The Reading Comprehension, Critical Thinking, & Writing Skills ("RTW") Exam

On this Page:

About the RTW
Grading Scheme for the RTW
When to Take the RTW
Preparing for the RTW
Practice Questions and Answers 


Spring 2024 Admission Cycle (for 2024 Autumn Quarter Admission to ECON) Updates:
The Undergraduate Programs Application for the Spring 2024 cycle is now closed. Application results were sent to each applicant, via email, on May 6th, 2024.

Autumn 2024 Admission Cycle (for 2025 Winter Quarter Admission to ECON) Updates:

The Undergraduate Application and the RTW Registration for the Autumn 2024 Admission Cycle are not yet open. As soon as updates are available, we can notify you via email -- Sign up to be notified! ( login required)

About the RTW

Why is the RTW part of the admissions criteria?

We believe that students admitted in our department should be able to intelligently analyze economics issues in addition to having a strong quantitative background.  We can easily evaluate the quantitative ability of our applicants through the courses they took and the grades they obtained. We continue to do so, admitting students with good quantitative skills. 

In the past, our admission process was biased excessively towards quantitative skills, but we feel that our students also need strong RTW skills to be successful. A student’s ability to read, comprehend, and write about a basic economic issue can be assessed through formal testing where a student reads a basic economic article and write a thoughtful essay about the article.  Students with lesser quantitative skills, but who can write a good essay, will now have a better chance to be admitted in the major because good RTW skills play a significant part in the successful completion of an economics degree.  On the other hand, students with strong quantitative skills can still be welcomed, and they can improve their RTW skills while in the major.

In the major overall, a student body where strong quantitative skills are complemented with good RTW skills will enrich the overall experience of all students.  Students with stronger quantitative skills will have the opportunity to interact with students with stronger RTW skills and vice versa. They will all acquire a broader understanding of the discipline, becoming more inquisitive and interested. This should result in more active contribution to class discussion.  By altering our admission requirements, we will be able to admit a more balanced group of students and improve the quality of the major.

With a strong balance of skills, our students will be in a stronger position when looking for jobs – they will be able to convey their analysis of main economic issues in a coherent manner to potential employers or graduate programs. Finally, their contribution to society, as economists, will be reinforced thanks to the fact that they will have learned to be critical thinkers.

Place of the RTW in our application process

The RTW essay provides an additional element for our admission committee to consider.  Some students’ GPA may make their application less competitive; however, their good performance on the essay shows their ability to express themselves in writing in a coherent manner. A good performance on the RTW may compensate for their lower GPA and hence strengthen their chance for admission to the economics major. Without the RTW essay giving these students the opportunity to show their reading comprehension, analytical thinking, and writing abilities, some students may have previously been rejected. We intend to correct this anomaly by having students write a short essay in response to a prompt and consider their score as part of the application package.

 In our admission process, we consider a student’s GPA and examine their performance in the pre-requisites courses and other classes taken; the score on the RTW provides additional information, as does the personal statement.  As mentioned above and emphasized again, students whose GPA would have jeopardized their admission can now increase their chances of getting into the economics major by writing a strong essay. Likewise, a student with a strong GPA along with strong quantitative skills may have a good chance of being admitted even with a weaker performance on the RTW; however, if this student is planning to pursue studies that includes research in economics, we would expect this student to hone their writing skills. Students receiving scores below 3 will not be admitted except in very rare/unique situations.  

 The RTW and personal statement serve different purposes.  The RTW examines your reading comprehension, critical thinking, and writing abilities.  The personal statement is the forum to discuss your interest in the major and any outside issues.  Please refer to the personal statement prompt. 

Grading scheme for the RTW

We include below a grading scheme that will be followed by the various scorers to evaluate your essay -

Grading scheme: 0 to 6

 3 criteria used by the graders:

  1. understanding the issue(s) in the article and being able to convey them in writing. (The economic issues presented are at the ECON 200-201 level.)
  2. composing a coherent and well-organized response to answer the questions.
  3. using strong spelling, grammar, and style in your writing.

 6 - Outstanding
Perfect or near perfect score on all three criteria
deep understanding of the economic issues raised in the article - essay is consistently coherent, imaginative, and well-written - very few mistakes

5 - Strong
One or two of the criteria is slightly weaker
the economic reasoning is not always correct – or the essay is not always coherently constructed - or there may be several serious grammatical mistakes

Both scores 5 and 6 correspond to very good essays predicting a good understanding of the material covered in the course of the student’s studies in economics.

4 – Satisfactory
Slightly weaker on all three criteria
adequate competence in all criteria: the economic reasoning is not always correct – and  the essay is not always coherently constructed -  and there are several serious English mistakes

3 – Adequate
Weak on one criteria
poor performance on one of the criteria: there are mistakes in the economic reasoning – or the essay is not very coherent  - or the grammar/style is weak

Both scores 3 and 4 are acceptable and the student is passing the test.

Students receiving scores below 3 will not be admitted except in very rare/unique situations.  

