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GWE Scoring Guide

How the GWE is Scored

Each essay is holistically scored independently and anonymously by two trained university faculty readers, using the GWE Scoring Rubric, on a scale of 0 to 6. Their individual scores are added together. Thus, the top possible score is 12; the lowest is 0, though a score of 0 is only given if the student’s essay does not address the assigned essay topic. The passing score is 8. For each reading, readers are trained on a set of sample essays written in response to the prompt for said reading selected by the Chief Readers. If the scoring by the two readers differs by more than one point, the essay is read and adjudicated by the Chief Readers. 

In holistic scoring, the essay is judged as a whole, and the readers do not separate the response into separate components, awarding a certain number of points for particular aspects of the essay such as focus, organization, language, development, or sentence structure. Rather, all these characteristics are considered as an integrated whole. Readers judge an essay on both rhetoric and syntax. Rhetoric refers to how the content of an essay is communicated. It includes such issues as the writers' understanding of purpose and audience, their addressing all the tasks set by the prompt, their critical understanding of the prompt, their utilizing appropriate organization and development, and their using language effectively. Syntax refers to the arrangement of words in a sentence. It broadly includes such issues as grammar, sentence structure, usage and correctness, word choice (diction), and mechanics (e.g. appropriate capitalization and indentation, correct spelling, and the like). Essays that are individually scored 6, 5, or 4 demonstrate superior, clear, or at least minimal competence respectively in writing on both of these levels. Essays scored 3 or below are deemed not passing. 

At each of the score points for on-topic papers, the descriptors of writing performance are lettered. The letters refer to:

  1. Response to the topic
  2. Understanding and use of the material in the prompt
  3. Quality and clarity of thought
  4. Organization, development and support
  5. Syntax and command of language
  6. Grammar, usage, and mechanics

NOTE:  A passing paper (6, 5, and 4) must demonstrate ability in all six (a-f) areas. A non-passing paper (3, 2, 1) reveals weaknesses in one or more of the six (a-f) areas. Papers that reject the assignment or fail to address the question must be given to the Chief Reader. A score of zero (0) may be assigned for essays written “off- topic.”

GWE Scoring Rubric

6 Superior

6 essay demonstrates superior writing, but may have minor flaws.  A typical essay in this category:

  1. addresses the topic clearly and responds effectively to all aspects of the task
  2. demonstrates a thorough critical understanding of the prompt in developing an insightful response
  3. explores the issues thoughtfully and in depth
  4. is coherently organized and developed, with ideas supported by apt reasons and well-chosen examples
  5. has an effective, fluent style marked by syntactic variety and a clear command of language
  6. is generally free from errors in grammar, usage, and mechanics

5 Strong

5 essay demonstrates clearly competent writing.  It may have some errors, but they are not serious enough to distract or confuse the reader.  A typical essay in this category:

  1. clearly addresses the topic, but may respond to some aspects of the task more effectively than others
  2. demonstrates a sound critical understanding of the prompt in developing a well-reasoned response
  3. shows some depth and complexity of thought
  4. is well-organized and developed, with ideas supported by appropriate reasons and examples
  5. displays some syntactic variety and facility in the use of language
  6. may have a few errors in grammar, usage, and mechanics

4 Adequate

4 essay demonstrates adequate writing.  It may have some errors that distract the reader, but they do not significantly obscure meaning.  A typical essay in this category:

  1. addresses the topic, but may slight some aspects of the task
  2. demonstrates a generally accurate understanding of the prompt in developing a sensible response
  3. may treat the topic simplistically or repetitively
  4. is adequately organized and developed, generally supporting ideas with reasons and examples
  5. demonstrates adequate use of syntax and language
  6. may have some errors, but generally demonstrates control of grammar, usage, and mechanics

3 Sub-Marginal

3 essay demonstrates developing writing competence, but is flawed in some significant way(s).  A typical essay in this category reveals one or more of the following weaknesses:

  1. distorts or neglects aspects of the task
  2. demonstrates some understanding of the prompt, but may misconstrue parts of it or make limited use of it in developing a weak response
  3. lacks focus, or demonstrates confused or simplistic thinking
  4. is poorly organized and developed, presenting generalizations without adequate and appropriate support or presenting details without generalizations
  5. has limited control of syntax and vocabulary
  6. has an accumulation of errors in grammar, usage, and mechanics that sometimes interfere with meaning 

2 Inadequate

2 essay demonstrates seriously flawed writing.  An essay in this category reveals one or more of the following weaknesses:

  1. indicates confusion about the topic or neglects important aspects of the task
  2. demonstrates very poor understanding of the main points of the prompt, does not use the prompt appropriately in developing a response, or may not use the prompt at all
  3. lacks focus and coherence, and often fails to communicate its ideas
  4. has very weak organization and development, providing simplistic generalizations without support
  5. has inadequate control of syntax and vocabulary
  6. is marred by numerous errors in grammar, usage, and mechanics that frequently interfere with meaning

1 Incompetent

1 essay demonstrates fundamental deficiencies in writing skills.  A typical essay in this category reveals one or more of the following weaknesses:

  1. suggests an inability to comprehend the question or to respond meaningfully to the topic
  2. demonstrates little or no ability to understand the prompt or to use it in developing a response
  3. is unfocused, illogical, or incoherent
  4. is disorganized and undeveloped, providing little or no relevant support
  5. lacks basic control of syntax and vocabulary
  6. has serious and persistent errors in grammar, usage, and mechanics that severely interfere with meaning

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