Santa Clara University

Modern Languages and Literatures department

Guidelines for Testers

Below is a description of our exams and some suggestions for those who are creating similar proficiency exams in other languages. We realize that the models below may not be easily adapted to all languages but we encourage you to use them as guidelines whenever possible. Ideally a proficiency exam will test all four skills: speaking, writing, reading, listening. Often, it is not feasible to test listening or reading comprehension but both speaking and writing ability must be assessed to fulfill the second language proficiency requirement.


  1. The speaking exam usually consists of a 10-15 minute oral interview in which the examinee must ask and answer questions on a variety of very simple subjects (see attached ACTFL Guidelines). At the novice and intermediate levels, a telephone interview is not appropriate. A role-play or situation which requires the examinee to ask 4-5 questions of the interviewer should be part of the oral exam.
  2. The writing exam should be short answer/essay/letter format. Students should be given no more than 60 minutes to write on 5 questions. Each writing sample should require an answer of 5-10 sentences. In some languages (Japanese, Chinese) writing lists of vocabulary may be an appropriate writing task although it only requires words or sentence fragments.
  3. The Department of Modern Languages and Literatures has reading exams in French, German and Spanish. They consist of short, edited excerpts from "real written sources" such as newspapers, magazines or internet articles intended for native speakers. Examinees are given 50 minutes to answer 35 simple multiple-choice or true/false questions in English about 12 different written texts ranging from 1- 4 short paragraphs in length. This format may need to be shortened or modified to test reading comprehension in other languages.

After the exam the tester needs to fill out a Result Report form. In this form the tester will enter the examinee’s data and the Proficiency Levels assigned based on ACTFL Proficiency Level Guidelines. The tester needs to send the form to the Coordinator of the Placement Testing Program, Maria Bauluz. Please click on Results Report to get a printout of this form.


For B.S (Natural Sciences and Math) and Business students need to have a Novice High level in all four skills. Here is a description of what students are expected to know in each skill.

  • Speaking skill: Students should be able to respond to simple questions on the most common features of daily life. Students may use memorized vocabulary and phrases to respond to questions such as: What is your name? Where are you from? Where do you live? What do you like or dislike? What type of food do you prefer? What do you see in this picture?
  • Writing skill: Produce lists and notes and limited formulaic information on simple forms and documents. Students should be able to communicate basic information.
  • Listening skill: Students should be able to ask questions or make statements involving basic material. Show signs of spontaneity although this falls short of real autonomy of expression. Speak continuously using simple vocabulary and learned phrases. Vocabulary centers on areas such as basic objects, places, and most common kinship terms. Pronunciation may still be strongly influenced by first language. Errors are frequent and, in spite of repetition, some Novice-High speakers will have difficulty being understood even by sympathetic interlocutors.
  • Reading skill: Students must have sufficient control of writing system to interpret written language in areas of practical need. Where vocabulary has been learned, can read for instructional and directional purposes, standardized messages, phrases, or expressions, such as some items on menus, schedules, timetables, maps

For B.A and B.S (Social Sciences) students need to have an Intermediate Low level in all four skills. Here is a description of what students are expected to know in each skill.

  • Listening skill: In this level students should be able to understand sentence-length utterances which consist of learned elements in a limited number of content areas, particularly if strongly supported by the situational context. Content refers to basic personal background and needs, social conventions and routine tasks, such as getting meals and receiving simple instructions and directions. Listening tasks pertain primarily to spontaneous face-to-face conversations. Understandings in both uneven; repetition and rewording may be necessary. Misunderstandings in both main ideas and detail arise frequently.
  • Speaking skill: Students should be able to handle successfully a limited number of interactive, task -oriented, and social situations. Can ask and answer questions, initiate and respond to simple statements, and maintain face-to-face conversation, although in a highly restricted manner and with much linguistic inaccuracy. Within these limitations, can perform such tasks as introducing self, ordering a meal, asking most elementary needs. Strong interference from native language may occur. Misunderstandings frequently arise, but with repetition, the Intermediate-Low speaker can generally be understood by sympathetic interlocutors.
  • Reading skill: Students should be able to understand main ideas and/or facts from the simplest connected texts dealing with basic personal and social needs. Such texts are linguistically noncomplex and have a clear underlying internal structure, for example, chronological sequencing. They impart basic information about which the reader has to make only minimal suppositions or to which the reader brings personal interest and/or knowledge. Examples include messages with social purposes and information for a wide possible audience, such as public announcements and short, straightforward instructions dealing with public life. Some misunderstandings will occur.
  • Writing skill: Students should be able to meet limited practical writing needs. Can write short messages, postcards, and take down simple notes, such as telephone messages. Can create statements or questions within the scope of limited language experience.
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