Writing Placement Exam

Writing Placement Exam

All students are required to take the Writing Placement Exam to ensure that they are adequately prepared for the challenges of College Writing (L59 111-120), the University’s first-year writing requirement. Our objective in requiring this exam is to ensure that all students possess the skills and receive the support they need to succeed in College Writing and future courses at Washington University.

The Exam

The Writing Placement Exam asks students to produce one essay in response to a short reading. Students will also complete a self-assessment, in which they can provide some contextual information about their previous training in writing, strengths and weaknesses, etc. This timed exam is administered through Canvas via email invitation. Students will be notified of their placement within 14 business days of completing the exam.


Before taking College Writing, some students may be required to take one or more preparatory courses. Students placed in preparatory courses must successfully complete those courses by earning a C- or better in successive semesters before they may take College Writing. To find out when these courses are offered, consult online course listings. Students may also receive recommendations about concurrent College Writing support or other university resources.

Please note: Students who fail to take the exam will be automatically enrolled in the lowest preparatory course in the sequence and will not be allowed to attend College Writing on the first day of fall classes.

The resulting placement of this exam is not meant to disrupt your academic plans at Washington University. Instead, the placement measures your strengths in writing and figures your best sequence of writing courses to fulfill the University's first-year writing requirement. 

Preparatory Writing Courses

L59 1001. Foundations of Academic Writing

This course is required of some students before they take College Writing (L59 111-120) (placement to be determined by the department). Students explore various aspects of the writing process, attending to matters of style and developing their skills of analysis and critique. They consider the choices writers make in relation to audience and purpose and examine the strengths, weaknesses, and limitations of various argumentative strategies. Particular attention is paid to reading comprehension, critical thinking, and organization of ideas. The course does not by itself satisfy the University Writing Requirement, and must be taken for a letter grade. Credit 3 units.

L59 199. Language Support for English Composition

This course is designed to support students concurrently enrolled in Foundations of Academic Writing (L59 1001). Course activities are tailored to address language issues that arise in students' writing for L59 1001. By raising students' awareness of their individual strengths and weaknesses in written English and by teaching systematic approaches to editing their own writing, this course helps students build independence in producing more polished works of academic writing in English. Credit 1 unit.

L59 1511. Critical Reading and Analytical Writing

This course focuses on developing the reading and writing skills needed to excel at the college level. Students apply principles of logical argumentation in order to critically read argumentative writing. They then develop analytical essays in response to these arguments. Students write four main papers of two drafts apiece. At the same time, the course addresses the clarity and accuracy of students' written English through ample written feedback, occasional lessons devoted to language issues common among course participants, and occasional individual tutorial meetings. To ensure that all students achieve strong reading and writing skills, the University requires undergraduate students to pass L59 CWP 1511 with a C- or better. Students who receive a D+ or lower are required to retake the course and earn a C- or better before advancing to the next course in the sequence. Credit 3 units.

Taking the Placement Exam

This timed exam is administered through Canvas via email invitation. Students will be notified of their placement within 14 business days of completing the exam.

Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. After logging into Canvas, using your WUSTL key and password (Chrome or Firefox web browsers recommended), select the course titled Writing Placement under your Dashboard. The following module will appear: 
  2. Please note that you must complete the steps of the Writing Placement in order. Click on Academic Integrity Statement to begin.
  3. Select Take the Quiz to complete the Academic Integrity Agreement. You will have three attempts to answer the Academic Integrity questions correctly. In this section, you may also save your answers and return to the survey later. You cannot proceed to the Writing Placement Exam until you answer every question correctly. When you’ve completed the Statement, select Submit Quiz, then Next.
  4. The next section is the Writing Placement Exam. Please note that once you select Take the Quiz you have one, uninterrupted attempt (2:15) to respond to the prompt. If you close the browser or log out of Canvas, the attempt will be submitted and you may not return to, revise, or resubmit your response.
  5. After you select Take the Quiz, your essay question will appear. Select the hyperlink to the article that Question 1 asks you to read. Please note: When you select the title of the article (appearing in red) a file preview will appear. If you prefer to download the file, select the down arrow next to the title. A pop-up box will notify you: “You’re about to navigate away from this page. Continue anyway?” Select OK, and a PDF of the article will download to your computer.
  6. As you take the exam, Canvas will auto-save your response. Be sure to type directly into the text box, and do not select Submit Quiz until you are finished. Again, if you close the browser or log out of Canvas, the attempt will be submitted and you may not return to, revise, or resubmit your response. After submitting the quiz select Next.
  7. The Self-Assessment survey is the next step and helps us evaluate your writing sample by providing to us a summary of your background and experience. Select Take the Survey and answer each question. You may review your answers when you are finished. Once you have completed the Self-Assessment, select Submit Quiz. If you do not want to submit additional writing samples for our program readers to evaluate, your exam is complete. You may log out of Canvas. Otherwise, select Next.
  8. The final step, Additional Writing Samples From Prior Course Work, is optional, not required. To upload your writing samples portfolio, select Submit Assignment. Suitable submissions include summaries, analytical essays, research essays, and/or personal narratives in a combination of your choosing. Please present work that you feel is best representative of your development as a writer. All submitted work must be your own and adhere to the Academic Integrity Agreement you completed before taking the exam.
  9. Select Choose File to upload a portfolio of no more than 15 pages in length as a PDF or Word document. Once your file is uploaded, select Submit Assignment and your exam is complete. You may log out of Canvas. Please note: The portfolio will not exempt any first-year student from College Writing, but readers will consider it when determining course placement.
  10. If you attempt the exam and submit by Friday of any week during the submission period, you will be notified via email of your placement within 14 business days. Only then, and after your advisor's approval, can you enroll in College Writing (L59 111-120), Language Support for English Composition (L59 199), Foundations of Academic Writing (L59 1001), or Critical Reading and Analytical Writing (L59 1511).

Testing Accomodations

Students wanting to use their disability-related accommodations for the writing placement exam need to email a copy of the WashU Accommodation Letter from Disability Resources to collegewriting@wustl.edu and we will implement your accommodations accordingly.

If you have not yet registered with Disability Resources you can do so through the Disability Resources website or email them with any questions at disabilityresources@wustl.edu

Request Accommodations


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