Southeast Missouri State University Wriiting Lab

Holistic Scoring: Criteria

Holistic assessment at Southeast is based on considering six criteria when determining the overall impression of an essay.  The first five criteria are applied to part I of WP002 and WP003; the sixth is applied only to part II.  These six criteria are


In order for students to achieve focus in their writing, they must do the following: a) they must address the specific topic presented by the test question, and b) they must present a main point or clear purpose for communicating.


The writing proficiency test contains two specific questions.  Clearly, students who do not write an answer to the questions have no chance of scoring well on the test.  However, even students who address topics will write poorly if they do not limit their main idea to something they can adequately discuss in the time allotted.  This limiting of the topic is often called "focusing" because both the writer's attention and the reader's attention are zeroed in on a particular aspect of a broad subject.


This "focusing" often takes the form of a thesis statement, a sentence that states the main idea of an essay.  Generally, the thesis statement occurs in the introductory paragraph.  When writers open their essays with anecdotes, statistics, or other attention-getting material, the thesis statement is often placed at the end of that paragraph or the beginning of the next paragraph.

Back to top



Once writers settle on a main idea, they must think about the most effective way to organize their materials in order to convince their readers that the main idea is a reasonable one.  Thus, the supporting information must be presented in some sort of logical progression.  Obviously, if readers cannot follow the discussion, they will have no reason to accept the main idea.


Planned essays are usually divided into three parts: a beginning (introduction), a middle (body), and an end (conclusion).  What goes into each of these three parts depends on the main idea to be developed, the evidence available, and the writer's strategy.  Whatever plan of organization is used, the materials must be logically ordered and presented, and each step in the plan must be clearly signaled by the appropriate transition words or phrases.

Back to top



When the body of writing is only one paragraph long, the writing is not an essay.  Instead, it is one paragraph with its beginning and ending improperly separated from the middle.  The middle of an essay will have at least two to three paragraphs, and each of these paragraphs will present one major step in a logical plan.


These middle paragraphs usually open with the main idea to be discussed in the paragraph.  (This sentence is usually called the topic sentence.)  Without stating their main ideas, these paragraphs are likely to lack organization, and more often than not, they become simply a collection of unsupported major ideas that lead nowhere.


The supporting material in these paragraphs must be specific or concrete details that support the writer's point of view or main idea.  This material, which illustrates or explains the broader topic sentence, must be presented in a logical order.

Back to top



Sentence coherence, diction, and tone combine to compose the element of style.  Coherence is a result of sentence patterns, pronoun reference, and transitional connectives.  In non-technical terms, coherence refers to the impression that the writing "flows" and that the essay is "of a piece."  Diction signifies the appropriate choice of words; the words used must be accurate, appropriate, and effective in conveying the writer's intended meaning.  Tone is the emotional attitude of writers toward their subject and audience.  Whatever the writer's approach to the subject, the tone must be consistent and appropriate to the writer's overall purpose.

Back to top



Correctness covers the areas of grammar, spelling, punctuation, and manuscript preparation.  Correctness is important because, without it, the reader may get the wrong information.  because they create the most confusion, the most serious errors are flaws in sentence structure, such as fragments, comma splices and fused sentences, and errors in agreement, such as subject-verb agreement and pronoun-antecedent agreement problems.


Correctness is no substitute for a thoughtful paper; it is better to have clearly stated generalizations that are supported by convincing specific details than to have a perfectly correct paper that makes no point or that does not support the point with concrete detail.  Proofreading is an indispensable, but last, step in writing.

Back to top



Writing that makes use of outside source materials is called "referential" writing.  In Part II of the proficiency test, students demonstrate how logically, insightfully, and elegantly they can incorporate into their own essays paraphrases and direct quotations from the outside materials provided during the test.


Every time writers use material that is not their own or that is not common knowledge, they must indicate where they got the information.  This is true regardless of whether the writers are paraphrasing or directly quoting the source material.  In this testing situation, no particular style of documentation is required, although students must document each use of source material in a consistent and accurate manner.

Back to top

Method | Criteria | Scale | Sample graded papers




2008 Southeast MO St. U.
Updated October 15, 2008
by Allen Gathman