SDAWP, UC San Diego Teaching + Learning Commons Team up to Support College-level Writing Preparation

Professors across the nation cite problems with students’ preparation for college-level writing as central to students’ struggles to attain degrees in a timely manner. So how can supporters help high school students get fully prepared for the writing demands of college?

In a new College-Ready Writers Preparation Program, the San Diego Area Writing Project (SDAWP) and UC San Diego partners are joining forces to pilot a strategy for preparing high school juniors across our region for college-level writing. The College-Ready Writers Preparation Program is a college success partnership between SDAWP (in CREATE), the UC San Diego Analytical Writing Program, and the UC San Diego Teaching + Learning Commons.

The program builds writing supports around the demands of the Analytical Writing Placement Exam (AWPE), a core milestone facing students admitted to the University of California. First, UC San Diego writing faculty, SDAWP secondary teacher leaders, and high school teachers are trained to administer the AWPE to high school juniors. Then, they administer the AWPE, and score it to diagnose students’ pre-college writing needs. Next, they offer classroom-specific feedback to teachers and students, pinpointing specific improvements students need to make to reach college-level expectations for writing competence. Finally, they provide professional development to high school teachers on supporting the specific writing development needs of their students.

The team is concentrating this effort on high school juniors, allowing them a full year of study and practice before taking actual placement exams. This model builds on a successful high school outreach program at UC Riverside (in partnership with the Inland Area Writing Project), while tailoring UC San Diego’s program to local needs.

The team is piloting the program at Gompers Preparatory Academy, a UC San Diego partnership school, to learn how to expand the program more broadly.

“This was an opportunity to team up with SDAWP to pilot a program for current 11th graders focusing on analytical writing instruction,” said Anne Robinson, Instructional Leader and English department chair at Gompers Preparatory Academy (GPA). In March, sixty GPA juniors took a mock AWPE exam in order to determine areas of strength and necessary growth in precollege writing. The students’ essays were then evaluated by Holly Bauer, an SDAWP teacher leader and Associate Director of UC San Diego’s Analytical Writing Program. Holly then led two workshops at GPA on June 6th, to review trends with students and unpack the next steps students needed to take in order to grow as writers.

“Our June SDAWP workshops for 11th graders went great — we are beyond thrilled,” said Robinson. “Students benefitted from early exposure to AWPE prompts and specific feedback from university writing instructors. They will continue to benefit as this pilot provides additional writing instruction over the summer and into their senior year,” she said. “In addition, teachers gained professional development by implementing the mock exam and by observing in student workshops. They learned firsthand how student writing is evaluated, as well as how to improve their students’ skills,” Robinson said.

Bauer also valued her interaction with the GPA students and teachers. “I was very impressed by the students I met: they were engaged and competent, and I was very encouraged by their responses to my questions and their interest in learning more about college writing. Even on my short visit, it was clear to me that the GPA faculty has cultivated a rich environment for teaching and learning,” she said.

GPA teachers next will observe and support a one-week summer writing workshop on the GPA campus, Robinson said, in which SDAWP leaders will help 30 GPA students to pinpoint their areas of need and “go deeper with the essentials of revision.” As the students move into their senior year, GPA teachers will track student progress in writing. “And as the students move into 12th grade, the teachers who participated this spring and summer will share their learning with other English department members teaching grades 6-10,” said Robinson.

“We’ve long worked at SDAWP to support college-level writing preparation,” said SDAWP leader Kim Douillard. “For example, our Writing for College and Career Readiness workshop has been offered to incoming 11th and 12th grade high school students and college freshmen at UC San Diego for the past 10 years. It provides students an opportunity to improve their reading and writing of argument texts to develop the analytic skills and tools necessary to succeed in college.” Now, she said, “our intention is that this College-Ready Writers Preparation Program pilot, if successful, can scale up to a sustainable college success program—a student support and professional development model that can be funded over time by participating high schools, as well as, potentially, our own campus.”

For more information, contact the San Diego Area Writing Project at