Writing Assessment for Freshmen & Transfer Students

Caltech Writing Placement Test Instructions and Guidelines

Please read the following very carefully. Then you may proceed to the testing site and register for the test, as described below.

Is the Writing Placement Test required or optional?
The Writing Placement Test is required for all incoming students, including transfer students. The only students who do not take the test are 3/2 transfer students, who have been exempted from taking all Core classes.

What is the purpose of the test?
Because writing is a critical ability, all Caltech students are required to take two freshman humanities courses (literature, philosophy, or history) that include a substantial writing component. Before school begins, all first-year and transfer students must complete a writing placement test to determine whether they will be required to take a preparatory writing course, either Introduction to Academic Writing (Wr 2) or Introduction to Academic Writing for Multilingual Writers (Wr 1), before enrolling in a freshman humanities course. The results of the placement test do not affect your admission or financial aid status, nor will they appear on your permanent record.

How does the test work?
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 sitting. Instead, students have nine days in which to read, pre-write, draft, revise, and proofread their work. This approach allows students to write in a way that is similar to how they will actually write during college. We expect that most students will spend between 3-6 hours actually working on the placement test over the course of this nine-day period.

When is the test?

For students entering in Fall 2017, the test schedule is:

  • On Friday, June 2, at 12:00 p.m. PDT, we will post the reading material and prompt for you to download and read.
  • On or before Sunday, June 11, at 5:00 p.m. PDT, you will submit your essay online and take a short online questionnaire.

What if I will be unable to take a writing test during the testing window?
We strongly encourage you to take the test during the testing window so that you can be registered for your Fall coursework on time. However, every year there is a small group of students who will be traveling or otherwise unable to access the internet during the test period. We hold a make-up test for those students on campus during Fall Orientation.
If you absolutely cannot take the test during the testing window, you do not need to do anything further at this time. It is important that you DO NOT register at placement.caltech.edu at this time if you do not intend to complete the test. We will contact you once you are on campus in the fall with instructions regarding the test.

What exactly will you be looking for in my essay?
The prompt will offer you details about what readers wish to see in the essay. In general, we are looking at your facility with core elements of academic writing as it is practiced at the college level.

What outside resources can I use in writing my essay?
It is permissible to use dictionaries, thesauruses, and the grammar checker embedded in your word processing program as a part of composing the essay. You absolutely may not discuss or share the reading or your essay with anyone before submission, including your family, friends, tutors, or teachers. The prompt will contain more detailed information about the resources you can and cannot use in composing the essay.

What advice would students from previous years give me?
They would tell you to take this test seriously. Every year there are some students who do poorly on this test and then ask to retake it, admitting they did not try very hard the first time they took it. The ability to set aside the time to write and to decide to take a writing task seriously is one of the writing skills that the Placement Test assesses, and retaking the test is not permitted.

How do I register for the test? Where will I access the test materials? How do I submit the test?
These annotated instructions we have prepared show you how to register at placement.caltech.edu and what you will see once you register. You should begin that process now.

What if I have questions that aren't answered here?
You can email test administrators at writing.placement@hss.caltech.edu