The Effectiveness of the Writing Proficiency Assessment WPA in Improving Student Writing Skills at Huron University College

Research Summary:

The Effectiveness of the Writing Proficiency Assessment (WPA) in Improving Student Writing Skills at Huron University College

Huron University College is a federated liberal arts college within the University of Western Ontario.  Its writing Proficiency Assessment (WPA) was developed to  introduce first year students to the culture of academic writing in university, and to impress upon them the importance of writing skills.  Upon commencement of their first year, it provides students with feedback on their own strengths and weaknesses, and encourages them to seek help with their writing where weaknesses exist.

The intent of this study was to collect and analyze the writing of a sample of students who had completed a first year WPA as well as a second writing assessment during their graduating year (WPA2). This, along with data about students’ writing performance in other essay courses, was used to identify the extent to which writing skills had improved.  A sample of graduating students were also interviewed about how they improved their writing skills during  their studies at Huron University College, and what role, if any, the WPA played.

Some findings from the study include:

  • a significant increase in overall scores between WPA 1 and WPA 2;   
  • a strong correlation between the average scores  for essays in content courses and the overall scores achieved on the WPA 2;  
    a perception, by most students interviewed, that the WPA was a useful exercise; and 
  • the assertion by a majority of the students that consultation with professors is a key strategy for improving writing over the course of their university careers. 

Dr. Theresa Hyland is Director of Writing and Cross-cultural Services at Huron University College. Ms. Grace Howell,  Research Officer and Coordinator, Centre for Inclusive Education, at the UWO Faculty of Education, is also a writing tutor in the Writing Skills Centre at Huron University College. Zheng Zhang is a PhD candidate at the University of Western Ontario.​