GWE Preparation

Preparation Presentations

Preparation Presentations take place the weekend before the exam.  Preparation presentations are offered Friday evening and Saturday morning during the fall and spring semesters. The preparation is only offered on Saturday morning during the summer semester.

Presentation locations will be posted at the registration site and Testing-Center landing page. Students will be provided the option to register for the prepartion when registering for the GWE.

The GWE Preparation Presentation includes:

  1. Sample test questions
  2. Common student test errors
  3. Test taking strategies
  4. Test scoring procedures

Preparation Materials


Each administration of the GWE asks students to write an essay in response to one prompt. The prompt identifies a subject matter and specifies a task. The prompt might present two sides of an issue and ask writers to argue one perspective, providing relevant reasons and examples in support of their views, or it might present two perspectives on a specific topic and ask the writers to compare and contrast these perspectives. The prompt always requires writers to analyze the material in question, to evaluate and take into account what is put forth by the prompt and then, according to the specific instructions, construct an appropriate response in essay form. A competent response will have an introduction that clearly sets forth the main theme of the essay, body paragraphs that develop specifics relevant to the theme, and a conclusion. While personal narrative might be used for certain specifics should they be pertinent, a competent essay will not rely solely on personal narrative, but rather will use a more traditionally academic approach.

Sample Prompts

  1. There is no doubt that America is a melting pot; by the same token, there is no doubt that most members of specific races and nationalities strive their whole lives to maintain a link with their original ethnic identity and culture. The two impulses, blending into American society and maintaining ethnic identity, are not always compatible. Often, success is interpreted as total immersion in and assimilation by the new culture. Do you agree or disagree with this assumption? Argue for a lifestyle that emphasizes assimilation or a lifestyle that emphasizes the maintenance of cultural ties, and indicate which lifestyle better leads to success in the American culture.
  2. From infancy to adulthood, advertising is in the air Americans breathe, the information we absorb, almost without knowing it. It floods our mind with pictures of perfection and goals of happiness easy to attain. . . . We are feeding on foolery, of which a steady diet, for those who feed on little else, cannot help but leave a certain fuzziness of perception.
    Barbara Tuchman

    Write a well organized and fully developed essay in which you do the following:
    • Select and discuss some specific examples of advertising that illustrate what Tuchman calls “pictures of perfections and goals of happiness”;
    • Explain how such advertisements can lead to a certain “fuzziness of perception,” a distorted picture of reality;
    • Discuss what you consider to be some of the important effects of widespread and pervasive advertising on individuals here in America.
  3. We expect our ties with our immediate family to extend throughout the lifetimes of the people involved. This expectation is by no means always fulfilled, as rising divorce rates and family break-ups indicate. Nevertheless, we still theoretically marry “until death do us part” and the social ideal is a lifetime relationship. Whether this is a proper or realistic expectation of a society in high transience is debatable. The fact remains, however, that family links are expected to be long term if not lifelong, and considerable guilt attaches to the person who breaks off such a relationship.
    Future Shock, Alvin Toffler

    Write a well organized and fully developed essay in which you do the following:
    • Discuss how marriage as an institution in America is changing;
    • Identify some of the signs that marriages are no longer expected to last a lifetime;
    • Explain the possible social effects of viewing marriage as a less than permanent relationship.
  4. A leading scientist noted that in attempting to solve major problems that confront our world today, we turn to those things that we do best, and our strength is science and technology.  A noted philosopher, however, has observed that almost all our major problems involve human behavior; consequently, our major problems cannot be solved by science and technology, but rather we must change human behavior.

    Write a well organized and fully developed essay in which you do the following:
    • Contrast the positions of the scientist and the philosopher by selecting a major societal problem (for example, world hunger, disease, AIDS, war, global warming, etc) and discussing the role of technology and then the role of changing human behavior in solving the problem. 
    • Take a position about whether this problem is best solved through the use of technology or through the adjustment of human behavior, supporting your position with convincing details.
  5. It is generally agreed that a society benefits from the contributions of both artists and scientists.

    Write a well organized and fully developed essay in which you do the following:
    • Compare and contrast the contributions of artists to society with the contributions of scientists to society;
    • Identify which type of contribution you think is more valued by society.

