SPEAK FAQ

What is the SPEAK assessment?

The SPEAK assessment is an oral proficiency assessment that measures how well you understand and express yourself in spoken English. The key to remember is that test-takers are scored on how comprehensible they are, which usually revolves around how “natural” they sound. “Natural” does not mean perfect, but it does mean that the test-taker should be easy to understand even for a listener with little or no experience with non-native speakers. In the assessment, your responses to questions that you hear are recorded. The responses are then rated by trained evaluators.

The timed assessment consists of 12 short sections and takes 20 minutes. It is designed to evaluate your general language proficiency so you will be asked questions about many topics, including those unrelated to your field of study. You will listen to the exam through a microphone headset which records your responses digitally in a computer-based program. Once the exam begins, you must keep pace with the timed questions. A blue timer indicating the time allotted to prepare for each question appears on the computer. A red timer indicating the time allotted to respond to each question appears on the computer.

The SPEAK assessment is administered in a computer-based language-lab environment, and you will be speaking into a microphone on a headset. Other people will be in the room taking the assessment at the same time. When you practice, keep in mind this environment, which is different from speaking to a person or practicing in a quiet room alone.

Who needs to take the SPEAK assessment?

The SPEAK assessment is required for all international Ph.D. students who are non-native speakers of English who intend to teach undergraduates at Yale. Students must score a 50 before being offered a Teaching Fellow (TF) position at Yale. Some students may be waived from taking the SPEAK.

Who may be waived from taking the SPEAK Assessment?

Students may be waived in two ways: 1) by having received a baccalaureate degree, or its international equivalent, prior to matriculation at Yale, from a college or university at which English is the primary language of instruction; 2) by satisfactorily completing the Assessment of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL iBT), which is administered by ETS, or the International English Language Testing System (IELTS). A score of 26 or higher on the oral component of the TOEFL is considered to be satisfactory.

If neither conditions 1 nor 2 are met, the student must take the SPEAK assessment at Yale and score 50 or higher.

How do you define non-native speaker?

A speaker of a language other than English who has spoken that language as the primary language since childhood.

How often is the SPEAK assessment offered?

The assessment is given only three times a year: in August, November, and April. See the Graduate School Academic Calendar for exact dates.

How do I register for the SPEAK Assessment?

Approximately two weeks before each exam the English Language Programs sends registration information to Directors of Graduate Studies and Registrars in all departments. In most departments, the DGS forwards this information to each student. If you do not receive a registration form from your department within 7-10 days of the exam, or if you have other questions about registration, contact the English Language Program at 203-432-0594.

Where is the SPEAK Assessment given?

Each SPEAK assessment is given at the Center for Language Study, 370 Temple Street, Room 100.

How much does the SPEAK assessment cost?

Currently, there is no charge for a graduate student to take the assessment. However, the Graduate School will only fund a minimum of three (3) SPEAK Assessments. They will only fund additional assessments if the student is currently enrolled in an ELP course offered by the CLS. Otherwise after three (3) SPEAK assessments, the student may be responsible for the SPEAK assessment fee of $75.00.

If I take SPEAK and do not achieve the score I need, how soon can I take the assessment again?

We recommend that you improve your English for at least six months and that you enroll in courses offered by Yale’s English Language Programs to continue language training before the next assessment. If you have not taken an English Language Programs course or Individualized Instruction in the semester of the assessment, you may not be permitted to take the assessment.

Is there a limit to how many times I can take the SPEAK assessment?

There is currently no limit, but students who retake the assessment only when they feel they are well prepared and can perform will do best. Taking the assessment repeatedly without careful preparation can result in poorer performances as student anxiety levels increase with each failing performance. If you have failed previously and have not taken an English Language Programs course or Individualized Instruction in the semester of the assessment, you may not be permitted to take the assessment. The Graduate School will only fund three (3) attempts. The student must be currently in an ELP course in order for the Graduate school to fund additional attempts.

Are there assessment procedures that I need to observe?

Bring photo identification with you, such as a student ID card or a passport. You do not need to bring a pencil or paper for the assessment. Your answers will be digitally recorded for later scoring. Please do not bring unnecessary belongings. You will be asked to leave backpacks, bags and cell phones in a supervised office until you have completed the assessment.

What is the SPEAK assessment?

The SPEAK assessment is an oral proficiency assessment that measures how well you understand and express yourself in spoken English. The key to remember is that test-takers are scored on how comprehensible they are, which usually revolves around how “natural” they sound. “Natural” does not mean perfect, but it does mean that the test-taker should be easy to understand even for a listener with little or no experience with non-native speakers. In the assessment, your responses to questions that you hear are recorded. The responses are then rated by trained evaluators.

The timed assessment consists of 12 short sections and takes 20 minutes. It is designed to evaluate your general language proficiency so you will be asked questions about many topics, including those unrelated to your field of study. You will listen to the exam through a microphone headset which records your responses digitally in a computer-based program. Once the exam begins, you must keep pace with the timed questions. A blue timer indicating the time allotted to prepare for each question appears on the computer. A red timer indicating the time allotted to respond to each question appears on the computer.

The SPEAK assessment is administered in a computer-based language-lab environment, and you will be speaking into a microphone on a headset. Other people will be in the room taking the assessment at the same time. When you practice, keep in mind this environment, which is different from speaking to a person or practicing in a quiet room alone.

