Upper Division Composition Exam (UDCE) Information

The exam to challenge the upper-division composition requirement asks you to read a short passage on a topic of general interest and to write a responding expository essay in 90 minutes. Last year, for example, examinees responded to readings about food culture, the need for speed in modern life, and the potential benefits of suffering.

If you decide to take this challenge exam, you should do so as soon as you have accumulated 70 units. Do not wait until your final year or final quarters when you would not have time to take an upper-division class if necessary. A student may make only two attempts at passing the exam. If you do not pass on your first attempt, you may make an appointment with an exam counselor for guided feedback. You will then have the opportunity to take the exam once more.

Do not take this exam if you are currently enrolled in a course that satisfies the upper-division composition requirement for your college, as exam results will not be available until after the final add/drop deadline. Therefore, you should attempt the exam in quarters before you enroll in qualifying upper-division courses.

For information about your college's composition requirement, visit the writing requirements page, the UCD General Catalog, or consult your dean's office.


For the 2023-2024 academic year, we are planning to return to in-person administration. Check this site for any changes due to health requirements or other campus regulations.

Registration is required. Please note that registration closes one week before the exam. Students who miss the registration window are not allowed to take that exam administration. Students needing disability or religious accommodations must indicate so on their registration. Accommodation exam times will be arranged based on student and proctor availability. Religious accommodation exams will usually be administered the Monday after the posted exam date.  

Saturday, October 14, 2023 (Registration begins September 25th at 8:00 a.m. and ends October 6th at 12:00 p.m.)
Saturday, January 27, 2024 (Registration begins January 8th at 8:00 a.m. and ends January 19th at 12:00 p.m.)
Saturday, April 13, 2024 (Registration begins March 25th at 8:00 a.m. and ends April 5th at 12:00 p.m.)

Exam Times: 8:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 2:30 p.m. Pacific Time

Exam Locations: 1100 Social Sciences (Fall), TLC 1020 (Winter), Rock Hall (194 Chemistry) (Spring)


Register online here during the registration windows above.


Canceling your exam: You may cancel your exam on the UDCE website at the link provided. However, the most important aspect, should you decide not to take the exam (even late in the week or on Saturday), is, of course, making sure not to show up and attempt the exam. Any attempt at the exam, even for a few minutes, counts as a try. 

Cancel online here.

What to Bring to the Exam 

 In-Person Exams:

  • Your student ID
  • Pencils
  • White UDCE booklet (not a bluebook), available at the bookstore.
  • Remember, no sources, dictionaries, other internet sites, or collaboration are allowed


Since passing the examination fulfills the upper-division composition requirement, you must demonstrate advanced writing skills beyond technical correctness—the effective development and support of an analytic argument that responds directly to the question and the reading passage.

Students will not be able to see counselors to prepare for this exam, and we do not hold pre-exam workshops. Only students who are already confident in their writing ability should attempt the exam. This is a challenge exam and is therefore challenging. You are trying to show that you already possess the advanced writing skills of an upper-division class.

There is no quick way to develop such mastery of writing skills. To prepare for the exam, you might review principles of essay organization, paragraph development, and sentence construction and practice writing essays responding to brief articles of general interest. Some useful online writing resources are listed below.


Students with SDC accommodations must indicate their existing eligibility on their registration form. The Student Disability Center will then work directly with the exam coordinator to facilitate your accommodations, and you will receive a confirmation email the week before the exam. Note: If a student gets an accommodation, they must take the 11:30 exam.


Experienced writing instructors who commonly teach upper-division writing will score the exams. They score students’ focus on the topic question, thesis, organization, development of ideas, logic, use of specific and appropriate evidence, grammar, usage, and sentence structure. Each exam is scored by at least two instructors who do not see each other's scores. 

Non-passing essays tend to have one or more of the following problems: grammar errors; reliance on overly formulaic essay structures, i.e., the three-point thesis; lack of development with specific evidence beyond analysis of the text; failure to respond to the prompt.

This is the scoring rubric instructors use:

UDCE Scoring Rubric



You—and the dean of your college and the Registrar—will be notified of the results by e-mail approximately three weeks after the exam date.

You will not know your results by the drop/add deadline. Do not take the exam in a quarter you are signed up for a qualifying upper-division writing class. 

Useful Links


Upper Division Composition Exam Coordinator, udce@ucdavis.edu
University Writing Program