Writing proficiency examinations are standard parts of graduation for many undergraduate students in American universities. Such examinations aim to assess the student’s writing skills, comprehension, and analysis of the text, as well as the ability to refer to and evaluate the text, form an opinion on it, and critically approach the text. Grammar and logical order of the essay are also assessed by the university.
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Usually, such an exam lasts for several hours and includes from one to four texts (magazine or journal articles, opinions, etc.) that students need to read carefully and analyze. Although writing proficiency exams have their disadvantages as any standardized tests, they allow objective evaluation of students’ performance and prepare them for paper documentation and presentation of analyses in the future.
The first advantage of the writing proficiency examinations is that they all have a standardized form that allows the students to be equally assessed by the educational institution. Although the form of these examinations may vary insignificantly in different states, their principal aim and purpose stay the same that guarantees an objective evaluation throughout the states. This standard form also implies that teachers will follow the same set of rules to prepare the students for the examination.
This approach excludes any subjective evaluation from the teacher; it also assures that a particular combination of materials is being taught during the specific years at university/college in every state. There should be no significant discrepancies among the preparations for the test so that a student will not have any difficulties if he/she is transferring to another university.
The second advantage of the examination is its practical usefulness. Evaluating and analyzing texts is necessary for a successful completing of a bachelor or master thesis, as well as for the further academic career. Even if a student leaves an educational institution after graduation, he/she will have to fill out reports, critically assess articles and books during the working process, prepare a supported and strong opinion on certain matters during conferences, etc. For international students, preparing for writing proficiency examinations can improve their language skills, train their writing skills, and indicate what grammar mistakes need to be fixed and revised.
The disadvantage of such exams is that they are focusing on the students’ performance on a certain day of the year, and this performance is sometimes assessed disregarding the previous achievements of the students. Some of the students may have stress, or be sick, or get confused by the task because they understand how important this exam is. Under such pressure, it is very difficult to concentrate and provide the best results one can.
However, some universities and colleges allow the students to present portfolios of their previous essays written during the year. I believe this type of assessment is fair because it is based on yearlong students’ performance. Before the presentation of a portfolio, some students can be asked to write a new essay on a given topic. This requirement also seems to be fair and allows us to compare equally the students who decided to show their portfolio to the students who are taking the test.
To conclude, writing proficiency exam is necessary to assess and evaluate the students’ ability to critically approach and analyze the text, as well as form an opinion on it and support this opinion by the facts presented in the text. The standardized form of the text helps the teachers assess the results as objectively as possible.