Frequently Asked Questions

• About the SPEAK Test

The SPEAK test is the institutional version of the Test of Spoken English (TSE). It is an oral test approximately 20 minutes in length. The SPEAK test is being offered as an alternative to the TSE for purposes of establishing eligibility for Teaching Assistant appointments for admitted applicants whose primary language is not English.

The Graduate Division and the Humanities Studio, working in cooperation with the Program in Academic English/ESL, the Humanities Dean's Office, and the Division of Undergraduate Education began offering the SPEAK exam as an alternative to the TSE in Summer 2000.

• Who is required to take the TSE or SPEAK test?

NOTE: Non-U.S. citizens who are permanent residents or hold other non-citizen status and are residing in the United States, who have completed their undergraduate education in the United States, or attended American schools abroad are still required to pass one of the English language proficiency examinations as noted.

The UCI Graduate Council policy states:

International and U.S. Permanent Resident graduate students who are not citizens of countries where English is either the primary or dominant language, as approved by the UCI Graduate Council, must pass one of the following English proficiency exams in order to be considered for appointment as a Teaching Assistant (TA) or Teaching Associate:

  • Test of English as a Foreign Language Internet-based Test (TOEFL iBT)

  • International English Language Testing System (IELTS)

  • UCI Campus  SPEAK Test

  • UCI Campus  TOEP – Test of English Oral Proficiency

Achieving a minimum score of 26 in the speaking portion of the TOEFL iBT, a score of 8 in the speaking component of the IELTS, a score of 50 on the SPEAK Test, OR a score of 5 on the TOEP satisfies the oral English proficiency requirement and may establish eligibility for a Teaching Assistant or Teaching Associate appointment. Students are responsible for ensuring that the Graduate Division is notified directly of their scores by the testing centers. There is no exception to this requirement.

• Can I Request an Exemption?

The following students are exempt from the English language proficiency requirement:

1) Citizens of the United States (regardless of country of origin)

2) Citizens of countries where English is either the primary or dominant language as approved by the UCI Graduate Council. Please contact the Graduate Student Employment Analyst in the Graduate Division for the list of countries that qualify for the exemption.

3) International and permanent resident graduate students whose native language is not English, who have completed all years of their high school education in the United States, are eligible to request an exemption by submitting a request and official high school transcripts to the Graduate Student Employment Analyst in the Graduate Division. No student is permitted to begin an appointment as a Teaching Assistant or Teaching Associate until the exemption has been approved in writing.

For graduate students who have an official TOEFL iBT or IELTS score report on file, a passing speaking section score will remain valid for a Teaching Assistant/Associate appointment beyond two years if the student has been continuously enrolled in a graduate program and taking classes every quarter without interruption. If a break in enrollment occurs (i.e. due to leave of absence, status lapse, etc.), or if there are English language proficiency issues during the teaching appointment (i.e. as demonstrated by student evaluations or faculty observations), the university reserves the right to require passage of a campus-based test before additional teaching appointments will be approved. (Source: Graduate Policies and Procedures, pp 26-27, updated 10/20/2017)

• Registering for the SPEAK Test

You may register for the SPEAK test online by clicking here. Registration is open on a     first-come, first-served basis approximately two weeks prior to the test administration, and is limited to the first 10 students to register, therefore it is in the student's best interest to register earlier in the registration period. Click here for a schedule

Registration for a test session closes the Friday before the test date (earlier for the summer test). Please read the message carefully at the end of the registration page. Print the registration page for your records; this is your confirmation.

The SPEAK test offered by University Extension as a placement tool is not valid for fulfilling the English language proficiency requirement for teaching assistants. Registering for their class is not the same as registering for the officially-recognized SPEAK test at UCI.

• Retaking the SPEAK Test

A 50 is considered a passing score. 

Students may take the SPEAK test only once per academic quarter if they meet the following conditions:

  • They receive a score of 40 or above on the first SPEAK test

  • They receive a score of 45 or above on any SPEAK test after the first test 

The policy of the UCI Graduate Council states that if you receive a score of 40 or lower on a second consecutive SPEAK test, you must enroll in and pass an ESL class prior to re-taking the exam, or show proof that you have worked independently on an approved program of activities to improve your speaking skills.

