College Composition

The College Composition exam covers material usually taught in a one-semester college course in composition and features essays graded by the College Board.

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Overview

The College Composition exam uses multiple-choice questions and essays to assess writing skills taught in most first-year college composition courses. Those skills include analysis, argumentation, synthesis, usage, ability to recognize logical development, and research.

The College Composition exam has a total testing time of 125 minutes and contains:

  • 50 multiple-choice questions to be answered in 55 minutes
  • 2 essays to be written in 70 minutes

Essays are scored twice a month by college English faculty from throughout the country via an online scoring system. Each essay is scored by at least two different readers, and the scores are then combined.

This combined score is weighted equally with the score from the multiple-choice section. These scores are then combined to yield the test taker's score. The resulting combined score is reported as a single scaled score between 20 and 80. Separate scores are not reported for the multiple-choice and essay sections.

Note: Although scores are provided immediately upon completion for other CLEP exams, scores for the College Composition exam are available to test takers one to two weeks after the test date. View the complete College Composition Scoring and Score Availability Dates.

The exam includes some pretest multiple-choice questions that won't be counted toward the test taker's score.

Colleges set their own credit-granting policies and therefore differ with regard to their acceptance of the College Composition exam. Most colleges will grant course credit for a first-year composition or English course that emphasizes expository writing; others will grant credit toward satisfying a liberal arts or distribution requirement in English.

Knowledge and Skills Required

The exam measures test takers' knowledge of the fundamental principles of rhetoric and composition and their ability to apply Standard Written English principles. In addition, the exam requires a familiarity with research and reference skills. In one of the two essays, test takers must develop a position by building an argument in which they synthesize information from two provided sources, which they must cite. The requirement that test takers cite the sources they use reflects the recognition of source attribution as an essential skill in college writing courses.

The skills assessed in the College Composition exam follow. The numbers in parentheses indicate the approximate percentages of exam questions on those topics. The bulleted lists under each topic are meant to be representative rather than prescriptive.

Conventions of Standard Written English (10%)

This section measures test takers' awareness of a variety of logical, structural, and grammatical relationships within sentences. The questions test recognition of acceptable usage relating to the items below:

  • Syntax (parallelism, coordination, subordination)
  • Sentence boundaries (comma splices, run-ons, sentence fragments)
  • Recognition of correct sentences
  • Concord/agreement (pronoun reference, case shift, and number; subject-verb; verb tense)
  • Diction
  • Modifiers
  • Idiom
  • Active/passive voice
  • Lack of subject in modifying word group
  • Logical comparison
  • Logical agreement
  • Punctuation

Revision Skills (40%)

This section measures test takers' revision skills in the context of works in progress (early drafts of essays):

  • Organization
  • Evaluation of evidence
  • Awareness of audience, tone, and purpose
  • Level of detail
  • Coherence between sentences and paragraphs
  • Sentence variety and structure
  • Main idea, thesis statements, and topic sentences
  • Rhetorical effects and emphasis
  • Use of language
  • Evaluation of author's authority and appeal
  • Evaluation of reasoning
  • Consistency of point of view
  • Transitions
  • Sentence-level errors primarily relating to the conventions of Standard Written English

Ability to Use Source Materials (25%)

This section measures test takers' familiarity with elements of the following basic reference and research skills, which are tested primarily in sets but may also be tested through stand-alone questions. In the passage-based sets, the elements listed under Revision Skills and Rhetorical Analysis may also be tested. In addition, this section will cover the following skills:

  • Use of reference materials
  • Evaluation of sources
  • Integration of resource material
  • Documentation of sources (including, but not limited to, MLA, APA, and Chicago manuals of style)

Rhetorical Analysis (25%)

This section measures test takers' ability to analyze writing. This skill is tested primarily in passage-based questions pertaining to critical thinking, style, purpose, audience, and situation:

  • Appeals
  • Tone
  • Organization/structure
  • Rhetorical effects
  • Use of language
  • Evaluation of evidence

The Essays

In addition to the multiple-choice section, the College Composition exam includes a mandatory essay section that tests skills of argumentation, analysis, and synthesis. This section of the exam consists of two essays, both of which measure a test taker's ability to write clearly and effectively. The first essay is based on the test taker's reading, observation, or experience, while the second requires test takers to synthesize and cite two sources that are provided. Test takers have 30 minutes to write the first essay and 40 minutes to read the two sources and write the second essay. The essays must be typed on the computer.

