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Sample Essays and Scoring Guide


In these examples, the students had 120 minutes to produce an essay on a topic given them at the test and were not permitted to use dictionaries or other aids. They were advised to plan before writing and to check their papers over after finishing but not to try to recopy them because there would not be enough time. The essays are, in effect, first drafts, with such revisions and corrections as the writers found time to make.

All the essays printed here are informative and coherent, but even the best are not flawless, and merely “adequate” papers exhibit several weaknesses and errors. It should be understood that in passing these papers the faculty is recognizing realistically the differences between an impromptu piece of writing and a paper prepared outside of class with adequate time for revising and polishing.

We provide here a sample essay topic, together with the scoring guide, and three sample essays, rated "6" (Superior), "5" (Strong), and "4" (Meets Expectations).

Sample Essay Topic -- Is Too Much Time Online a Problem?

Is Too Much Time Online A Problem?

Robert Shaefer

For many people, leisure time now means screen time. Mom’s on social media, Dad’s surfing the Web, sister is texting friends, and brother is playing a multiplayer shooting game like Fortnite.

But are they addicted? In June, the World Health Organization announced that “gaming disorder” would be included in its disease classification manual, reigniting debates over whether an activity engaged in by so many could be classified as a disorder.

Experts were quick to point out that only 1 to 3 percent of gamers are likely to fit the diagnostic criteria, such as lack of control over gaming, giving gaming priority over other activities and allowing gaming to significantly impair such important areas of life as social relationships.

Those low numbers may give the impression that most people don’t have anything to worry about. Not true. Nearly all teens, as well as most adults, have been profoundly affected by the increasing predominance of electronic devices in our lives. Many people suspect that today’s teens spend much more time with screens and much less time with their peers face-to-face than did earlier generations,and my analysis of numerous large surveys of teens of various ages shows this to be true: The number of 17- and 18-year-olds who get together with their friends every day, for example, dropped by more than 40 percent between 2000 and 2016. Teens are also sleeping less, with sleep deprivation spiking after 2010. Similar to the language in the WHO’s addiction criteria, they are prioritizing time on their electronic devices over other activities (and no, it’s not because they are studying more – teens actually spend less time on homework than students did in the 1990s). Regardless of any questions around addiction, how teens spend their free time has fundamentally shifted.

If teens were doing well, this might be fine. But they are not: Clinical-level depression, self-harm behavior (such as cutting), the number of suicide attempts and the suicide rate for teens all rose sharply after 2010, when smartphones became common and the iPad was introduced. Teens who spend excessive amounts of time online are more likely to be sleep deprived, unhappy and depressed. Nor are the effects small: For example, teens who spent five or more hours a day using electronic devices were 66 percent more likely than those who spent just one hour to have at least one risk factor for suicide, such as depression or a previous suicide attempt.

Here's what you need to know about the live-stream gaming trend.

Screen overuse is not rare. In the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2017 survey of high school students, more than 1 in 5 reported spending five or more hours of leisure time a day using electronic devices. With about 25 million 13- to 18-year-olds living in the United States, that’s about 5 million kids. Data from a survey of eighth-graders in 2016 indicates that 1 in 10 spent 40 hours a week or more — the time commitment of a full-time job — playing electronic games. That’s about 2.5 million kids. These are nationwide surveys, and the results are fairly similar across regions of the country, gender, race or ethnicity, and social class.

You don’t have to overuse screens yourself to be impacted by their ubiquity. Young people who want to talk to their friends at lunch can’t, because their friends are staring at their phones. Family dinners and vacations are constantly interrupted by texts and notifications. Teens who want to go out with their friends don’t even know how to ask because the norm for social interaction is now social media and online games, not hanging out in person.

These technologies are not going away — nor should they — but we can learn to use them in more mindful ways. Also in June, Apple announced that new controls will be introduced this fall, including software that will allow parents to limit the amount of time children spend on games or social media and to shut down their kids’ phones at bedtime. In May, Google rolled out reminders for time limits on apps. A new “digital wellness” movement, partially led by former tech executives, urges people to more carefully consider how they are spending their time. Some of their solutions have brought the wicked creativity of Silicon Valley to the quest: One add-on, called “Mortality,” is a browser tab that shows a countdown of the days you have left to live every time you use it.

In other words: Spend your time well, because it’s all you’ve got. Talk to your friends and family face-to-face, where you can see the expressions on their faces, hear the tone of their voices, feel the warmth of their hugs. Watch a sunset. Go for a run or a swim. Get some sleep. Use your phone for what it’s good for, and then put it down and go do the things that help humans thrive — which do not include playing Fortnite five hours a day.

