What is the CUNY Assessment Test in Writing (CATW)?


The CUNY Assessment Test in Writing (CATW) is a standardized writing test that measures a student’s ability to do college-level writing in English. Entering first-year students take the test to determine their placement into English composition, ESL, or developmental courses. In addition, the CATW is used to determine when students are ready to exit from developmental writing courses and move on to college-level courses.

The term “standardized test” means that the test is given to all test takers in the same manner and under the same conditions; it is scored by trained readers using “standard” rules or criteria.

The CATW asks you to write an essay in response to a reading passage you are given and to show competency in five categories. The five categories, listed here, are discussed in depth starting on page 3. They are (1) critical response to a text; (2) explanation and support of ideas; (3) organization of a response that has a clear beginning, middle, and end; and two elements of language use: (4) sentence construction and word choice, and (5) grammar, usage, and mechanics.

The purpose of the CATW is to assess your skills in these areas to see if they are consistent with the instructional goals of college-level writing courses, and to assess your readiness for introductory college courses.

The learning skills taught in first-year college courses are reflected in the CATW, which assesses your ability to read, understand, and respond to a passage of 250-300 words. In the test, you are asked to:

  • identify key ideas within the reading passage
  • write a brief summary of the key ideas in the reading
  • demonstrate  basic critical thinking in response to these key ideas
  • identify a key idea in the reading passage and present a clearly written response to that idea
  • write an essay that is well organized and shows connections between ideas
  • support ideas with relevant personal experience, readings, schoolwork, and/or other sources of information
  • demonstrate competence in sentence construction, sentence variety, and word choice
  • demonstrate correct usage, grammar, and mechanics

The CATW uses a “scoring rubric,” which is a tool or method for scoring, to measure students’ writing skills. The CATW scorers are guided by the rubric so that each scorer will use the same standards or criteria as other scorers in the five categories of writing that are being assessed.