NOTE:  The above prompts are retired and will not be used in any administration of the GWE. These prompts are intended to help guide readers with respect to the types of prompts used for the test. Students should not rehearse responses to any of the above prompts to be used on the day of the test. Rather, students should arrive at the test free of pre-conceived ideas as to subject matter, prepared to read and respond specifically to whatever prompt is presented on that day.

Sample Essays

The following essays, reproduced exactly as they occurred in the original with each student's gracious permission, offer a sample of essays that fall within the various ranges of the GWE scoring guide. Two readers each assigned a score using the 6 point scale and then the two scores were added together to create the final score.


There is no doubt that America is a melting pot; by the same token, there is no doubt that most members of specific races and nationalities strive their whole lives to maintain a link with their original ethnic identity and culture.  The two impulses, blending into American society and maintaining ethnic identity, are not always compatible.  Often, success is interpreted as total immersion in and assimilation by the new culture. Do you agree or disagree with this assumption? Argue for a lifestyle that emphasizes assimilation or a lifestyle that emphasizes the maintenance of cultural ties, and indicate which lifestyle better leads to success in the American culture.

Range 6 Essay

      The American melting pot metaphor has of late shifted to images of stew, salad, or fruit salad. With our evolving cultural sensitivity, melting is no longer an accurate depiction of American society. When ingredients melt, they “assimilate” into one uniform substance. Interestingly, while those who concocted the image of the melting pot intended to demonstrate the Statue of Liberty-like open arms to anyone from anywhere in need, they unwittingly exposed the underbelly of our land of immigrants – success came to those who adapted and assimilated into the beliefs and traditions of the upper middle class WASP population. However, the original intent of this country was freedom, specifically political and religious freedom, and liberty to engage in free enterprise. In this American “salad,” preservation of ethnic identity and culture leads to success not only financially, but within social and familial units.

     One could argue that a certain amount of assimilation to a new country is required for financial success. Learning the language, respecting common dress codes, learning acceptable and unacceptable phrases and gestures, and acquiring a taste for local foods will all facilitate the conducting of business. Someone can more easily communicate in a meeting, present an appearance conducive to success, and even attend power lunches. Nevertheless, to simply prescribe assimilation can be dangerous. The very foundation of America rests on freedom of expression. A Muslim-American woman should retain the right to cover her head in a business meeting and if a Scots-American man chooses to run his shop clad in a kilt, he should and could still have a good day in sales. There are many pocket communities in America where the entire business day is conducted in Spanish, Korean, Vietnamese, Tagalog, etc. It is rare to stand in the line at a supermarket in urban areas across the country and be surrounded only by people speaking English. Indeed, maintaining cultural traditions can even ameliorate the family’s finances. In many American sub-cultures, two or three families may share a home, each member working and contributing to the financial support of all, and adult children remain in the home until marriage (and sometimes after), adding their financial contributions. Immigrants have been coming to this country from all over the world for over 400 years to better their lives and they have found financial success while still retaining their original language and culture.

     Success encapsulates areas other than financial; many define their success by their quality of life and by what they feel matters the most. There are unhappy rich people who could be deemed ultimately unsuccessful in life. Happiness comes in various packages and often involves contentment with family, and family unity and support are often achieved through maintenance of ethnic customs. Many cultures have multi-generational households, refusing to give way to the American practice of putting the elderly in assisted living situations. Grandparents participate in the raising and loving of the children and also provide valuable contributions to the household by passing down stories and traditions. The children become bilingual, which enhances their opportunities and their abilities to communicate in cross-cultural settings. Oftentimes assimilation can lead to strife within a family as the generations argue over lifestyle choices. Maintaining and observing cultural traditions with regard to marriage practices, dress, and the role of education enhances success in family harmony.

     Most importantly, immigrants who maintain their traditions enjoy the success that comes with freedom. They are free to practice their religions, enjoy ethnic meals and celebrate holidays important to their culture. No one who believes in America’s foundation would want to see mosques, temples and churches of a myriad of denominations removed from our streets. We can all share in the diversity bred of the multiple cuisines of Italian, Mexican, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, French, German, Middle Eastern, and on and on restaurants. Families derive joy from traditional holidays, traditions that may not include the typically Christian American holidays. These traditions can then be shared with people from other cultures and every American can experience a richness in life that would be destroyed by complete assimilation.

     The American social landscape continually evolves as more and more people seek refuge in this country. Gone are the days when success was defined by a quiet life in the suburbs eating Wonder bread. We are a nation that has become more sensitive to and appreciative of differences, hence the change in metaphor from melting pot to salad bowl. Assimilation is no longer a prerequisite to success.