Writing Prompt:

Write a well-developed essay in which you address the topic as it is raised in the reading.

In your first paragraph, briefly summarize the main points of the reading and then:

  •  Draw on your own knowledge, observations, and experiences to explore your thoughts on the topic. You may incorporate your own relevant points or offer an alternative interpretation of the reading by discussing any cultural and/or social issues that impact the topic;
  •  Question, challenge, defend and/or assess the overall quality and adequacy of the quantitative evidence the article uses in support of the claims and conclusions; and
  •  Discuss what research strategies you would use to find additional sources of information on this topic to evaluate the claims.


UDWPE Scoring Guide

Each essay is read and evaluated by at least two faculty members in a carefully planned and supervised reading. Each reader scores an essay on a scale of 1 to 6, and the two scores are combined. 12 is the highest possible total score. A score of 8 or above is passing. (See sample scoring guide and sample essays below.)

It is the intention of CSUN to report test results that accurately reflect each student's performance. Test administration and test security standards are designed to assure that all test takers are given the same opportunity to demonstrate their abilities and to prevent anyone from having an unfair advantage over others because of testing irregularities. With this in mind, in rare cases in which there is a question about the validity of a student's essay, the UDWPE Advisory Board reserves the right to request that a student take a retest at no cost to the student. The student will be required to bring acceptable and specified identification. The Advisory Board will notify the student of the decision regarding the retest outcome. 

Written Expression - WPE

Superior (6) – Addresses the topic and remains highly-focused on the complexity of the issues raised in the reading passage; offers variety and sophistication in sentence structure, diction, and vocabulary, and exhibits an excellent command of written English.

Strong (5) – Addresses the topic and maintains its focus on many of the issues raised in the reading passage; offers variety in sentence structure, diction, and vocabulary, and exhibits a strong command of written English.

Meets Expectations (4) – Addresses the topic, and though it may waver in its focus, it has engaged the primary issue raised in the reading passage; exhibits proficiency in written English through the use of vocabulary as expressed in coherent sentences and paragraphs; while the essay may contain some grammatical flaws (including common ESL-related locutions), they do not detract from the overall effect or clarity of the writing.

Inadequate (3) – Fails to address the topic in a satisfactory way because it loses focus or only marginally addresses the issues in the reading passage; contains numerous sentences that are difficult to read and/or are inadequately organized into coherent paragraphs – due to frequent misuse of vocabulary and/or major grammatical errors – as to exhibit an inadequate proficiency in written English.

Incompetent (2) – Fails to address the topic; contains an excessive number of sentences that are difficult to read and/or are inadequately organized into coherent paragraphs—including misuse of vocabulary and/or major grammatical errors—as to exhibit a lack of proficiency in written English.

*Incomplete (1) – Presents too little writing for evaluation. May be a blank exam or one containing only a few sentences.



Sample UDWPE "6" Essay

Student Response - Score: 6

The late 1990s to the early 2000s clamored with excitement and anticipation as the internet made its debut. People were given a novel way to communicate with distant loved ones. Access to pertinent online information was readily available to those who sought it. It's puzzling, even alarming however, when a tool meant to facilitate life's growing demands can trap youth and adults alike in a web of addiction, in a vice of a seemingly harmless appearance. In the article "Is Too Much Time Online A Problem?" written by Robert Shaefer, he indicates compelling data and evidence to suggest that online use - such as gaming, social media, cell phone use - has reached endemic proportions among today's youth. Shaefer demonstrates the tangible effects of frequent online use as he discusses how teens and young adults are lacking the foresight to prioritize the crucial things in their lives. Teens and young adults are seeing adverse effects of excessive online use - whether it's their physical health or social life. It is important to note that while Shaefer does not give a wholesale rejection of technological activity, he does implore readers to be mindful of its role in our lives. To that end, I agree with Shaefer's assertion that online time has negatively affected young people. Teens' and young adults' excessive online time is clearly demonstrated in the resulting consequences that affect their mental health, academic, and interpersonal relationships.

The consequences for screen time overuse are apparent in the mental health of youth. According to the article, clinical-level depression, self-harm behavior, suicide attempts/rates exponentially increased in 2010 following the period in which smart phone use became more common. Data within the article further indicates that 66% of teens who spent five or more hours a day using electronic devices had at least one risk factor for suicide, such as depression or a prior suicide attempt. These findings are quite telling in demonstrating the extent of dire consequences online use can cause in a teen or young adult's mental health. Young people who spend inordinate amounts of time online are being exposed to lifestyles, expectations, attitudes that are not consistent with reality. Teen girls detrimentally aspire to an image of beauty - commonly seen on platforms like Instagram - that is not representative of the common woman. People are innately wired it seems to project the best representation of themselves online, but young people who do not know better see this as normal life. This false, myopic belief takes teens and young adults through a harrowing state of comparison and discontentment, which opens the door to the eventual development of severe mental health issues. The effects of online overuse are truly evident in the continued decline of mental health among youth. While it is clear that this is a likely consequence, the data supporting the disrepair of mental health among teens seems too general. A cited survey or journal providing more concrete data could further bolster Shaefer's argument.

