This article is written in response to a Mass Media news article posted on  February 9, 2013, written by Caleb Nelson titled “Writing Proficiency Exam Criticized by Students”. The original article chronicled the dissatisfaction of students with the Writing Proficiency Exam.  

I recently came across a news piece, “Writing Proficiency Exam [WEP] Criticized by Students” authored by Caleb Nelson in the February 12-25 issue of the Mass Media. This piece features students giving an unfair denunciation of WEP, arguing outrageously that it is an “inadequate and unnecessary waste of time.” I would love to go over some arguments and complaints directed at WEP, as this is an important issue for UMass Boston community members, especially for students who have not taken it yet.

WEP is a graduation requirement for students in the College of Liberal Arts or the College of Science and Mathematics. It is designed to evaluate students’ critical thinking and reading skills. There are two ways of taking the test, with the student having the option of sitting for a timed-essay examination or submitting a portfolio of his writing.

Nevertheless, like for many other exams, when students do not pass on their first try they get wild and angry. They protest and blame people. This is understandable. Their anger is a defense mechanism to protect them against sadness of failing. It is nothing strange or new to have students criticized and complain about the WEP. That being said, the claim that “WPE has been met with complaints from students [...]since it was implemented in 1979,” means nothing in terms of solid arguments.

Complaints against the WEP are emotional reactions. Therefore, they are flawed. Not only because the students fail to propose solutions, but also because the WEP provides numerous measures to ensure the success of students at the time they are taking the exams.

Measures ranging from tutoring, to workshops and to personal support, you name it. Not to mention WEP gives students, who are doing the portfolio, five weeks or 35 days to complete just a five pages essay. This is a hell of time to revise it and even have a faculty member review it before the submission

It is reported in the article that  “Alex Wilson, the president of the Anthropology Club, is highly literate;” which suggests how can he fail? I will ignore this claim. It is rather highly laughable than sound. Indeed the level of literacy is like a profound river, the deeper it is, the less noise it makes.

So I doubt a literate dude will email The Mass Media, begging for attention after failing a five page paper for which he had 35 days to write. Although I might not know how people measure the level of literacy, but I do know that it is something that must be shown, not  told.

The article went on to quote Lindie Ngobeni, a student majoring in environmental science, who finds WEP “insulting,” and questions it. “‘What does the WPE say about the English 101 and 102 classes?’” This banal argument reflects several levels of ignorance about WEP; the first mistake is that WEP is different from 101 and 102 English classes; one is an exam and the others are classes. The deeper error is that this objection is tantamount to asking, “If our professor covers all the materials in class, why are we still taking exam?” Please, just be respectful to UMass Boston.

I speak English not even as a second, but as a third language. I took the WEP last March and I passed it on my first try. I am a winner! And you know what? “Winners always make thing happen, losers let things happen.” So I think when it comes to WEP my fellow students need to become more responsible. Life is a do-it-myself project. You should take the credit or the blame for your performance.

(3) comments


I agree with Jessy. I would add that the administration needs to be more clear about why the WPE (not WEP) is required of native English speakers. UMB has a very diverse student body (something UMB prides itself on), so maybe it makes sense for international students. The rest of us though shouldn't have problems, and if we do maybe the school needs to be more selective about who they let into the university.


I took and passed the WPE (back in our day that was the acronym) the first time. I remember two of my 'favorite' student organizations, the US Marxist-Leninist Organization and the International Committtee Against Racism (InCAR), protested constantly against the WPE as they deemed it a racist means for denying poorly-educated working class students their chance at a college degree (paraphrasing an excerpt from one of their protest flyers). Of course, I found this argument facile at best and melodramatically entitled at worst.

When I took the exam, I'll admit I found the prospect of failure daunting. We did not have the alternative of submitting a writing proficiency portfolio. Most of my fellow classmates also passed the first time through, so that took the edge off of the exam itself. Once I finished the exam, I knew I passed though the results would be mailed to me.

Every university has its academic standards and it is our job to recognize those standards and honor them or otherwise seek another school. The WPE is not unique to U. Mass./Boston as many universities have such requirements, including Mass. Maritime Academy. My advice to you UMB students, whether or not you agree with the WPE: prepare for and take the exam. University degrees are not easy to accomplish nor should they be. Your college experience should be the total sum of your talent, hard work and proof of ability to apply your critical and creative thinking skills. The WPE is an opportunity to demonstrate these abilities to the university before you graduate, validating the quality of the school's education.

John Gillis, B.A. 1990


I think you’re an idiot who might be getting paid for this program. It’s not just “five pages” and you do not have five to 35 weeks to complete it in most cases. You have to gather specific types papers with certified documents from teachers who may not always participate. Students should come together and sue this college with a class action lawsuit. Students shouldn’t have to take something that isn’t required by a course that they are paying for. Colleges are insanely overpriced, and this requirement makes it harder for students. It isn’t relevant to courses related to their degree since you already take undergraduate witting courses!!!!! We don’t want to be quizzed by the university in order to graduate in order for the University to steal more unnecessary revenue by adding additional courses and wasting students time. The fact that students need to do this and no other university in the state does, shows it’s a way to employ more people and to justify the inflation of tuition on students. Bashing and not validating real students who pay their money is ridiculous!! You should shut up. I advise that students should go to a different college. I transferred in and I regret it!!

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.