The hypocrisy of timed writing


Author: Ella Fornari

Every Occidental College applicant is required to respond to multiple writing supplements. Although you might not remember what you wrote, surely you remember painstakingly responding to these prompts. These supplements allow the college to learn more about the individual applicants as well as gauge their writing abilities.

I meticulously wrote answers to these prompts only a year ago; now a student and not an applicant, I feel it necessary to amend a few of my responses for the sake of illuminating the hypocrisy of the Cultural Studies Program (CSP) timed writing exercise.

Why Oxy?

Why do you insist on making me contort behind a desk (chances are it won’t be a lefty desk) to take a timed writing exercise in a blue book? As a prestigious liberal arts institution that prides itself on its core program, including an intensive first-year writing course, why do you administer a timed writing test to the entire freshman class? It is humiliating, not only for students, but for you as a purveyor of the liberal arts. Do you not trust your own writing program, and therefore find it necessary to administer the test as a precautionary measure? Because, if that’s the case, it’s highly unlikely the quality of the essay produced in 50 minutes will be completely indicative of a student’s analytical writing abilities.

Identify and describe a personal habit or idiosyncrasy that helps define you.

I spell phonetically, but without the assistance of spell check cannot spell “phonetically.” I do always look forward to consciously reducing the sophistication of my vocabulary because I went to a progressive kindergarten where I was taught from the ripe age of 5 that spelling was illusionary. “Whichever spelling looks best to you Ella.” Not to mention my handwriting looks like that of an arthritic doctor. It’s OK though, because after years of writing utensil experimentation I’ve discovered my handwriting is moderately legible if I use a mechanical pencil. Blue and black ink only? No worries, surely contorting my body around the small desk will alleviate my penmanship’s charmingly illegible quality.

What are your current academic and intellectual curiosities?

Occidental does a wonderful job of offering a wide array of writing seminars disguised as classes on my academic and intellectual curiosities. I choose my CSPs because they reflected these interests. These writing intensive courses have done a superb job of challenging me to be a better writer. They have also produced multiple writing samples that can tell you more about my writing abilities than anything scribbled into a blue book ever could.

Choose a book that’s had a great affect on you, what is this effect?

Even though a book can have an “effect” on its reader, the passing of time from when they’ve read it can make their feelings towards the book “affected.” You insisted I read The Barbarian Nurseries months ago, therefore, regardless of what my feelings on the book were in August, my opinions and understanding of the novel are now “affected.”

Having a common freshman book is a wonderful way to connect the class. However, because the main motivational factor of reading the book is the timed writing exam, the novel automatically becomes a chore and therefore the shared experience of reading it a negative one. Perhaps a summer book could be more effectively used if assigned to facilitate discussions in O-Week. After all, discussions require higher levels of accountability and engagement with a text than a timed writing exercise where you are encouraged to have the book and notes with you.

In looking forward, my hope is that Occidental realizes that a timed writing exam is not a clear identifier of students’ writing abilities. Telling students that they need to pass 2 out of 3 of the first year writing requirements also sends the message to students that they have a safety net. Because a first year writing course and rubrics already exist, the timed writing exam is superfluous.

Pens Down.

Ella Fornari is an undeclared first-year. She can be reached at

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