Teens who overuse screen time can also expect to see negative consequences in their academics. In a survey conducted by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in 2017, "1 in 5 high schoolers reported spending five or more hours of leisure time a day using electronic devices" (Shaefer). Additionally, information from a survey of eighth graders in 2016 indicates that 1 in 10 spent 40 hours a week or more playing electronics as stated in the article. Based on these findings, teens are prioritizing media use over their academics, which implies a continued decline in the academics of teens. Adolescents are going through a crucial time in their lives in which they must learn to balance academics, health, and a social life. Those five or more hours teens are spending on media, as reported by the CDC, are severely impacting their abilities to grow as health individuals. Teens who fail to learn how to respect their academics as having high priority face not just bad grades, but a future of correcting deeply ingrained, destructive habits. The data to support an adverse impact on teens' academics because of online overuse is very compelling, but a specific sample size could have made for more cogent arguments in Shaefer's article.

Lastly, interpersonal relationships experience severe consequences when teens/young adults overuse online time. In the author's analysis of large surveys, the number of 17- and 18-year olds who get together with friends decreased by more than 40 percent between 2000 and 2016. While I trust the author did his research, a more intellectually honest approach in reporting his findings would have been to cite the body of surveys used to make such a conclusion. However, the data does provide a convincing argument to suggest that teens are damaging their social relationships as a result of their frequent online use. Because adolescents are still developing physically, cognitively, and emotionally, the presence of supportive friends and family is vital for a smooth transition into adulthood. Teens who invest more time in video games or social media are missing out on investing in relationships that can render a lifetime of rewards. Continued overuse of online time can bring about crippling social isolation, which if not addressed early on, can be extremely difficult to reverse. I have seen how damaging online use can be to relationships, and teens/young adults would do well in doing all they can to steward their time more efficiently.

In summation, Shaefer noted within his article the extensive effects that too much online use has caused in the lives of teens/young adults. The consequences are seen in their mental health, academics, and interpersonal relationships. To find further research on this topic of excessive online use, I believe I would defer to respected peer-reviewed journals within psychology, education, and medicine. Another strategy I would use is to conduct a survey, with an identified sample size, at my university to gauge the online use on my campus. These are just a few ways to assist me in finding more information regarding excessive online use.

Sample UDWPE "5" Essay

Student Response - Score: 5

In the article, "Is Too Much Time Online A Problem?" Robert Shaefer argues that increased screen time contributes to declines in one's mental health and qualify of life. He supports his argument by citing various statistics about the prevalence of teenage gaming and rising rates of depression and self-harm. He follows these statistics with anecdotal observations about how screen usage negatively impacts teenage social skills as well as quality of family time. Shaefer then offers several suggestions to counteract the perceived negative effects of technology, such as increasing interpersonal communication and building mindful awareness of one's surroundings and loved ones.

As a person who grew up before the Internet and smart devices existed, I have been resistant to the encroaching presence of technology (as defined by me as apps, tablets, smartphones, and websites) in my life. I was one of the last of my friends to buy a smartphone, and I avoided joining Facebook until it became absolutely necessary for work reasons. I have also noticed a greater number of people of all ages staring at screens in public spaces. While I personally do not enjoy interacting with electronic screens, I have found that both my school and my job require me to spend time online. For example, CSUN students register for classes online. They also access homework assignments and readings online. CSUN uses email and online videos to disseminate information to its community. At work, I submit my time sheets online and receive my weekly schedule via a phone app. For most people in the U.S., interacting with technology is an unavoidable aspect of daily life.

Shaefer's argument is flawed because he equates correlation with causation. Statistics showing a decline in teenage mental health that coincide with the advent of smartphones do not prove that increased smartphone usage causes a decline in one's qualify of life. There are several other factors that may contribute to an increase in teenage depression. Shaefer cites 2010 as a significant year because that is when smartphones and iPads became more prevalent, but there have also been other events following 2010 that could contribute to increased teenage stress, such as mass shootings, economic job insecurity, and the rise of visibility of hate groups and bullying. Constant news coverage of these stressors also can contribute to an increase in depression, fear, and/or hopelessness. Shaefer lists statistics about teenage suicidal behavior without accounting for other possible contributing factors to teenage depression.

