Writing Skills Assessment (WSA)
The 90-minute assessment consists of two handwritten essays – a persuasion task and a position task – that students write in response to prompts. We encourage you to prepare as best as you can by reviewing the study guide and taking the online practice test, or by attending an in-person workshop.
The online study guide and practice assessment are designed to help you practice the Writing Skills Assessment (WSA) before actually taking the exam. We offer some tips and strategies to help before you begin to write, and then offer two sample questions—one persuasion task and one position task—that you can respond to.
We have also included our scoring guide. Once you have an understanding of how the scores are formed, you should be ready to try scoring your own practice essays. Knowing the scoring guide (see the step 2 tab) will also help you understand how and what to write to earn the highest score possible.
Step 1: Get Started
How to ace a writing assessment test
OK, to be honest, it’s not technically possible to fail such a test because we all have personalities. But I didn’t do well on it and it really didn’t capture anything significant about my skills or character. When the consultant (not a psychologist, incidentally) looked at my results and earnestly suggested I join a Toastmaster’s club, I knew he was way off base. The test hadn’t ascertained that I’d been a championship-level debater and had no fear or trouble with speaking in public.
That’s the problem with these tests. Depending on how they’re written and who conducts them, they often over-extrapolate and may come to particularly whacky conclusions. In my series of tests — which were designed to gauge suitability for future promotion — the person who earned the highest score was widely viewed by staff as difficult and untrustworthy. (Indeed he was. Fortunately, the company never did promote him, despite his stellar marks.)
First, such tests are likely to examine spelling. I know, this says nothing about intelligence — instead, it relates strictly to visual memory. (It’s also not a particularly useful skill if you use Spellcheck and know your homonyms.) I was born without many spelling skills, but I’m pretty good at it now because I’ve worked as a writer and editor for more than 35 years. I know that accommodate always has two Cs and two Ms and that gauge is spelled with the A first. For several years as a reporter I spelled definitely as “definately” until an editor told me I definitely had a problem with definitely, and his stern reminder has stuck.
If spelling doesn’t come naturally to you, get some help. To make the task more manageable and because tests typically don’t go much beyond the obvious, focus on the most commonly misspelled words. Here’s a good list of the top 100. Learn them!
I reviewed this chart and discovered an error that I’ve been making my entire life: bellwether. I had always thought it was bellweather, with an A. (This word is used during elections in parliamentary democracies, and “bellwether ridings” are close contests — that might easily go any way. In such a riding, however, the winner typically belongs to the party that wins the entire election.) Whenever I heard the term, bellwether, I’d always pictured a buoy floating in the water, changing direction with the wind or tide. Thus, the connection to weather made sense to me. Turns out, however, that a wether is a gelded (castrated) ram that wears a bell and thus leads his flock. I’ll never forget this and never make that mistake ever again.
Grammar is another skill that writing tests are likely to examine. Again, don’t stress yourself out trying to become another William Strunk or E.B. White. Save time by focusing on the most common grammar errors. Here’s a good list, and another one. Between them they highlight 45 grammar errors. (Some of the items on the two lists are the same but many are different.)
The most common error I spot in business writing relates to the misuse of affect vs. effect. Grammar Girl Mignon Fogarty suggests an interesting way of learning the difference. Memorize the following two sentences, she suggests: “The arrows affected Aardvark. The effect was eye-popping.”
Here’s her reasoning: Affect is almost always a verb and effect is always a noun. “It should be easy to remember that affect with an A goes with the A-words, arrow and aardvark,” she says. “And effect with an E goes with the E-word, eye-popping.” If you can visualize the sentences, it’s easy to see that affect with an A is a verb and effect with an E is (usually) a noun.
Another aspect of writing that assessment tests are likely to measure relates to proofreading. How much skill do you have at that? Here’s a link to my own article on 10 ways to become a better proofreader. The best tips for testing purposes are likely 6, 7 and 10. The last one — reading your work aloud — is the most important and useful. This is because we all read faster when we read silently. Making yourself read aloud forces you to work at a pace better suited to proofreading.
Ironically, many so-called writing tests may never ask you to write (because they will be time consuming to mark), but if they do, you might want to consult this article. One tip the writer doesn’t mention but that I find particularly important to business writing relates to unclear use of the word its.
