English Competency Exam

Once a semester on a specific date (see below) students may attempt to satisfy their lower-division or upper-division Core writing requirements by examination. Please note that successful exams must satisfy rigorous, challenging and objective criteria for evaluation. They are not easy to pass. The lower-division exam has a pass rate of 15 percent, and the upper-division exam has a pass rate of 25 percent. It is not recommended that students attempt an exam during a semester immediately prior to their planned graduation date. Students should attempt an exam early enough to allow time to take the required core course in the following semester in case they do not pass.

Students should be aware that, in general, it is more difficult to pass the competency exam than to take and pass a course at the equivalent level given that in a course there are multiple grade components (homework, presentations, quizzes, participation, etc.), and one's strengths in some areas may compensate for weaknesses in others. The core writing competencies will be evaluated in a single essay. Therefore, we recommend that only students confident in their level of proficiency consider taking the competency exam. 

Lower-Division and Upper-Division Exams

Registration for Examination:

  • Pay the registration fee ($25) by the appropriate deadline (see below) at the Cashier's Office in Hughes Administration Center, Room 211.
  • Bring your receipt to the executive assistant of the English Department in Founders Hall, Room 174.
  • Provide a copy of your receipt and your contact information (email and cell phone number).
  • Identify on the sign-up sheet the exam you wish to take (upper-divison or lower-division).

Dates and Information:

  • Exam Fee Deadline: Friday, March 20, 2020 (Pay at the Cashier's Office in Hughes 211).
  • Sign-Up Deadline: Monday, March 30, 2020. To sign up for the lower-division or upper-division exam, you must bring your fee receipt (to provide proof of payment) to the English Department in Founders 174.

On the Day of the Exam:

  • Please be on time. If you are late, you will not be allowed to take the exam.
  • You must put away all cell phones and other electronic devices.
  • A dictionary will be provided to be shared by all examinees.
  • Bring two pens and your USD ID to the exam location.

Time and Place of Lower-Division and Upper-Division Exams

Day: Saturday, April 4, 2020
Time: 2-4 p.m.
Place: Saints Tekakwitha and Serra Hall, Room 104B

About the Exams

Passing essays shall demonstrate specific, accurate, sustained and ordered college-level thinking.

Lower-Division English Exam

You will be asked to write a response to a short text and to respond briefly to a couple of questions concerning writing. Evaluation of your essay will be based on evidence of your ability to do the following.

  • Directly and convincingly address the prompt in an organized, coherent and logical manner
  • Demonstrate alert reading and comprehension of the text
  • Identify and develop a cogent interpretive thesis
  • Use specific, convincing and relevant support for your thesis with accurate and convincing evidence from the text
  • Organize your essay with well-developed and logical paragraphs, adequate transitions, a variety of sentence structures, satisfactory (college-level) grammar and syntax, parallel structure, appropriate word choice and well-integrated quotes
  • Generate original ideas, convey depth of insight, avoid summary and cliché and form a developed, focused, sustained, convincing and interesting response appropriate for college-level writing
  • Use conventions specific to writing about various discourses/genres, possibly including literature

Upper-Division English Exam

You will be asked to write a response to a short text. Evaluation of your essay will be based on evidence of your ability to fulfill the following criteria.

  • Directly and convincingly address the prompt in an organized, coherent and logical manner
  • Demonstrate alert reading and comprehension of the text
  • Write a convincing response that includes specific, convincing and relevant examples
  • Organize your essay with well-developed and logical paragraphs, adequate transitions, a variety of sentence structures, satisfactory grammar and syntax, active voice, parallel structure, appropriate word choice and well-integrated quotes
  • Generate original ideas, convey depth of insight, avoid summary and cliché and form a developed, focused, sustained, convincing and interesting response appropriate for upper-division writing
  • Display nuance and the ability to fashion an interesting piece of writing
  • Display evidence of voice in writing

Questions? Contact:

Department of English
Email: englishcompexam@sandiego.edu