Best writing test is writing

British Universities are wrestling with a problem of poor writing skills among international students pursuing doctoral degrees. It seems too many students of English as a Second Language who are accepted based on their scores on tests of English turn out to have inadequate skills to complete the writing required for a doctorate.

I don’t know why people are surprised that standardized tests don’t measure writing skill.  Writing involves a broad range of content knowledge and a wide range of skills. However, the elements of writing that are most easy to test are typically the most superficial.

The only reliable test of writing skill is a series of writing samples done under conditions that mimic those in which the individual will need to perform on a regular basis.

In my writing classes, I like to use a three-in-a-row measure to assess writing competence. When students meets my criteria for competence on three consecutive formal assessments in a stipulated time frame, I guarantee they will not earn less than a certain grade even if they do no other work for the rest of the course.  I feel safe in using that policy because skills don’t evaporate.

Once students are competent writers they don’t object to doing more writing. The step from being just a competent writer to being a good writer is a short step. Most students can make that step simply by practicing their writing process a few more times.

[edited 2/26/2014 to remove broken links]