Writing Test

Writing Test (Hand-written Essay):

You will have 50 minutes to write about one of two topics you will be given that day. Each prompt includes a short passage and two possible questions for you to choose from in developing your essay. Familiarize yourself with the prompts below as a way to prepare for your exam. Your essay will be evaluated by two members of the English department.

Scoring Guide

The writing exam is scored on a scale of 1 to 6. For more information about how to prepare for the Writing Placement Test, contact the testing center by email at testingcenter@bristolcc.edu or phone at 508.678.2811, ext. 3978.



The following excerpt is taken from natural writer Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods. In this passage, he is considering whether or not he should try to hike the Appalachian Trail, a long journey that would take him through most of the states in the eastern United States:

It seemed like such an extraordinary notion – that I would set off from home and walk 1,800 miles through woods to Georgia, or turn the other way and clamber over the rough and stony White Mountains to the fabled prow of Mount Katahdin, floating in the forest 450 miles to the north in a wilderness few have seen. A little voice in my head said: “Sounds neat! Let’s do it! […] It would be useful (I wasn’t quite sure in what way, but I was sure nonetheless) to learn to fend for myself in the wilderness. When guys in camouflage pants and hunting hats sat around in the Four Aces Diner talking about fearsome things done out-of-doors, I would no longer have to feel like such a cupcake. I wanted a little of that swagger that comes with being able to gaze at a far horizon and say with a slow, manly sniff, “Yeah, I’ve done that too.” 

Your Written Response:

Write an essay in response to one of the options below. Create a mufti-paragraph paper. Include examples to explain each of your points, and be sure to use correct grammar. Focus your essay on either Option A or Option B, not both.

Option A: Like Bryson, have you had an “extraordinary notion” to do something that would take you out of your comfort zone? Did you ultimately decide to follow your notion or to avoid doing so? Why? Use specific examples to illustrate your point.

Option B: Like Bryson, have you ever done something just to fit in with other people around you? What was the result of that experience and how has it shaped the person you have become? Use specific examples to illustrate your point. 


The following excerpt is taken from naturalist writer Farley Mowat’s Never Cry Wolf. At the time that he wrote it, Mowat was working for the Canadian government as a biologist, studying the relationship between wolves and caribou in the wilderness. He would go on to write about a variety of environmental issues around the world: 

My early years as a naturalist were free and fascinating, but as I entered manhood and found that my hobby must now become my career, the walls began to close in. The happy days of the universal scholar who was able to take a keen interest in all phases of natural history were at an end, and I was forced to recognize the necessity of specializing, if I was to succeed as a professional biologist. Nevertheless, as I began my academic training at the university, I found it difficult to choose the narrow path.

For a time I debated whether or not to follow the lead of a friend of mine who was specializing in scatology – the study of animal droppings – and who later became a high-ranking scatologist with the United States Biological Survey. But although I found the subject mildly interesting, it failed to rouse my enthusiasm to the level where I could wish to make it my lifework. Besides, the field was overcrowded.

Your Written Response:

Option A: Like Mowat, do you struggle to find “the narrow path” that will take you into your career? How will attending Bristol help you to choose your career path? Use specific examples to illustrate your point.

Option B: What do you envision as your “lifework”? How will your time at Bristol help to bring you to that career path? Use specific examples to illustrate your point. 


The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls is a remarkable memoir of resilience and redemption. The memoir presents a look into a family at once deeply dysfunctional and uniquely vibrant.  An example from the extraordinary novel occurs when she was a child. She observes a tiny Joshua tree in her yard:

“One time I saw a tiny Joshua tree sapling growing not too far from the old tree. I wanted to dig it up and replant it near our house. I told Mom that I would protect it from the wind and water it every day so that it could grow nice and tall and straight. Mom frowned at me. "You'd be destroying what makes it special," she said. "It's the Joshua tree's struggle that gives it its beauty.” 

Your Written Response:

Option A: Describe a struggle that you had in school that has made you more resilient as a person. Explain in detail why/how that struggle made you more resilient.

Option B: Do you agree or disagree with the Mom’s suggestion that human struggle is what makes each of us special? Why? Use specific examples from your own experience or from society today to reinforce your ideas.


