College Composition

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CLEP® College Composition and College Composition Modular Examination Guide

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

2017 CLEP Official Study Guide

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This study guide provides practice questions for all 33 CLEP® exams. The ideal resource for taking more than one exam. Offered only by the College Board.

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College Composition

Overview

The CLEP College Composition exam assesses 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 exam cannot cover every skill (such as keeping a journal or peer editing) required in many first-year college writing courses. Test takers will, however, be expected to apply the principles and conventions used in longer writing projects to two timed writing assignments and to apply the rules of standard written English.

The College Composition exam contains multiple-choice items and two mandatory, centrally scored essays. College English faculty from throughout the country convene twice a month to score the essays via an online scoring system. Each of the two essays is scored independently by two different readers, and the scores are then combined. This combined score is weighted approximately 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. The College Composition exam contains approximately 50 multiple-choice items to be answered in 50 minutes and two essays to be written in 70 minutes, for a total of 120 minutes testing time.

Please note that while scores are provided immediately upon completion for other CLEP exams, scores for the College Composition exam are mailed to test takers two to three weeks after the test date. View the complete College Composition Scoring and Mailing Dates.

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

Knowledge and Skills Required

The exam measures test takers' knowledge of the fundamental principles of rhetoric and composition and their ability to apply the principles of standard written English. In addition, the exam requires familiarity with research and reference skills. In one of the 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 preceding the main topics 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 splice, 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.

6 – A 6 essay demonstrates 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

5 – A 5 essay demonstrates 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

4 – A 4 essay demonstrates 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

3 – A 3 essay demonstrates 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

2 – A 2 essay is 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

1 – A 1 essay is 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

0 – 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.

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

Study Resources

Most textbooks used in college-level composition courses cover the skills and topics measured in the College Composition exam, but the approaches to certain topics and the emphasis given to them may differ. To prepare for the College Composition exam, it is advisable to study one or more college-level texts, such as readers, handbooks, and writing guides. When selecting a text, check the table of contents against the knowledge and skills required for this test.

To become aware of the processes and the principles involved in presenting your ideas logically and expressing them clearly and effectively, you should practice writing. Ideally, you should try writing about a variety of subjects and issues, starting with those you know best and care about most. Ask someone you know and respect to respond to what you write and to help you discover which parts of your writing communicate effectively and which parts need revision to make the meaning clear. You should also try to read the works of published writers in a wide range of subjects, paying particular attention to the ways in which the writers use language to express their meaning.

Online Resources

These resources, compiled by the CLEP test development committee and staff members, may help you study for your exam. However, none of these sources are designed specifically to provide preparation for a CLEP exam. The College Board has no control over their content and cannot vouch for accuracy.

Score Information

Credit-Granting Score for College Composition

ACE Recommended Score*: 50
Semester Hours: 6

Each institution reserves the right to set its own credit-granting policy, which may differ from that of ACE. Contact your college as soon as possible to find out the score it requires to grant credit, the number of credit hours granted, and the course(s) that can be bypassed with a satisfactory score.

*The American Council on Education’s College Credit Recommendation Service (ACE CREDIT) has evaluated CLEP processes and procedures for developing, administering, and scoring the exams. The score listed above is equivalent to a grade of C in the corresponding course. The American Council on Education, the major coordinating body for all the nation’s higher education institutions, seeks to provide leadership and a unifying voice on key higher education issues and to influence public policy through advocacy, research, and program initiatives. Visit the ACE CREDIT website for more information.