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Caltech Writing Placement Test Information

Caltech requires that all incoming undergraduate students take the Writing Placement Test. This placement test allows our faculty to assess your work as an academic writer, and the results of the test determine what humanities coursework you will do during your freshman year.

The spring placement testing window has closed. Incoming students who did not complete the test will be invited by email to complete a make-up test. The make-up test window will be September 1, 12:00 p.m. PDT to September 11, 5:00 p.m. PDT.

Students may spend as much time during the testing window as they like on completing the test.

All students taking the placement test should review the test details below closely.

Writing Placement Test details

Incoming students will gain access to test materials via Canvas

Before the spring testing window opens, enrolled students will gain access to Caltech's Canvas site, which contains the writing placement test.

The Writing Placement Test is required

All incoming Caltech undergraduate students, including transfer students, should take the Writing Placement Test. The only students who do not need to take the test are 3/2 transfer students, who have been exempted from taking all Core classes.

The test determines your humanities coursework

Because writing is a critical ability, all Caltech students are required to take two freshman humanities courses (on film, history, literature, or philosophy) that include a substantial writing component. The Writing Placement Test determines whether a student will also be required to take an additional academic writing course, Introduction to Academic Writing (Wr 2), before enrolling in a freshman humanities course. The results of the placement test do not affect your admission or financial aid status.

The test is different in duration, format, and goals from standardized tests of writing

This placement test is unlike the SAT Writing test, the TOEFL, AP tests, and other similar standardized tests in meaningful ways. First, it is designed and read by our faculty, with a specific goal of placing Caltech students into the appropriate courses in our unique curriculum. Next, it is not a strictly timed test of writing ability that requires the composition of an essay in a single, short sitting. Instead, students have nine days in which to read, take notes, pre-write, draft, revise, and proofread their work in multiple sittings. This approach allows students to write in a way that is similar to how they will actually write during college—in several stages, scheduling the work of writing around other school and personal commitments. We expect that most students will spend between 3-6 non-consecutive hours actually working on the placement test over the course of this nine-day period, but there is no minimum or maximum limit on how long students may work on the test.

The criteria for the essay will be described in the test materials

The test instructions will offer you details about what qualities a strong essay will have. In general, we are looking at your facility with core elements of academic writing as it is practiced at the college level.

Everything you need to take the test will be included in the test materials

The test does not require—nor does it allow—research or access to special resources. The prompt and readings you will be given will provide all the information you need to complete the test.

You must complete the test independently

Caltech's honor code allows students to take many tests independently, with the understanding that students will follow the rules for the test. One requirement of this test will be that you do not discuss the test or your writing with anyone until after the test is complete. No one may offer feedback on or edit your essay.

Retaking the test is not permitted

Each test is scored by multiple members of our faculty, and the decisions they make about the tests are final. There is no appeal process, and you may not retake the test if you disagree with your placement.

If you asked current students for advice about this test, they would advise you to take it seriously and submit an essay that represents your best work. The abilities to set aside the time to write and to produce writing that represents your best work are among the writing skills that the Writing Placement Test assesses. If you encounter illness or other hardship while taking the test, you should contact the test administrators immediately, before the test is scored.

A fall make-up test is offered for students who cannot complete the spring test

We recognize there may be a few students who cannot complete the test during the spring testing window due to illness, extended travel, or lack of access to the internet during this time. These students will have the chance to take a make-up test during September.

Students must take the spring test unless they have extenuating circumstances that prevent them from doing so. Taking the fall make-up can result in changes to your fall schedule right before the fall term begins. Students who do not complete the spring test will be contacted with details about the make-up later in summer.

Students who miss the spring test and do not complete the fall make-up test by its deadline will be placed in Writing 2.

We welcome your questions

You can email test administrators at writing.placement@hss.caltech.edu