The following excerpt is taken from Joe Kraus’ essay “There’s No Place Like Home.” Kraus is Associate Professor of English at King’s College:

When we use the word “home,” we tend to mean more than simply our house, however. That particular house may be the heart of what we consider home, but our home generally extends to our neighborhood, city, and sometimes even our state or nation. We can draw concentric circles outward from wherever it is we consider ourselves most centrally at home to include larger and larger areas. For example, we can live at 1060 West Addison and be North-siders, Chicagoans, Midwesterners, and Americans all at the same time, with each area functioning in some ways as a kind of home within which we feel security by virtue of our shared experience with so many others. In a baseball stadium, there is only home plate – the various bullpen plates don’t count – but the entire stadium becomes home field for one of the two teams playing. […] One way you can recognize yourself and others as part of a shared community is that you have a common touchstone in the success or failure of the local team. “How ‘bout them Royals?” announces you as a Kansas City-ian; it declares that you have a stake in at least some local affairs.

Your Written Response:

Option A: How do you define “home”? What is it about your “home” that makes you feel secure? Use specific examples to illustrate your point. 

Option B: What is a “shared community” that you are a part of? How does that community have a “stake in at least some local affairs”? Use specific examples to illustrate your point.


The memoir, A Chance in the World, is the unbelievably true story of Steve Pemberton’s harrowing journey through the flawed foster care system in New Bedford. Through it all, Steve’s personal memoir addresses his desperate desire to reconnect with his biological family and to learn more about his deceased father. He describes the importance of being a parent in the following passage:

“... a man could build whatever monuments he wanted in the worlds of politics, sports, entertainment, and business, but if they come at the expense of his children, then he has failed. Once the attention fades and the crowds stop cheering his name and his accomplishments are little more than fine print in a history book, the only thing that truly survives him is his child. That is his legacy. That is what defines him. All else is but a footnote.” 

Your Written Response:

Option A: Consider the author’s perspective that children are one’s greatest “legacy.” Do you believe in his assertion that children are what define us? Why or why not? Use specific examples from your experience or from society today to support your ideas.

Option B: How has the role of a “father” been re-defined in the twentieth century? Use specific examples from your experience or from society today to support your ideas.


In Thomas Friedman’s latest memoir, Thank You for Being Late, the three-time Pulitzer winner puts his familiar methodology―extensive travel, thorough reporting, interviews with the high-placed movers and shakers, conversations with the lowly moved and shaken―to especially good use as he explores how technology has accelerated at exponential speed, leaving most of us dazed and confused. However, in the following passage he offers the reader a chance to reflect on the benefits of “being late”:

“Once in a while, my breakfast guests would arrive ten, fifteen, or even twenty minutes late. They would invariably arrive flustered, spilling out apologies as they sat down: “The highway was backed up…” “My alarm failed…” “My kid was sick…” On one of those occasions, I realized I didn’t care at all about my guest’s tardiness, so I said: “No, no, please—don’t apologize. In fact, you know what, thank you for being late!”

Because he was late, I explained, I had time for myself. I had “found” a few minutes to just sit and think. I had connected a couple of ideas I had been struggling with for days. So no apology was necessary. Hence: “Thank you for being late.”  

Your Written Response:

Option A: Are you a person who is frequently late for events or do you know such a person? Describe a situation in which being "late" has had a positive or negative result. Use specific examples to illustrate your point.

Option B: In light of our busy lives, do you find you need to give yourself “permission” just to slow down or to be alone with your thoughts? How valuable is “unstructured time” in your life? Use specific examples to illustrate your point.


The following excerpt is taken from Willie Young’s essay “Taking One for the Team: Baseball and Sacrifice.” Young is Assistant Professor of Theology at King’s College:

In baseball, sacrifice is central to teamwork. As Yogi Berra is believed to have said, “When you sacrifice, you stand beside your teammates, by putting them in front of yourself.” When writers extol the virtues of baseball – its team concept, its demand for trust and cooperation – sacrifice comes to the fore. Philosophically, sacrifice has meant to give oneself up on behalf of others, for the sake of a good. As Julia Kristeva writes, “Sacrifice is an offering that, out of a substance, creates Meaning for the Other and, consequently, for the social group that is dependent on it.” Sacrifice is an act by which someone renounces something, so as to achieve an end, thereby also forming a social group. In baseball, such sacrifice can take many forms: a sacrifice fly, advancing to draw a throw so a runner may score, or pitching deep into a ballgame to let the bullpen rest. A batter may let himself be hit by a pitch, to give his team a baserunner; or, if an opposing team pitches the batter inside, a pitcher may throw at the opposing team, risking ejection or retaliation to protect the other players.

Your Written Response:

Option A: Describe a sacrifice that you have made for “the sake of a good.” In what ways did others benefit from your sacrifice? Use specific examples to illustrate your point.

Option B: Do you agree that “sacrifice is central to teamwork”? Describe a situation from your life or from popular culture that proves your stance and explain why it does so. Use specific examples to illustrate your point.