Shaefer completely ignores studies that document potential positive effects of technology on teenage mental health. Online community message boards built around aspects of personal identity (such as sexuality, hobbies, and personal challenges) have allowed people of all ages to access support and friendship in physical locations where they might not otherwise find it. Technology can help reduce a teenager's sense of isolation and self-hate - two factors that are closely linked to depression symptoms. Further research is required to strengthen Shaefer's claim that screen time is detrimental to teenage mental health. First of all, he needs to set a clear definition of screen time. Secondly, he needs to isolate the variable of gaming from other variables that contribute to teenage depression. Third, he could cite studies comparing U.S. statistics about gaming and depression to other countries with similar GDPs in order to demonstrate the universality of his argument.

Increased use of technology has introduced new challenges to social relationships in the U.S. Shaefer highlights declines in interpersonal skills and mental health in teenagers, but he ignores discussing other factors that also negatively impact teenagers' lives. He relies on his own anecdotal observations and the co-occurrence of smartphones with rising rates of depression to support his argument, but he needs to design a more targeted and specific data regression analysis in order to effectively support his claim.


Sample UDWPE "4" Essay

Student Response - Score: 4

Like any other advancement in society, the integration of technology into our every day lives will have its benefits and drawbacks. As mentioned in the reading, technology, namely social media, now has a large presence in teenagers' lives. This has greatly affected millions of lives and has left an impact on mental health, personal relationships, and education. Although there are severe cases in which too much time online can consume people's lives, which I partially agree with, I still believe that technology is not the one to blame. I strongly believe that nothing is truly a problem if done in moderation. The article also uses evidence that does not directly correlate.

Too much time online does not necessarily mean endlessly scrolling through social media or playing games. For example, my mother assumes that I spend all day on my phone and laptop doing nothing. In reality, I am doing my homework, researching, or even reading about news. Contrary to popular belief, teenagers do not just spend their time laying around. There are news outlets that have expanded to Snapchat, Twitter, and Instagram. I am also communicating with my relatives and friends that live in different states and continents. Leisure time can be spent online, but you can still be productive.

I agree that gaming and social media can be an addiction but some of the evidence to support these claims are merely assumptions or do not have a direct correlation. For instance, "The number of 17- and 18-year-olds who get together with their friends every day . . . dropped by more than 40 percent between 2000 and 2016." The article insinuates this is due to an online addiction. Times have changed. It is not as safe as it was decades ago to go out and hang around with friends. Parents have become stricter about allowing their kids to go out with friends. It has also become expensive to go and eat at a restaurant, watch a movie, or go to an arcade. Leisure activities do not cost the same as they did a few decades ago.

Another piece of evidence used in the article states, "Teens are also sleeping less, with sleep deprivation spiking . . . They are prioritizing time on their electronic devices over other activities (and no, it's not because they are studying more . . .)." I beg to differ. Depending on the student, there are thousands, if not millions, of students stressing out about AP classes, test scores, extracurricular activities, and getting accepted into a good college. There is no doubt that teenagers use their phones a lot, but to say that they prioritize time on their electronic devices is an overstatement. This can also tie in with clinical-depression. The stress of studying and getting good grades is what deprives us of sleep and can cause depression.

The article sates, "Clinical-level depression, self-harm behavior (such as cutting), the number of suicide attempts, and the suicide rate for teens all rose sharply after 2010, when smartphones became common and the iPad was introduced." To assume or insinuate that depression was caused by the emergence of smartphones and iPads cannot be used as evidence to support the claim that too much time online is a problem. There are various factors that contribute to depression. Even if going on your phone can be a factor, there are underlying reasons that may also contribute such as bullying feeling of missing out, or advertisements of expected body images. Less time spent on the phone may not eliminate these types of issues. Therefore, too much phone time does not directly correlate with clinical depression.

The claim that an excessive amount of time spent online can be an issue is a valid argument but the pieces of evidence used to support that claim are not strong. To conduct more research, I would create more surveys that are more detail oriented and specific surveys with broad questions are not very helpful in analyzing statistics. In order to get a better picture of causes and effects, we must pin point the actual factors from people first hand instead of assuming there is a correlation.

Technology has an immense presence in our lives and has changed how we live and interact. It has improved our ways of communicating, gaining knowledge, and has made a lot of jobs easier. On the other hand, too much time spent on technology can lead to addiction and failure to prioritize other activities. An adequate amount of time spent online would not be detrimental. In order to statistically and analytically prove the detriments of too much time online, more surveys need to be created and taken. Having broad surveys as evidence can paint a different picture than what is true.