Language assessments - information for students

The language assessment is designed to evaluate your oral English proficiency. The language assessment process ensures that every international graduate student meets the expectations for oral English proficiency defined by the Office of the Provost so that you experience the greatest possible success in your teaching, studies, and research at Cornell.

About the assessment | Appointment details | Preparing for your assessment | Assessment results

Who needs to participate in a language assessment?

The Office of the Provost requires all first-time teaching assistants from countries where English is not the first language to demonstrate a minimum level of oral proficiency via a language assessment. This policy does not apply to DACA students.

Language assessments are conducted throughout the year (calendar of upcoming dates). For more information on who needs to participate in a language assessment and whether or not you qualify for an exemption, please visit the Graduate School's webpage on English Language Proficiency Requirements.

About the assessment

The assessment is an online, individual meeting with a consultant, based on the OPI, which provides a reliable, evidence-based evaluation of your oral English proficiency.

In the first part of the assessment, which is a conversational interview, we will discuss some of the topics you provided in the application. 

In the second part of the assessment, you will be asked to explain an introductory concept from your field, at a level understandable to an undergraduate student new to the field. You will need to give your explanation without the benefit of visual aids such as PowerPoint slides. However, you may use notes, provided you do not read directly from them. Although you will discuss a concept from your field, your teaching is not being assessed. Rather, this is an opportunity for you to talk about a topic with which you are familiar.

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Appointment details

The Graduate Field Assistant (GFA) in your department will communicate with you about when and how to schedule your assessment time. Prior to making an appointment, we encourage you to read the following helpful information: 

  • Plan for a thirty-minute appointment and sign up for one time slot at an appointment time you know you will be able to attend.
  • Once you sign up for an assessment you receive an automated email confirmation to your Cornell email. You will also receive an automated reminder 3 days prior to the appointment, and a final reminder one day prior to the appointment.
    • Final reminders are sent out from our assessors directly and will include a Zoom url for the appointment.
    • A department representative is always welcome to join our language assessments.
  • Time slots are booked very quickly and it may be difficult to reschedule. Please do your best to keep the appointment. If you cancel your appointment there is no guarantee that you may be able to reschedule. 

How to schedule a language assessment.

Department representatives

You are welcome to have a department representative accompany you at your assessment. Your GFA can provide more information about requesting a representative. Be sure to note the representative's name when you complete the application.


If you miss your appointment, or need to change it for any reason, you may try to reschedule your appointment during the current assessment period. To do so, click the manage my booking link in your confirmation email.

Retaking the assessment

If you are enrolled in ALS 5780 or ALS 5790, you will have an additional assessment opportunity as part of these courses. If you are not enrolled in one of the ITAP courses, you are are eligible to be reassessed once every twelve months.

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Preparing for your assessment

The best way to prepare for your assessment is to speak in English as much as you can, practicing the skills that you will need to demonstrate during the interview (e.g., telling stories, giving full descriptions, etc.). You may find it helpful to read the ACTFL proficiency guidelines to familiarize yourself with the test type and accuracy features of the level that you need to demonstrate.

Before the assessment we recommend you:

  • If you have not already done so, please fill out your application form. You can log into the system using your NetID to confirm that you have submitted the application. 
  • Log into Zoom and test the Zoom software in advance of the meeting. Your assessor will email you a Zoom link prior to your appointment.
  • In the second part of the assessment, plan to give a short (2-3 minutes) explanation of an introductory concept from your field, at a level understandable to an undergraduate student new to the field. Remember, your teaching is not being assessed and you may use notes but not read from them. 

Important details: 

  • If you are more than five minutes late, we will not have enough time to conduct your language assessment.
  • It may be difficult to reschedule missed appointments.
  • If a department member will accompany you to your assessment, please check in with your graduate field assistant before you reschedule.
  • To change your appointment, your confirmation email contains a link you can use to “manage your booking”. This option will not be available the day of your assessment.

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Assessment results

The ITAP team will notify your GFA of your result within 2 days of your assessment, and your GFA will share the result with you.

The assessment is evaluated by comparing your language sample with the criteria described in the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines - Speaking (Revised 2012). The minimum oral English proficiency level established by the Office of the Provost for teaching as a TA at Cornell is Advanced Low (Some departments require Advanced Mid).

The ACTFL has 5 levels of proficiency: novice, intermediate, advanced, superior, and distinguished. The lower levels each have 3 sub-levels: low, mid, and high. For more information on the levels and criteria for each one, please see the ACTFL proficiency guidelines.

For more information on interpreting assessment results, please see Understanding your language assessment results.

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