement to the reader. You will be evaluated on 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

Please refer to Foster Writing Assessment Rubric, available here.

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. They are supplied by both wholesale warehouses and a number of independent craftspeople who weave, knit, crochet, and sew to order. Although expensive, these orders have created loyal customers, and the shop is gaining in reputation. Sales revenue has increased, on average, by 12 percent in each of the last four years when sales reached $200,000. 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.

Recently they were approached by a large national chain Kidswear 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. Kidswear is offering $400,000 for the business. The contract would also stipulate that Edwards and Randall would be hired on as managers with a base salary of $40,000 each (about 15% less than they made last year), plus 3 percent of the profit. The chain would require Mes Enfants to adopt its corporate business plan and it would provide the shop space and be responsible for advertising.

Randall, however, wants to keep the boutique as it is and to rent space in another nearby shopping center, although the monthly rent for the new space would go from their current $1,100 to $2,000, and they would have to pay about $10,000 to remodel. 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. Edwards, though, 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.

The partners cannot agree on what to do. They have sought the services of a business consultant, Julia Simmons. Simmons asks each of them to write her a letter persuading her that their ideas and concerns provide the best solution to their problem.

In the role of either

Kathy Edwards, write a letter to Julia Simmons persuading her that accepting the offer from Kidswear is the best option for Mes Enfants

or

Ellen Randall, write a letter to Julia Simmons persuading her that reopening their own small business in the new space is the best option.

There is no right or wrong answer. Your goal is to argue persuasively. Your writing must include analysis of both the numerical and verbal evidence given in the prompt. Then you may add additional details to support your position. Do not simply restate the information in the problem. Consider the pros and cons of your position, and directly address objections your reader might have to your arguments.

Position Task

Choose 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: Compose a unified essay analyzing one of the two statements above, 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 reasoning and examples from history or current affairs, academic studies, or your own observations.

There is no right or wrong position. Your response will be evaluated on overall quality, including the strength of your analysis; how insightfully you support your position; your organization; and how clearly you 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 [email protected].

Registration

The new WSA registration tool allows an applicant to register for a WSA offered by any of the University of Washington business schools.

Changes to Note:

  1. UW NetID is required for login. If you do not have a NetID yet, there are instructions on the registration portal with links on how to obtain a sponsored NetID.
  2. Identity must be verifiable. Applicants must indicate which type of photo identification they will bring to the test session in their registration form. The valid identification types are: passport, state issued driver’s license, state issued ID card, Husky card, other college photo ID card, or military photo ID card. The name on your photo ID must match the name on your registration form. The University of Washington welcomes undocumented students; the Washington State Department of Licensing issues photo identification to Washington state residents.
  3. Test administration type must be chosen in-advance. Please review session options below before registering to ensure you are choosing the correct session for your needs. Pay special attention to the different registration deadlines.
  4. Registration fee paid online prior to selecting their WSA test session ($35 standard assessment fee/ $45 for out of area).
  5. Once paid, applicants will select from available test sessions at any University of Washington campus. Test session registration closes when all available seats are full or 3 days prior to the test (11:59 PM on Monday before any Friday WSA), whichever happens first.
  6. Confirmation with exam details will come separate from payment receipt. The email will come from the campus where they are taking the WSA, and will include the specific campus location of the test.
  7. WSA fee is non-refundable. Please read the details in the drop-down below.

On-Campus (Standard) Registration
To take the WSA at UW Seattle, UW Bothell or UW Tacoma with standard testing arrangements, please choose this option. Each campus has a different date by which a student must complete the WSA for each application cycle.
Foster School of Business has the earliest deadline and requires students complete the WSA prior to the following posted dates:

  • Autumn (or Summer) Quarter start: April 5
  • Winter Quarter start: October 5

UW Seattle dates will post in July or January. Tacoma and Bothell test dates may already be posted.
Register Here

Special Accommodations Registration

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

Please include your academic accommodations plan from your current college or university—we do not need your diagnosis paperwork. If you have not already registered with Disability Resources for Students, we recommend you do that as soon as possible as it can take several weeks to have an accommodations plan approved.

You will be contacted to schedule a testing time during normal business hours: Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Disability Accommodation requests must be received no later than one week prior to the application deadline in order to ensure testing space is available with the campus disability services office.
Register Here

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 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.

Off-site requests must be received, with proctor approval, two weeks prior to the application deadline. Please give yourself enough time to ensure the materials can be mailed and test taken by posted WSA deadline for the campus you are applying to.
Register Here

Refund Policy

The $35.00 assessment fee is non-refundable. If a student does not reschedule (see rescheduling details below) and does not show up to their test session, they will be marked as a “No Show” for that test date and will be able to log into the Foster School WSA registration portal the day after the missed session to pay for and register for a new test session.

Rescheduling

If you have paid for and selected a test session, then you may log back into the Foster School WSA registration portal to change your WSA test session. Assuming space availability a student may change their WSA date/time until ONE week before their originally scheduled testing session. For example, if I register to take the WSA on January 18, 2019, then I have until Thursday, January 10, 2019 at 11:59 PM to change my test session.

If you have questions about the WSA, please e-mail [email protected].