College Evaluates Expos 10

Haley E. Bowen ’14 had waited until the last possible day to write her expository writing placement essay. She had been in Brussels for the past eleven and a half months for her gap year, and all she wanted to do was “walk the streets of Brussels and drink a beer,” she says. Instead, Bowen argued for the morality of favoring family members in ethical decisions while listening to the “Pride and Prejudice” soundtrack and eating Nutella.

“[Prioritizing family members] is more socially acceptable,” she says, describing her logic, which stitched together arguments from Confucius to a fictitious story of a family on a boat.

The Expository Writing Program receives over 1600 of these types of essays over the summer—pieces that draw from sources ranging from “Moby Dick” to the Constitution. These essays are reviewed by two preceptors who will determine the first of many essay grades that these students will receive during their time at Harvard.

The majority of students receive a high enough score to enroll in Expository Writing 20: “Expository Writing,” the standard mandatory introductory writing course for freshmen.

But each fall, an increasing number of students—147 last fall—will opt to first enroll in Expository Writing 10: “Introduction to Expository Writing.” Some take the course as a result of a recommendation based on a low placement essay score, while others sign up out of a desire to improve their writing skills.


Many of these students say they graduated from the course as stronger writers. The course has received consistently high Q Guide rankings—receiving a 4.3 last year—with students extolling the class for preparing them for future writing pursuits.

“Coming out of Expos 10, I probably wrote the best essay of my life for my bioethics class,” Stephanie N. Regan ’13 says.

Indeed, the Standing Committee on Writing and Speaking, chaired by Dean of Undergraduate Education Jay M. Harris, is currently one year into its evaluation of whether the Expos 10 program prepares its writers to be successful both in Expos 20 and their future courses at Harvard.

Unlike its less popular counterpart Expos 20, which has garnered mixed reviews, students praise Expos 10 for offering a course structure that allows them to think critically and write with sophistication.


Harris’s committee is currently exploring the ability of Expos 10 to train its students to become stronger thinkers and writers.

At the start of the fall semester, 12 percent of the Class of 2014 were recommended to take Expos 10 based on their performance on the placement essay, but 24 percent of these students opted out of taking the course.

Expos 10 is currently divided up into two units: the first essay, “Analyzing an Argument,” allows students to study issues surrounding higher education, while the second essay, “Testing a Theory,” gives students the opportunity to think critically about art.

The committee will soon report on its findings and suggest modifications to the current curriculum.

“It’s basically—‘What’s working, how can we improve it?’” says Thomas R. Jehn, director of the Harvard College Writing Program. “Is Expos 10 doing all it can for students who go into [the class]?”


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