     The above essay, scored a 12, falls within the 6 range of the GWE Scoring Guide: it demonstrates superior writing on both the rhetorical and syntactic levels. In the introductory paragraph the writer has demonstrated a clear understanding of the prompt and clearly stated a position. The essay effectively addresses the tasks identified in the prompt: it chooses a side and argues for a lifestyle that emphasizes maintenance of cultural ties and describes how said lifestyle better leads to success in the American culture. It is well organized, effectively using separate paragraphs to discuss financial success, success within the family and success in observing traditions. Each paragraph is developed with the use of clearly appropriate details to support ideas. It also has syntactic variety, displays a consistent facility in the use of language and is free of grammatical error. The writer brings the essay to an effective conclusion by drawing the reader back to the opening paragraph, clearly restating the position.

Range 5 Essay

     “When in Rome do as the Romans do.” This is a quote I have heard throughout my life. I believe that it applies when discussing the issue of assimilation into American culture. This paper will discuss why I believe that immigrants to this country should make every effort to embrace our culture.

     Learning about and adopting aspects of the American culture does not mean that an individual must shun all beliefs and traditions of their country of origin. In order to be successful in this country, one must be aware of and accepting of certain American traditions and practices and how they may differ from their country of origin. For example, in America it is expected that one will have eye contact with a person during a conversation. In Chinese culture eye contact is avoided as a sign of respect. If a Chinese person were to go to an interview with an American employer, who is unaware of their beliefs, they may be seen as sneaky or thought to be lying as a result of lack of eye contact. Other actions can be misinterpreted as well. Some cultures are very gregarious and loud in their style of communication. While that behavior may be understood within their culture and acceptable in their personal lives, it may not be well accepted in the business world. Having knowledge of the fact that American businessmen conduct themselves in a more reserved manner when conducting business would benefit the individual in the business world.

     Symbols can also be misinterpreted. In the United States placing the thumb and index finger together to form a circle indicates “OK” or “way to go.” It is seen as a positive gesture. In some countries this same symbol is seen as a rude gesture. If an immigrant had no assimilation into our culture and found himself on the receiving end of this gesture, I believe he would have a difficult time forming a relationship with the person who made the gesture. If this person was his boss or one of his co-workers he would have a difficult time working with them and achieving success in the workplace.

     Learning the English language is also of benefit to immigrants. Failure to learn the language greatly impacts their ability to obtain higher paying jobs and isolates them. This is seen frequently with immigrants in Southern California. Those who learn English have gone on to succeed in a multitude of areas. Those who have not the language find themselves working in lower paying positions and struggling to meet their daily needs. It is not uncommon for women in some immigrant cultures to stay home, never learning English and finding herself without resources if something happens to her husband.

     In conclusion, while I believe people should treasure their heritage and hold onto it, they must also take in and welcome components of the American culture. By doing so they will be more likely to succeed and have a balanced life.

     The above essay, scored a 10, falls within the 5 range of the GWE Scoring Guide: it demonstrates clear competence in writing on both the rhetorical and syntactic levels, though it has occasional errors with missing punctuation and subject/pronoun agreement. The writer clearly understands and addresses the prompt. The opening quote immediately signals that the writer is selecting assimilation as the better vehicle to success. While the introduction is brief, it does orient the reader in terms of focus. The thesis statement is somewhat weakened by its announcement-like quality, “This essay will discuss why I believe …,” but it does then go ahead and state a claim that American culture should be embraced. If the writer had brought in the other dimension of the prompt, that of success, the claim would have been strengthened. The essay is well organized with separate paragraphs for American customs, American symbols and American language. A slight weakness in this essay is that the discussions of customs and symbols, while consistently segregated in the two paragraphs, are so similar that the points become repetitive. However, descriptive, specific examples are used quite effectively and strengthen the essay. Like the introduction, the conclusion is brief but nevertheless clear.

Range 4 Essay

     America is comprised of the most diverse population in the world today. It is diverse in terms of its ethnic makeup and religious practices. Because of its diversity, many refer to America as a melting pot, however to say so is a misconception. The concept of a melting pot implies that America is not compromised of one distinct or significant culture or ethnicity. Instead, it is made up of a variety of cultures that when combined, looses what has made it distinct and begins a metamorphosis into something that has lost its original qualities, turning into something unrecognizable instead. America should be likened to a fruit salad, one that retains the original quality of the culture and when mixed with other cultures becomes something even more flavorful. Success in America as individuals does not have to entail the abandonment of ones cultural and ethnic identity. Retaining ones culture can be achieved while meeting the expectations of “success” in America and in many cases is the foundation on which that success is built.

