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 an expository essay responding to it in one hour and 30 minutes. Last year, for example, examinees responded to readings about self-publishing content on the internet, changing views of leisure and work time, and the decline of expertise in public life.  

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 senior year. A student may make only two attempts at passing the exam. If you do not pass your first attempt, you may make an appointment with a Composition Exam Counselor to find out why. Then, you have the opportunity to take the exam one more time. 

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 /about/college-writing-requirements see the UCD General Catalog, or consult your dean's office. 

How Covid-19 will Affect the Fall 2020 Exam

The October exam will likely be online, administered through Canvas. Students must register for the exam (see below), accept the invitation to the Canvas page, read the announcements on the Canvas page, and arrange a quiet room with a computer and reliable internet from 11:30-1 p.m. Pacific Time. We suggest logging in 15 minutes before the start time. Students logging on late will not be given extra time. Canvas will not accept exams submitted after the due time.

As with the paper exam, no sources, dictionaries, or collaboration are allowed. You are using your computer solely to write your exam in the Canvas window, and you should not visit any other sites during the exam administration. Academic dishonesty will be reported to Student Judicial Affairs (OSSJA).

Please also note that the fall exam is administered on the second weekend of the quarter and that registration opens a week before the start of the quarter.


Please note that all dates and locations are tentative, and may change based on the campus response to local and state health requirements.

Students who miss the registration window will not have their exams scored. Registration is required. Please note that registration closes one week before the exam.  

Saturday, October 10, 2020 (Registration begins on September 21st at 8:00 a.m. and ends October 2nd at 12:00 p.m.)
Saturday, January 23, 2021 (Registration begins on January 4th at 8:00 a.m. and ends January 15th at 12:00 p.m.)
Saturday, April 24, 2021 (Registration begins on April 5th at 8:00 a.m. and ends April 16th at 12:00 p.m.)
Exam: 11:30 a.m. PST

We suggest logging in 15 minutes before the start time. No makeups or alternate times/dates are available under any circumstances, including emergencies or technology issues. You will need to agree to these terms ahead of taking your exam. 

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 be administered the Friday before the posted exam date. Location TBA. 


Fall Quarter: Online, via Canvas
Winter Quarter: Rock Hall
Spring Quarter: Rock Hall


Register online here during the registration windows above.


Cancel online here.

What to Bring to the Exam

  • A computer with strong access to the internet during the exam window; do not try to take the exam on your phone.
  • Your UCD Kerberos login credentials (confirm ahead of time that you can access the Canvas site)
  • Remember, no sources, dictionaries, other internet sites, or collaboration are allowed
  • (You do not need a webcam or microphone to take the exam on Canvas)

 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 to 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 prep for this exam. 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 covered by 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 in a good writing handbook and practice writing essays responding to brief articles of general interest. On-line writing resources are listed below.


Students with disabilities must contact the Student Disability Center (SDC) (530-752-3184). After the SDC evaluates the accommodation need, contact Joe Horton (udce@ucdavis.edu) to set up an exam time. Accommodations and appointments must be set up in advance of the exam dateAny items other than a computer (e.g. ear plugs) are the student's responsibility. 


Experienced writing instructors commonly teach upper-division writing will score the exams, assessing 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 score. 

Failing 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.

UDCE Scoring Rubric


You (and the dean of your college and the Registrar) will be notified of the results by e-mail approximately two weeks after the examination date. (Again: you will not know your results by the drop/add deadline in that quarter.)

Useful Links


Joe Horton, udce@ucdavis.edu
University Writing Program