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College Composition

On July 1, 2010, CLEP introduced two new exams College Composition and College Composition Modular. These exams replaced three current exams, which have been discontinued:

  • English Composition has been replaced by College Composition Modular.
  • English Composition with Essay has been replaced by College Composition.
  • Freshman College Composition has been replaced by College Composition Modular.

Each college decides its own policy for the new exams, so check with your admissions office, test center, or academic adviser before taking a test.

Description of the Examination

The CLEP College Composition examinations 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 exams cannot cover every skill (such as keeping a journal or peer editing) required in many first-year college writing courses. Candidates 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.

College Composition 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 candidate'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. College Composition 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.

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

Colleges set their own credit-granting policies and therefore differ with regard to their acceptance of the College Composition examinations. 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.

The American Council on Education's College Credit Recommendation Service (ACE CREDIT) has evaluated and recommended the awarding of six credit hours, or the equivalent, for a score of 50 on the CLEP College Composition examination.

Knowledge and Skills Required

The exam measures candidates' 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, candidates must develop a position by building an argument in which they synthesize information from two provided sources, which they must cite. The requirement that candidates cite the sources they use reflects the recognition of source attribution as an essential skill in college writing courses.

College Composition

The skills assessed in the College Composition examination 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

This section measures candidates' 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

This section measures candidates' 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

This section measures candidates' 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

This section measures candidates' 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, College Composition 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 candidate's ability to write clearly and effectively. The first essay is based on the candidate's reading, observation or experience, while the second requires candidates to synthesize and cite two sources that are provided. Candidates 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.

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