     In America today, many people are leading successful lives as a result of maintaining their cultural beliefs and identities. And although the struggle to become a functioning individual in America may be difficult, holding on to beliefs rooted in culture have made it possible for many people to make it. When families have come from Vietnam or Mexico, language is an instant challenge for them. Although learning a new language is a challenge, it can be done. And when that happens, even more doors or possibilities are opened. Even though language can be an issue the values and benefits of such Mexican and Vietnamese families are what helps individuals to succeed in learning the language. Mexican and Vietnamese families work together to support one another to ensure that all members of the family succeed. Support can include money, housing, transportation and even food or help with translation. The families work together to become “successful” in America. This idea of family supporting one another without question is a deeply rooted belief in such cultures.

     A specific example of how holding on to culture identity leads to success in America can be seen from the example of the Vietnamese family that comes to America in pursuit of a better life. When the family first arrives in America, they may live in a small apartment with another family. As children enter school and begin to learn the English language, parents are working at any job they can find to provide food, clothing and shelter for everyone in the household. The family continues to celebrate traditional Vietnamese holidays and eats traditional foods from their homeland. As work for parents increases, each family begins to move out on their own, while still maintaining the support of the others. As families become even more financially independent, they help other family members who are still in need. As children grow, education is highly valued and as each child gets through college and becomes employed, they too, look back at other family members to offer support to them so that they too can achieve “success” in America. All the while, the family continues to celebrate their Vietnamese traditions, food and language.

     The core beliefs of this such culture and many others in America are the backbone of the success of individuals. The idea that success in America is determined by the individuals loosing that sense of culture is unfounded. For many, maintaining the link to culture has helped them to become successful which involves knowing who you are and where you come from. Continuing to speak their language, dress and eat foods and maintain their belief rooted in their culture does not prevent success, and instead helps it.

     The above essay, scored an 8, falls within the 4 range of the GWE Scoring Guide: it demonstrates adequate writing on both the rhetorical and syntactic levels. It addresses the writing task sufficiently, but without the detail and development of a range 5 essay. The essay also has a few syntactic errors, specifically with pronoun use, spelling and one verb error, but it has no consistent pattern of such errors. Sentence variety is adequate. The opening paragraph provides a thoughtful treatment of the melting pot image and clearly states the chosen side. The weakness in this essay lies in the body paragraphs. There are only two body paragraphs and there is no real distinction in subject matter between the two. The writer does insert specifics to support his points, but the specifics are repetitive. Since the writer limits himself to one main value in maintaining cultural identity, that of familial support, it is difficult to achieve an essay’s worth of specifics without becoming repetitive. Since one of the qualities of a 4 is that the essay “may treat the topic simplistically or repetitively,” the essay earned a 4.

Range 3 Essay

     Success in blending into the American society is by assimilation to the new culture. Maintaining cultural traditions and lifestyle here in America often causes conflict with the second generation and depression for the first generation.

     For example, in 1972 my family who’s native to the Phillippine Islands arrived here in America with hopes and dreams of a “better life.” The family consisted of mom, dad, and seven children. The oldest child was 13 years old and the youngest was 6 months. I was the oldest of seven.

     Discipline, obedience and education was drilled and embedded to us children by our parents. This is true to our culture and most Asians. A report card that is less than excellent or an A is unacceptable. I remember a time when I was a freshman in High School and I received a B in advanced algebra class. I was afraid to go home. My school Counselor rehearsed a speech with me to explain to my parents that taking seven classes, working after school and then taking care of my younger brothers and sisters made it difficult to get an A in a very advanced class. The advise sounded reasonable. I was taught that teachers were always right. I went home and executed the advise that I received. My parents was so furious that I thought I would never see tomorrow. To my parents, my defense was disrespectfulness and my grade was laziness.

     Every teacher and parent conference my parents was grieved for the school was teaching us to be disrespectful by expressing our opinion in class to get a “satisfactory” grade in citizenship. They were disappointed and concerned everytime the teachers told them that a grade less than an A was “ok” as long as the student have done their very best.

