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Upon entering college composition courses, students often report a dislike for writing. Because researchers report that writing anxiety may be linked to high-stakes writing exams, a study of graduates of New York high schools was conducted to investigate whether the state's Regents Comprehensive Examination in English shapes attitudes or assumptions about writing. For this study, first-year writing students responded to a prompt that asked them to reconstruct an essay they wrote for the exam, as well as their feelings before, during, and after writing the essay. Evidence suggests that most students strongly dislike taking the exam. Preparing for and responding to it may impart lessons contradictory to objectives of many first-year writing programs. Most students report critical engagement with the test question but suppress critical commentary in their official responses so as to please the imagined graders, whom most students conflate with the specific audience posited by the question. The study indicates that open-form, experimental writing about standardized writing exams at the outset of the semester may help students transform resistance to writing from a general feeling to an attitude associated with a particular memory and, thus, may help clear the air for the work of college-level writing.