The Writing Placement Exam

Writing Placement Exam

The Writing Placement Exam may be required for certain students to ensure that they are adequately prepared for the challenges of College Writing (L59 111-120), the University’s first-year writing requirement. Our sole objective in requiring this exam is to ensure that all students who take College Writing have the skills and support they need to do well in the class. Please note: Students who are required to take the exam and who fail to do so 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 Exam

The Writing Placement Exam is a timed writing exam that asks students to produce one essay in response to a short reading. Students will also complete a self-assessment form, on which they can provide some contextual information about their previous training in writing, strengths and weaknesses, etc. The Writing Placement Exam will be administered online with an invitation arriving by email in late May. If students miss the online opportunity, the Writing Placement Exam will be administered on campus. 

Please note that 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 writing requirement. 

Taking the Placement Exam

This timed exam is administered through Canvas via email invitation. The exam opens June 1st and closes August 4th. Students will be notified of their placement within 14 business days of completing the exam.

How to Complete the Fall Writing Placement Exam

  1. After logging into Canvas, using your WUSTL key and password (Chrome or Firefox web browsers recommended), click on the course titled FL19 Writing Placement Exam under your Dashboard. The following module will appear

2. Please note that you must complete the steps of the Writing Placement Exam in order. Click on Step 1: Academic Integrity Statement to begin. Select Take the Quiz to complete the Academic Integrity Agreement.


  1. You will have unlimited attempts to answer the Academic Integrity survey questions correctly. You may also save your answers and return to the survey later. But, until you answer every question correctly, you cannot proceed to the Writing Placement Exam. When you’ve completed the Statement, select Next.

  2. When you arrive at the Writing Placement Exam screen, please note that, once you click Take The Quiz, you have one, uninterrupted attempt (2:15) to respond to the prompt. But, if you close the browser or log out of Canvas, the attempt will have been logged, and you may not return to, revise, or resubmit your response.

5. After you click Take the Quiz, your essay question will appear. Click the hyperlink to the article that Question 1 asks you to read. Please note: When you click the title of the article (appearing in red) a pop-up box will notify you: “You’re about to navigate away from this page. Continue anyway?” Click 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, but do not click Submit Quiz until you are finished.

7. The Self-Assessment survey is the last step and helps us evaluate your writing sample by providing to us a summary of your background and experience. Before you exit the survey, you must answer each question. You may review your answers when you are finished. Once you have completed the Self-Assessment, you may log out of Canvas. Your exam is complete.

If you attempt the exam and submit by Friday of any week during the submission period (June 1st - August 4th), 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), Fundamentals of Academic Writing (L59 1001), or Critical Reading and Analytical Writing (L59 1511).

If you are dissatisfied with your writing placement after your online exam, you may retake the exam on campus. Please check the College Writing Program website for test dates, times, and locations.  

Please note that 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 writing requirement. For more information on the Washington University Writing Requirement, please see the FAQs page on the College Writing Program website.

Writing Placement Exam FAQs

  • Disability Resources & Orientation Conflicts 
    • Students seeking disability-related accommodations for this exam need to contact the Disability Resources in advance. If you have other questions about the exam, please feel free to contact the College Writing Program Office.
    • The Orientation Office assures us that this exam will not conflict with other examinations or events. Should you be scheduled to move into the residence halls during this time, please contact the Housing Office to make other arrangements.
  • I have received a letter of recommendation to take the Writing Placement Exam. Do I have to take the exam?
    • No – if you have received a recommendation to take the Writing Placement Exam, you are not required to the take the exam. However, taking the exam assures that you are placed in the most appropriate writing course. If you do not take the Writing Placement Exam, the College Writing Program has safeguards against improper placement. First, all writing instructors will administer a writing diagnostic in the first week and consult with us if they feel any student needs additional support. Second, you are always welcome to discuss with your instructor or Program administration your placement. If you feel that a preparatory placement would better serve your writing needs this semester and for the rest of your coursework at Wash U, then we will place you accordingly.
  • If I am not happy with my Writing Placement Exam decision, may I retake the exam?
    • Yes. If you take the exam online over the summer, you may retake the exam on campus before classes begin. If you take only the on-campus exam, your instructor will provide us with feedback on your writing diagnostic, which you will complete in the first week of the semester.