FAQs about the Writing Exam

You can access the Writing Exam here.

Exam Schedule




Taking the Exam


Technical Issues




When can I take the exam?

All students are assigned to take the exam during the June Exam Window, which opens on Thursday, May  30 at 10 a.m. and closes on Thursday, June 13 at 2 p.m. (all times are Eastern Daylight Time). 

You may log in at any time during those dates and begin the exam. Since the placement exam is online, you will be able to access the exam anywhere you have an Internet connection. 

What if I cannot take the placement exam in the assigned June Exam Window? 

If you are unable to take the exam during the June Exam Window, you may petition to take the exam in the Make-up Exam Window, which opens on Tuesday, July 9 at 10 a.m. and closes on Tuesday, July 16 at 2 p.m. (all times are Eastern Daylight Time). To petition for reassignment to the Make-up Exam Window, please go to the Online Placement Exams Registration Application

What if I cannot take the placement exam in the June or July Exam Windows?

Students are expected to take their summer placement exams during the available dates. In exceptional circumstances, the Writing Program may grant extensions to students who have legitimate unavoidable conflicts with those dates. To petition for an extension to the two Writing Exam windows, please go to the Online Placement Exams Registration Application. Please note that petitions will be granted only for exceptional circumstances. 

What happens if I start my exam with fewer than 72 hours before the deadline?

All deadlines for each placement exam window are final. If you begin the exam with fewer than 72 hours remaining in the exam window, your essay is still due no later than the stated deadline; you will have less time in which to complete the readings and write your essay.

  • Students in the June Exam Window must begin the exam no later than Monday, June 10 at 2 p.m. in order to receive the benefit of the full 72 hours. Students who log in to receive the readings and the prompt after June 10 will still need to complete the exam before it closes on June 13.
  • Students in the Make-up Exam Window must begin the exam no later than Saturday, July 13 at 2 p.m. in order to receive the benefit of the full 72 hours. Students who log in to receive the readings and the prompt after July 13 will still need to complete the exam before it closes on July 16. 

What happens if I start my exam in one exam window and can’t finish it?

Clicking on the page within the placement exam where you access the Writing Exam sources and the prompt begins your 72-hour window; you must finish the Writing Exam within that window. Students may not begin the exam in one exam window and then postpone completing the exam until a later window. 

What is the difference between the exam in June and the exam in July?

The Make-up Exam Window is an alternate set of dates for students who have an unavoidable conflict with the June Exam Window. The type of essay students will write is the same; the collection of sources students will read for the Make-up Exam is different.




Why do I need to take the Writing Exam?

The Writing Exam measures the preparation in analytical writing that students have received before enrolling at Harvard. The exam allows the Writing Program faculty to determine the appropriate beginning course for each student: Expository Writing 20 (the one-semester course that fulfills the Expository Writing requirement) or Expos Studio 10, designed for students who will benefit from an introductory course before Expos 20. Students recommended for Expos 20 may also fulfill the Writing Requirement by taking Humanities 10a and 10b, a two-semester reading- and writing-intensive course. The two semesters must be taken consecutively during freshman year to meet the requirement. For more information about the course, please see the Arts and Humanities website. For further information on Expos 20 and on course topics, please see the Expos 20 pages on our website. For examples of Expos 20 course topics, please see the Spring 2019 Expos courses page. For information about Expos Studio 10, please see the Expos Studio 10 page on our website. Courses for Fall 2019 will be posted in mid-August.

If I have advanced scores on standardized tests, do I have to take the Writing Exam?

All incoming students must take the Writing Exam. Scores on standardized tests cannot be used instead of the Writing Exam for placement in Expository Writing courses. Exam scores also cannot be used to meet the expository writing requirement.

When will I get the results of my placement exam?

Your placement recommendation in Expository Writing will be available on your my.harvard page in late August. The Writing Program will also send an email notifying those students who are recommended for Expos Studio 10 so that they may attend an individual advising session about the course before deciding whether to enroll. 




How do I access the exam?

Starting May 30, you will be able to access the Writing Exam here. You will use your HarvardKey to log in.

How long should my exam be?

Your essay should be about 1000 words in length, and no longer than 1200 words. We will stop reading each student’s essay at the 1200 word limit. 

What citation format should I use when I write my essay?

The placement exam program will not recognize formatting for footnotes. Please use an in-text citation format: when you are quoting or paraphrasing from the sources, put the relevant page number in parentheses at the end of the sentence. For example, a citation from p. 200 in a source by John Harvard would read (Harvard 200). (For further examples of in-text MLA citation format, consult the Harvard Guide to Using Sources.)

What if I need accommodations for the placement exam due to disabilities?

Students with a documented disability may be eligible for accommodations on the placement exams. To request accommodations for an online or on-campus placement exam, you must be approved in advance by the Accessible Education Office (aeo@fas.harvard.edu).

Should I study for the placement exam?

No. The Writing Exam is intended to measure your preparation in analytical writing. The academic writing you have done before coming to Harvard serves as your preparation for the Writing Exam.




What if I have technical difficulties while taking the Writing Exam?

For questions about technical problems while taking the exam, please send an email to ithelp@harvard.edu

I’m trying to copy and paste my essay into the exam page, and it won’t work. What should I do? 

A right-click copy/paste might not work well with some browsers. Keyboard commands should work (Ctrl-C  Ctrl-V for Windows, Cmd-C  Cmd-V for Mac). It may also help to try accessing the exam site from a different browser, or to clear the cookies/cache from your current browser. In some cases, it can also help to try using a different machine.   

I can’t download the sources from the exam page. What should I do?

When downloading sources within the exam, please click on one source, download/save it to your computer, close it, and then click on the next source. Clicking on multiple source links at one time may result in only one source downloading. Please be aware that some of the source links may require a few minutes to load; we appreciate your patience, and please click only once. 



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