What is a writing test?

A sketch of a hand writing with a feathered pen behind a white background. The picture is in a round frame that is rainbow colored. A writing test is a short on-demand writing sample that applicants complete when they interview to work on Capitol Hill. Writing tests directly reflect tasks applicants will do as full-time staff members. Some things I’ve been asked to write for writing tests include letters to agencies, hearing proposals, social media posts, newsletter drafts, press releases, memos to senators, and constituent letters. Writing tests are unique to every position and every office. No two are the same. Here, I will go through some basic information about writing tests and share some strategies I’ve used to ace them over the years.

Each full-time job on Capitol Hill gets hundreds of qualified applicants. This applicant pool includes everyone from undergraduate college students to seasoned professionals with PhDs. Writing tests are great equalizers because they give everyone the same chance to showcase their skills and subject knowledge. Most tests are reviewed blind so an applicant with lived experience could do better on the writing test than someone with a Ph.D. I would encourage people with disabilities who are applying to work on disability issues for Capitol Hill to let their unique perspectives and lived experiences shine through their writing tests. Present yourself as a professional first and a disability advocate second, but never pull your punches when it comes to your policy priorities. This will help you stand out amongst the other impressive applicants.

Interning on Capitol Hill will give you an advantage on writing tests. Being an intern gives you a deep understanding of the balance of knowledge, empathy, and professionalism you must demonstrate to write for a member of Congress. It also exposes you to the finer details of Congressional writing. Congressional staff write on behalf of their members and therefore must adopt their styles and vocabularies exactly. They copy their members’ writing style down to their use of the Oxford comma. You will be expected to exhibit this skill in every writing test. Interns often draft constituent letters, press releases, social media posts, and other text and regularly receive feedback on their work. When these interns apply to staff assistant or legislative correspondent positions, they will already be prepared to ace writing tests that include this type of writing.

If you are not familiar with an office’s writing style, explore their website to find examples to inspire your writing test. For example, if you are tasked with writing a letter to an agency, look for a press release on the legislator’s official congressional (not campaign) website for a press release about a letter to an agency. This press release will have a link to the letter itself. Study the letter’s format, style, grammar, font, and tone. Try your best to emulate that on your writing test. Writing test prompts will not provide you with examples. It is your responsibility to research and then apply the appropriate style and content on your writing test.

Remember to spend just as much time researching the office’s legislative priorities as their writing style. Your style and content should fit seamlessly into the office you want to work for. If you find yourself bending your values a lot to write about the policy priorities of the office you are applying to, consider if this particular office is a good fit for you. Staffers work long hours for little pay, and it is not worth it unless your heart is behind your work.

Leave a Reply