If you have taken the SPEAK and/or the TSE and have not passed, you may be eligible to take the TOEP. Please see the TOEP test information page for information regarding eligibility. 

We do not advise retaking any test of English language proficiency to qualify for TA eligibility until students have first taken an ESL course or workshop to improve their English skills.

• Where and when will I take the SPEAK test?

The exam will be held at the Humanities Studio located in 269 Humanities Hall.

Usually, six test sessions are given on one day for each SPEAK test administration. The SPEAK is offered during the 4th week of instruction of each quarter, with one additional administration approximately 3 weeks prior to Welcome Week in the Fall. 

You may sign up for only ONE (1) of the available sessions. You may not take the SPEAK test more than one time per academic quarter. No exceptions to this requirement will be considered.

• Exam Procedures

Exam Length:

  • The exam is about 20 minutes long and consists of 12 questions or tasks.

  • Check-in, exam instructions, and check-out can take an additional 10-15 minutes.  

  • Allow approximately 30-40 minutes for the entire examination procedure.

Check In Procedures: 

  • Be sure to arrive at least 10 minutes prior to your registered test time. 

  • Students arriving late will not be admitted.

  • You must present your UCI student ID, but a valid government-issued ID (such as a passport or driver's license) is also acceptable along with proof of UCI enrollment.

  • You must bring your receipt as proof of payment. 

  • Policy on late arrivals: If space permits, you may be re-assigned to a later test session, but this is not guaranteed. 

During the exam:

  • You will be given a test booklet and will be asked to listen to and answer recorded questions through a headset attached to a computer.

  • All of your responses will be recorded into a digital audio file on the computers in the testing room.

  • Note takiing will not be permitted during the exam. 

• Policy on no-shows for the exam

No-shows will forfeit the fee. Students who cancel at least 3 working days prior to the test will receive a refund of all but a small administrative fee. YOU MUST EMAIL THE SPEAK TEST COORDINATOR TO CANCEL AND REQUEST A REFUND. Emergency situations will be handled on a case-by-case basis and will require documentation of the nature of the emergency.

• For Students With Disabilities

If you need any accommodations due to a documented disability, please contact the test coordinator directly at least a week in advance of the test so that any necessary accommodations can be made. 

• What if I took the SPEAK test elsewhere?

Scores from SPEAK tests given at another institution will not be accepted. This includes the SPEAK test offered by University Extension for placement purposes. Likewise, UCI SPEAK scores are not valid at other institutions.

• What score do I need to be eligible to TA?

The exam is scored on a scale of 20-60 points. A passing score of 50 is needed in order to be eligible for a teaching assistantship at UCI. Consult with your major department to determine if a higher score is required.

• Whom do I contact for more information?

If you have any questions regarding the administration of the SPEAK exam, please contact Arianne Schultheis at For other questions about the English Language Proficiency requirement, contact your departmental Student Affairs Officer or the Graduate Division.

• Where do I find my score?

You may find your score one of two ways: 

The scores are posted to your Student Access account through the Registrar’s Office a few weeks after the test. You should see your score if you log in here:

Additionally, your department will be notified once scores are available. 

Please note, scores are generally available approximately three (3) weeks after the date of the test. 

• How is the test graded?

Each test is graded by two independent raters. The two scores are averaged, and rounded up or down to a whole score. Scores generally range from 20-60. A passing score is 50. 
Occasionally, if two scores are more than 10 points apart, your test will be sent to a third rater for an additional score. The two closest scores of the three are then averaged. 

• Are there other tests I can take to be eligible to TA at UCI?

Yes, you have a number of options including: 

Please click on the links above for more information regarding registration, test dates, and eligibility. 

*At UCI, a passing score of 26 is valid on the speaking section beyond two years. 

• Can I appeal my test score?

All test results are final. If you did not pass, you may request comments from prior tests by filling out the form here