First Essay: Directions

Write an essay in which you discuss the extent to which you agree or disagree with the statement provided. Support your discussion with specific reasons and examples from your reading, experience, or observations.

Second Essay: Directions

This assignment requires you to write a coherent essay in which you synthesize the two sources provided. Synthesis refers to combining the sources and your position to form a cohesive, supported argument. You must develop a position and incorporate both sources. You must cite the sources whether you are paraphrasing or quoting. Refer to each source by the author’s last name, the title, or by any other means that adequately identifies it.

Essay Scoring Guidelines

Readers will assign scores based on the following scoring guide.

 Score of 6

Essays that score a 6 demonstrate a high degree of competence and sustained control, although it may have a few minor errors.

A typical essay in this category:

  • addresses the writing task very effectively
  • develops ideas thoroughly, using well-chosen reasons, examples, or details for support
  • is clearly focused and well-organized
  • demonstrates superior facility with language, using effective vocabulary and sentence variety
  • demonstrates strong control of the standard conventions of grammar, usage, and mechanics, though it may contain minor errors

 Score of 5

Essays that score a 5 demonstrate a generally high degree of competence, although it will have occasional lapses in quality.

A typical essay in this category:

  • addresses the writing task effectively
  • develops ideas consistently, using appropriate reasons, examples, or details for support
  • is focused and organized
  • demonstrates facility with language, using appropriate vocabulary and some sentence variety
  • demonstrates consistent control of the standard conventions of grammar, usage, and mechanics, though it may contain minor errors

 Score of 4

Essays that score a 4 demonstrate competence with some errors and lapses in quality.

A typical essay in this category:

  • addresses the writing task adequately
  • develops ideas adequately, using generally relevant reasons, examples, or details for support
  • is generally focused and organized
  • demonstrates competence with language, using adequate vocabulary and minimal sentence variety
  • demonstrates adequate control of the standard conventions of grammar, usage, and mechanics; errors do not interfere with meaning

 Score of 3

Essays that score a 3 demonstrate limited competence.

A typical essay in this category exhibits one or more of the following weaknesses:

  • addresses the writing task, but may fail to sustain a focus or viewpoint
  • develops ideas unevenly, often using assertions rather than relevant reasons, examples, or details for support
  • is poorly focused and/or poorly organized
  • displays frequent problems in the use of language, using unvaried diction and syntax
  • demonstrates some control of grammar, usage, and mechanics, but with occasional shifts and inconsistencies

 Score of 2

Essays that score a 2 are seriously flawed.

A typical essay in this category exhibits one or more of the following weaknesses:

  • addresses the writing task in a seriously limited or unclear manner
  • develops ideas thinly, providing few or no relevant reasons, examples, or details for support
  • is unfocused and/or disorganized
  • displays frequent serious language errors that may interfere with meaning
  • demonstrates a lack of control of standard grammar, usage, and mechanics

 Score of 1

Essays that score a 1 are fundamentally deficient.

A typical essay in this category exhibits one or more of the following weaknesses:

  • does not address the writing task in a meaningful way
  • does not develop ideas with relevant reasons, examples, or details
  • displays a fundamental lack of control of language that may seriously interfere with meaning

 Score of 0

Essays that score a 0 are off-topic.

Provides no evidence of an attempt to respond to the assigned topic, is written in a language other than English, merely copies the prompt, or consists of only keystroke characters.

Note: For the purposes of scoring, synthesis refers to combining the sources and the writer’s position to form a cohesive, supported argument.

Score Information

ACE Recommendation for College Composition

Credit-granting Score 50
Semester Hours 6

Note: Each institution reserves the right to set its own credit-granting policy, which may differ from the American Council on Education (ACE). Contact your college to find out the score required for credit and the number of credit hours granted.

Add Study Guides

CLEP College Composition and College Composition Modular Examination Guide

This guide provides practice questions for the CLEP College Composition and College Composition Modular Exams.

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2022 CLEP Official Study Guide

This study guide provides practice questions for all 34 CLEP exams. The ideal resource for taking more than one exam. Offered only by College Board.

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