     As time passes, my parents continued to struggle with the Western culture of raising children that expresses their opinions and points of view. This became a conflict with us children with our parents. We, the children adapted the western ways, not only to be accepted by the society but to be able to understand others and coexist in harmony.

     My parents suffered depression because of culture shock, homesickness in speaking their native tongue and isolation from their families and friends.

     Another insult to my parent’s depression is that all of us children married outside our culture. Not one of us married a Filipino. My parents were viewed as “bad” parents by their relatives in Phillippines because they could not control their children.

     Shame and guilt is what my parents carry with them today because of traditions and culture. Acceptance of the culture allows us children to adjust and enjoy the “better life” that my parents intended for us to have here in America.

     The above essay, scored a 6, falls within the 3 range of the GWE Scoring Guide: it demonstrates some developing competence in writing, though it remains flawed on either the rhetorical or syntactic level, or both. The essay demonstrates a pattern of errors with grammar, usage and mechanics. There are numerous subject-verb errors, shifts in verb tense, spelling errors, problems with word choice and awkward sentencing. The essay is also weak rhetorically. The first sentence does state a position with regard to the prompt; the reader chooses assimilation as the best method for success in America. However, by the second sentence, the writer starts to veer off course, in essence re-writing the prompt by saying that maintaining cultural ties creates depression and generational conflict in the immigrant family, switching from what causes success to what causes stress. The rest of the essay then proves the premise of stress and/or depression through use of personal example. While students might use personal examples to prove a certain specific point in an analytical essay, an analytical essay should not rest solely on personal narrative. The essay further demonstrates weakness with organization, especially towards the end with the short, underdeveloped paragraphs. The writer does eventually come back to the prompt with the concluding sentence. This is perhaps a classic case of reading the prompt and taking off writing without first making a plan/outline and checking to make sure the plan is responsive to all parts of the prompt before actually writing. While this essay demonstrates all qualities (a-f) of a 3 on the scoring guide, it is important to remember that if any one of these qualities appears in an essay, the essay is scored a 3.

Range 2 Essay

     There is different nationalities in America as well as many people from different culture that have different lifestyles. For example, there is many Latinos that are from the same race, but their religion is different. All of the people and there living condition is not the same eventhough they come from the same nationality.

     I believe that most of the people want to blend into a society and feel welcome. I still do not understand why people care a lot about fiting into a society when we could all create our own. If the people would not care for religion or nationalities America would be a better place to live without discrimination instead of caring to fit in a better society, we all should care for better things.

     I think that people feel more comfortable hanging or talking with people from their same culture because they have more things in common. For example, Latinos speak the language Spanish and most of them are Catholic; therefore, I feel each nationality feels a better communication between each other.

     There is many nationalities that helps each other in many different ways and there is some that do not care but only for themselves. One good example of a nationality that creates a society in which they help each other is the Chinese and Koreans. When they all come to America they lend money to other people from their culture to buy or open a business. That’s why I agree that lifestyles have to do with culture but people choose the way they want to live.

     The above essay, scored a 4, falls within the 2 range of the GWE Scoring Guide: it demonstrates inadequate writing. It is clear that the writer understood specific words of the prompt and tried to respond to ideas of culture and blending, but the essay “indicates confusion about the topic or neglects important aspects of the task.” The first problem here is actually with reading comprehension. Unless there is a clear understanding of the prompt, a clear response becomes a challenge. There is no clear focus or claim in the essay. In addition, there are verb errors in many of the sentences, demonstrating an inadequate control of syntax, and there are numerous punctuation and spelling errors. While the writer does attempt to put in specifics, their purpose is unclear, further adding to the confused focus. Finally, the essay contains rather random paragraphing, with no main idea stated and developed in each paragraph. Again, any one of the qualities exhibited in this essay would earn the essay a score of 2.

Range 1 Essay

     Range 1 essays are very rare; in a given year, there are only 2 or 3, less than one-half of one percent of all students taking the GWE. Although these essays demonstrate incompetence in writing, they often times reveal more about the writer’s frame of mind when taking the exam than about the actual level of writing competence. Students who score in this range have usually "frozen" at the prompt and have been unable to think of anything intelligible to write. Because of their rarity, we have not included a range 1 essay in this sample set of student essays.

     We sincerely thank the students whose essays we have used. We hope our analysis of their strengths and weaknesses will help those taking the GWE to perform confidently and competently.