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Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

Who has to take the English Proficiency Examination?

All students of the Graduate School are required to take this exam, unless exempt, as mandated by the Board of Trustees. Students may only be exempt from the exam if they have scores of 5 and above on the GRE Analytical Writing Assessment.

When must students take the exam?

Students must take the exam at the beginning of their first semester in the Graduate School.  If the exam reveals that your writing does not satisfy program standards, you will have ample time to improve your writing skills.

What is the exam like?

The exam consists of a 500-word essay written in a 2-3 hour period on a topic chosen by the student from a list provided by PASS.  The topics generated usually require the student to remark on current events, a personal stance, or even a policy issue.  Students are expected to complete their essay with the computer, however arrangements can be made for those students with a preference to write their essay.  Please contact the PASS office in advance of an exam date to schedule such a request.

Can I fulfill this requirement by passing a course instead of taking the exam?


When and where is the exam given?

The exam is given once during the Fall (August), Spring (January), and first summer session (May) of each academic year.  Students should look for updates on the PASS website for exam locations.

Is registration required for the exam?

Yes, student must register online. Only students who register online will be permitted to enter the exam.  Registration forms are necessary for entrance into the exam, so please be sure to print out the document after registering.

How can I prepare for the exam?

Because this exam measures a skill that takes time to develop, there is no quick and easy way to prepare for it. The best preparation is to have done a considerable amount of reading and writing, and to have taken writing seriously throughout your academic career.  Students may also use any college English handbook to review sections on composition writing and conventions.  Copies of the EPE guidelines may be obtained from the PASS website or office (Room 317-A in the Graduate School).

Are special provisions made for disabled students?

Yes. Please call the PASS office for more information 202.806.7277

Are special provisions made for students who are International and/or non-native speakers of English?

No.  Speakers of English as a second language will be scored on the same basis as native speakers. While some provision is made for minor variances in syntax and idiomatic usage (i.e., use of prepositions and articles), faculty readers apply the same standards with respect to the major considerations of logic, organization, and grammar.

How is the test graded?

Each essay is read and evaluated by at least two faculty readers utilizing the 6-point holistic scoring rubric.  Students must receive a score of 4 to 6 to receive a certificate of completion.  If the two readers disagree greatly on the student's essay, the paper is scored by a third reader.

Can I take the exam more than once?

No.  Students who fail the exam must register for an Academic Communication course (I and/or II) to improve upon their writing skills.  A certificate of completion will be granted after successful completion of the course(s).

How and who will be notified of the exam results?

Results will be email to each student and to the departments.  Department chairs and graduate studies directors may also request the information directly from the PASS office.  Students must visit the PASS office to obtain a personal copy of the document.

If I do not pass, can I talk to someone about my essay?

Yes. Students are encouraged to meet with a PASS instructor to discuss the essay.  Please contact the PASS office for a list of instructors.  This meeting may help crystallize your writing deficiencies, however it does not suffice as a successful completion of the exam and/or writing courses.  You should be aware that meetings during the summer (from June through August) are limited.

If after meeting to discuss my essay, I believe that my essay was wrongly scored and I should have passed the exam is there an appeal procedure?

Yes. The director of PASS will explain the appeal procedure to you.

If I do not pass, what are my next steps?

Students may be required to take the one-credit writing courses offered by PASS.  Students are informed of the appropriate course(s) when viewing their scores online.  The writing courses meet once a week for a two-hour period.  Students will be required to complete a series of writing assignments, and may be expected to complete computer-assisted work and/or one-on-one tutorial sessions.


Should you be required to take a writing course, it is best to register during the semester you have taken the exam.  Please note that students must satisfy this requirement prior to entering candidacy and at least one semester prior to graduation.  To register for a course, students may contact the PASS office to complete a drop/add form at the beginning of each semester.

What courses are offered?

Academic Communication I focuses on the conventions and mechanics of writing (i.e. grammar, spelling, and punctuation).  Academic Communication II focuses on the content and development of writing (thesis development, paragraph structure, and organization).  Additional courses are being added to PASS that will assist with academic writing in the various disciplines and oral communication skills.

Are there any other requirements for writing?

No.  Once you successfully complete the exam and/or course(s), there are no other requirements to fulfill.