2 – Weak
Unsatisfactory score on one criteria and weak score on the other two

1 – Poor
Unsatisfactory score on two of the three criteria and weak score on the other

0 – Inappropriate
Does not address the essay question or is illegible 

When to take the RTW:

  • The RTW should generally be taken at the cycle for which you plan to submit your application. For example, if you plan to submit your application at the start of Winter quarter, then plan to take the Winter RTW in January.
Admission Cycle Application Deadline For admission to ECON starting... Take the RTW offered in...
Autumn 2nd Friday, Autumn Quarter Subsequent Winter Quarter Autumn (typically late-September/early-October)
Winter 2nd Friday, Winter Quarter Subsequent Spring Quarter Winter (typically early-January)
Spring 2nd Friday, Spring Quarter Subsequent Summer or Autumn Quarter Spring (typically late-March/early-April)
There is NO Summer Admission Cycle available during the Summer Quarter.
  • Your first application to the Economics major should correspond to your first RTW attempt.
    • For example: For students applying in the Spring admissions cycle, the Spring RTW should be completed. A student may complete a Winter RTW in preparation for the Spring admission cycle. However, if a student completes the Winter RTW and Spring RTW, then only the first attempt will be considered with the first application.
  • Applicants are limited to one attempt of the RTW per application cycle.
  • If your application to the major has previously been denied, you can choose to either take the RTW again and use the new score, or keep your current RTW score from your most recent application.
  • Students applying to switch from the Bachelor of Arts to the Bachelor of Science do not need to retake the RTW.

Preparing for the RTW:

Strategies for taking the RTW

Read the article carefully, outlining the main points. 

Read the essay questions and make sure to address ALL of them.

Connect in your mind the essay questions to the main points in the article.

A good essay will have some kind of introduction and conclusion sentence along with smooth transition between points.  The essay should flow logically. Be sure to pay attention to your grammar and sentence structure, and write in your own words.  Avoid using slang, familiarities, nor contractions.  Unless mentioned in the article, spell out any abbreviations into full words. 

Write in your own words, do not paraphrase or copy any sentence verbatim. 

Style: do not use slang, familiarities, nor contractions.  Unless mentioned in the article, spell out any initials into full words.

Do not use graphs, tables, nor equations.

The article will have some economic content at a level a student who would have taken the introductory economic courses can understand – you may elaborate on specific economic issues thus demonstrating your deeper knowledge, but not at the expense of omitting some of the essay questions.

Never forget the actual purpose of the essay:  checking your RTW skills.
Reading Ability:  you must demonstrate that you understood what you read.
Analytical Thinking:  you must show that you are able to use your understanding of the article to compose a well-argued and logical essay that answers the questions.
Writing Skills: you must be able to put together a congruent and well-written essay.

The RTW and personal statement serve different purposes.  The RTW examines your reading comprehension, critical thinking, and writing abilities.  The personal statement is the forum to discuss your interest in the major and any outside issues.  Please refer to the personal statement prompt on the application form. 

Feedback from past graders

  1. The prompt

- Students sometimes do not understand the economic significance of the prompt they have read or simply misinterpret it. Hence either they are not able to produce an explanation for what they have just read or they come up with an explanation that is, simply put, false.

- If there are two parts to a question, many students often answer only one part and then it is hard to judge their essay accurately.


  1. Too much of the essay is devoted to summarizing the article and not enough to answering the prompt

- Students just summarize the article - this is especially visible in macroeconomic essays.  Even if sentences are not copied from the essay, they are often merely paraphrased and there are hardly any original thoughts.

- In the end, they conclude by answering the question in 1-2 sentences.

- Sometimes after writing a decent summary of what they have read in the article, students don't have enough time left to provide their own ideas. Hence they submit unfinished pieces.

- Usually (around 70 percent of the students), after summarizing, students would write two to three sentences of their own to answer the questions in the article.


  1. Grammar, language and sentence structure

-  A lot of students have difficulty explaining themselves. Sometimes it is hard to understand what they are trying to put forward either because they are not setting up their sentences right or they aren't using the right words.


  1. Content

- Students do not use economic concepts and logic to make arguments. Mostly, they use discussions and opinions floating around the internet and social media about issues. 


  1. Some advice concerning the lack of originality in essays

- To help with original idea generation, I would suggest students evaluate the article using relevant economic theories that are related to the article, but sometimes not explicitly mentioned in the text. Or even if the theories are mentioned in the text, rather than simply restating the theory in everyday language, use vocabulary obtained in courses to show that you formally understand the economic theory, and expand on this by comparing the outcome of the event to what economic theory would tell us, or predicting the outcome of the event using the theory. 

-  Also, when the response questions ask for an opinion, again use economic theory (even if the answer is based on your social or personal preferences.) Many times, students answer emotionally or socially what they feel rather than grounding their response in theory. Although I believe it is fine if their social opinion does not coincide with economic theory, the student should be able to portray their knowledge of economics, and then afterwards, if necessary, state their personal opinion. 


Practice RTW questions and answers (including grader feedback):