This third and final category is very broad and may contain different kinds of exercises. It is designed to assess your reading comprehension skills, such as grammar, spelling, and punctuation, which are essential for jobs requiring you to write reports or report written data. It also assesses your general grasp of the English language. Here are the different topics and exercises that may appear in the CBT exam.
Punctuation is the use of symbols such as full stops or periods, commas, question marks, and parentheses, to divide written words into sentences and clauses and thus clarify their meaning.
Free Sample Question
Free Sample Question
“Lithium metal batteries (a.k.a.: non-rechargable lithium, primary lithium) are often used in cameras and other small personal electronics. Consumer-sized batteries (up to 2 grams of litium per battery) may be carried.”
Free Sample Question
“Medications in pill or other solid forms must undergo security screening. TSA allows larger amounts of medically necessary liquids, gels, and aerosols in reasonable quantities for your trip, since you must declare them to TSA officers at the checkpoint for inspection. This includes over the counter medications such as cough syrup or heartburn medication.”
Answer B is correct. The use of the word “since” in the sentence is not logical as it is used to introduce an explanation, whereas the word “but” is a linking word used to connect contrasting ideas, as is the case in the above exercise.
Free Sample Question
Free Sample Question
- Passenger names are also compared against a longer list of “selectees”; passengers whose names match names from this list receive a more thorough screening before being potentially allowed to board.
- At last, at the airport security checkpoint, passengers are screened to ensure they are not carrying prohibited items.
- The effectivity of these lists has been widely criticized on the basis of errors in how they are maintained, over concerns that the lists are unconstitutional, and over their ineffectiveness at preventing Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who attempted to detonate plastic explosives in his underwear, from boarding an aircraft.
- Passenger names are compared against the No Fly List, a list of about 21,000 names (as of 2012) of suspected terrorists who are not allowed to board.
Answer C represents the best organized paragraph. The first thing to do when attempting to solve these exercises is to read all the sentences and see if you can easily identify the introduction, supporting or closing sentences. Sentences 1 and 3 both correspond to the No Fly List described in sentence 4. Sentence 1 adds information about an additional list, whereas sentence 3 describes criticisms that have been raised regarding the effectivity of these lists. Sentence 2 adds more information about the passenger screening process, directly continuing sentence 3. The “At last” indicates that this sentence refers to the end of the paragraph.
Passenger names are compared against the No Fly List, a list of about 21,000 names (as of 2012) of suspected terrorists who are not allowed to board. Passenger names are also compared against a longer list of “selectees”; passengers whose names match names from this list receive a more thorough screening before being potentially allowed to board. The effectivity of these lists has been widely criticized on the basis of errors in how they are maintained, over concerns that the lists are unconstitutional, and over their ineffectiveness at preventing Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who attempted to detonate plastic explosives in his underwear, from boarding an aircraft. At last, at the airport security checkpoint, passengers are screened to ensure they are not carrying prohibited items.
Sentence completion assesses your ability to complete a sentence that is missing one or more words. The propositions include misspelling, verb tense mistakes, or grammatical errors.
Free Sample Question
“Being a TSO offers flexibility and endless __________ within TSA and with other agencies as well. One’s progression isn’t defined solely by ______ title but by the positive work and impact they are making”.
The correct answer is A. Being a TSO offers flexibility and endless opportunities within TSA and with other agencies as well. One’s progression isn’t defined solely by their title but by the positive work and impact they are making.
Tips and Tricks
- The best way to prepare for these types of questions is by completing exercises that will help you remember the different tenses, grammar, and spelling rules. The practice pack we offer contains hundreds of exercises with explanations that will allow you to practice effectively.
- As with the vocabulary questions, reading a lot of different types of texts can greatly improve your grammar and spelling, as well as your understanding of the use of different tenses. For free sample question, you can browse the TSA blog for a few minutes every day before your test. This will not only allow you to practice your reading comprehension skills for the exam but will also allow you to become acquainted with important information about the organization, details about a TSO’s work, and implications on airport security. If you are interested in doing so, you can find the TSA blog here.
- Practice writing correctly on a day-to-day basis, even when communicating by text messages or email. This will help you maintain accurate written communication skills, which is exactly what is required of you on this exam.