Bristol Community College

Bristol Community College

Reading the Exam

The Writing Placement Exam will be the first exam you take on the day you come to BCC for placement testing. You will have fifty minutes to complete this exam.

Refer to the sample exam as you work through this section.

Reading the exam closely and following all the directions will help you to be successful. Take up to ten minutes after you receive the exam, but before you do any writing, do the following:

Step One: Read the Directions

After printing your name, BCC ID number and the date on your exam sheet, you’ll want to read the directions.

Although there are a number of different passages and questions that are randomly selected for individual testing sessions, the directions remain the same for all of these writing placement exams. They all say:

ASSIGNMENT: Read the following, and write an essay on one of the topic options.

So, the directions are asking you to “read the following” passage or excerpt and “write an essay” that responds to “one” of the two “topic options” given after the passage.

Exam Tip: In order to successfully accomplish this task you must be certain to focus your response on only ONE of these options. An essay that has a dual focus or a response that attempt to develop two essays in the allotted time will not demonstrate your ability to read and follow directions, nor will it showcase how well you can write a focused, organized, and developed essay.

What is an essay?

For the purposes of this exam, you should know that an essay is a multi-paragraph piece of writing that includes an introduction, supporting (or body) paragraphs, and a conclusion. The essay contains a main idea that is typically stated in the introduction, or first paragraph, and is developed, expanded and explained throughout the supporting paragraphs. The final paragraph, or conclusion, reminds the reader what the main idea of the essay is and typically provides some sense of reflection (i.e. future implications, advice to the reader, a lesson learned) about the content of the essay.

Exam Tip: One or two paragraph responses earn low scores, since they suggest that the writer does not know that an essay has these three components (introduction, supporting paragraphs, conclusion).  A good rule of thumb is to make sure your essay has one paragraph of introduction, at least two supporting paragraphs, and one concluding paragraph. Remember, to indent each paragraph, so your reader knows where each new paragraph begins.

Step Two: Read the Topic Options

Read the topic options on the bottom of the page. By reading these before you read the passage you help to set up a framework or context for yourself when you do read the passage.  In other words, the topic options will give you some clues about the passage before you read it.

For example, the topic options on the sample exam say:

  1. Have you ever witnessed behavior among men or boys that escalated to violence only because no one wanted to back down? Which elements of that scene can you connect with ideas in Brent Staples' passage?
  2. We often are asked to consider how traditional expectations for women influence or even limit their experiences in the workplace, home, or community. What about men? What are the typical expectations that we have about men -- their sensitivity, their strengths, their personal relationships -- and how do these expectations influence or limit their role in society?

From topic option A, we might predict that the passage will have something to do with “men or boys” and with “behavior that escalate[s] to violence.”

From topic option B, we might predict that the passage will have something to do with “traditional expectations” for men.

Step Three: Read the Passage

With these clues or predictions in mind, read the passage twice. Your goal is to get a general sense of the important ideas presented in the piece and/or make connections between the piece and your own experience.

For example, the sample exam’s passage reads:

In his essay, "Just Walk On By," Brent Staples creates a recipe for urban violence. One of the ingredients is racial inequity. Another, the pervasive fear local news injects with their nightly programs. What contributes as well, though, is the socialization of young men:

"Many things go into the making of a young thug. One of those things is the consummation of the male romance with the power to intimidate . . . I recall the points at which some of my boyhood friends were finally seduced by the perceptions of themselves as tough guys. When a mark cowered and surrendered his money without resistance, myth and reality merged -- and paid off. It is, after all, only manly to embrace the power to frighten and intimidate. We, as men, are not supposed to give an inch of our lane on the highway; we are to seize the fighter's edge in work and in play and even in love; we are to be valiant in the face of hostile forces.

Unfortunately, poor and powerless young men seem to take all this nonsense literally. As a boy, I saw countless tough guys locked away; I have since buried several too. They were babies, really -- a teenage cousin, a brother of twenty-two, a childhood friend in his mid-twenties -- all gone down in episodes of bravado played out in the streets."

After reading this passage you might jot down a note to yourself that Brent Staples suggests that men are expected to be brave and unwilling to surrender even if those behaviors lead to prison or death. You might ask yourself if you agree with Staples point that these societal expectations are problematic for men? If you do agree, you may begin to picture situations or people you know that have led you to this opinion.

Exam Tip: If you come across a word that you don’t know in the passage, don’t let it sidetrack you or your shake your confidence! Do your best to piece together the meaning of the word using context clues or word parts that you recognize. If you still can not make sense of one or two words, this is unlikely to prevent you from responding appropriately to one of the topic options.

Step Four: Reread the Topic Options

Reread the topic options, identifying directives (if there are any) and keywords that will help you understand exactly what is being asked of you.

Directives are the words that tell you what to do. They are usually verbs like: define, discuss, examine, trace, compare, contrast, explain, or argue.

For example, in topic option A of the sample exam, you are asked to “connect” something you have witnessed with elements mentioned in the passage.

Keywords are the words that tell you what you will be writing about.

In topic option A of the sample exam, they keywords are “behavior,” “boys and men,” ”violence,” “back down,” and “elements of that scene.” 

In topic option B, the keywords are “typical expectations…about men” and “influence and limit their role in society.” 

Step Five: Select an Option

Select ONE topic option that you feel you can successfully respond to in the form of an essay.

Exam Tip: Since you have only fifty minutes to complete this exam, keep your eye on the time. These four steps should take you five to ten minutes to complete.