What kinds of questions appear on SPEAK?

There are several different forms of the SPEAK, but all have similar types of questions:

A warm-up with general questions. This section will not be scored. It is important, however, that the test-taker reply to the questions to make sure that the recording system is working properly.

A map-reading section, where the test-taker describes how to get from one place to another.

General questions about a hypothetical town, based on the map.

A story-telling section where the test-taker looks at a series of pictures and tells the story from the pictures.

Follow-up questions based on the story.

General opinion questions, often related to the test-taker’s field of study.

A chart or graph-reading section, where the test-taker explains the information given on a chart or graph.

Follow-up questions based on the chart or graph.

A schedule with modifications where the test-taker explains the schedule and the changes.

If I do not finish an answer or have extra time left and have nothing more to say, will I receive a low score on the SPEAK assessment?

Not necessarily. If you address the question well and run out of time, this will not affect your score. If you have extra time but have answered completely, again, this will not affect your score.

Suggestions for SPEAK test-takers during the assessment

Relax and get plenty of sleep the night before the test. Relaxed students tend to perform better on this exam.

Focus on being as natural-sounding as possible. It is better to sound smooth, even if you make a few pronunciation mistakes than to speak very slowly and haltingly with no pronunciation errors. Speaking clearly is better than speaking quickly; those who speak very quickly are harder to understand than those who speak smoothly but a bit more slowly.

Before the assessment

Talk in English as much as possible. Getting plenty of informal speaking practice will help you feel more relaxed and sound more natural.

Practice giving directions from a map, telling stories from pictures, and describing a chart or graph (see materials section below).

Practice with a timer so that you gain a feeling for how long 30 seconds, 60 seconds, and 90 seconds are.

Pay attention to the time allotted for each question. Bring a watch with a second hand so that you can see how much time you have left. Watches that beep are not allowed.

Listen to native speakers and notice how they communicate. How do they organize their ideas? What types of discourse techniques do they use? How do they adjust the formality of their language for different situations?

After the assessment

Relax and congratulate yourself.

Your score will be sent to your department within 7-14 days of the assessment. If you do not receive your score from your department within 10 days of your assessment date, first contact your department, then e-mail the English Language Programs at james.tierney@yale.edu. Scores will not be given over the phone.

What will my SPEAK results mean?

If you receive a score of 50 or above (Pass), you may be considered for a Teaching Fellow position. For scores below 50, you should continue language training according to the English Language Proficiency Pathways. Yale’s English Language Programs courses, offered during fall and spring terms, are described on our web site along with a recommended sequence of courses to follow.

Can I practice for the assessment?

Yes, practicing for the assessment will be very beneficial! Even if you feel your oral skills are good, you should practice. This type of assessment has a particular format which may be unfamiliar. Practicing will help you feel more comfortable on the day of the assessment. You can practice by taking the SPEAK Practice test at the Center for Language Study. This is normally held one week before the actual assessment.

Reading the information for the Test of Spoken English (TSE), a modified version of the SPEAK assessment, on ETS’s website. Note that while the TSE has listening comprehension questions, Yale’s versions of SPEAK do not.

Using the SPEAK assessment practice materials on reserve at the Center for Language Study, 370 Temple Street, which include:

  • SPEAK Official Practice Test Packet (CD of SPEAK and accompanying test booklets)
  • Practice Tests 1 and 2 from Toward Speaking Excellence (CD with recordings of each test, with pauses for students responses)
  • Practice Tests 1 and 2 booklets

Consulting the book Toward Speaking Excellence by Dean Papajohn. This guide is on reserve at the Center for Language Study, 370 Temple Street. Be sure to use the 1998 version of this book, not the new version. The new version has listening comprehension sections that students do not need to practice for the SPEAK assessment.

Who rates SPEAK assessments and how are they rated?

The SPEAK assessment is rated by qualified and trained language specialists. Each assessment is rated by at least two different raters, who have not taught you and do not know the score that each other rater has given to your assessment. The assessment is rated not only for pronunciation but for how well you address the question.

Have studies been conducted on SPEAK?

Yes, many studies have been done. You can see the abstract of one of them, for example, here.

If I pass the SPEAK assessment, should I continue to take English courses?

SPEAK is a minimum standard for teaching at Yale, so students are encouraged to continue taking courses for personal, professional, and career development. Funding varies by department. Review the English Language Programs website and the Graduate School Teaching Center or the Graduate School Career Center website for additional teaching and job search training and workshops.

What courses are offered for prospective Teaching Fellows who do not speak English as a native language?

Yes, there is a progression of courses that prospective Teaching Fellows can take to improve their English communication skills and prepare for the SPEAK assessment. Yale’s English Language Programs courses, offered during fall and spring terms, are described on our web site along with a recommended sequence of courses to follow.

Besides SPEAK, is there a way to satisfy the Teaching Fellow English language proficiency requirement?

Yes, under some circumstances students can take the Oral Performance Assessment (OPA2). In this assessment, the candidate teaches a brief lesson on a topic in his/her field, and holds a simulated office visit. It is rated by at least two raters and videotaped. For information about this exam and which students may qualify to take it, visit the Oral Performance Assessment (OPA2) information page.

Students may also take the TOEFL iBT at external testing sites and score 26 or higher.

Students who have a BA/BS from and English medium institution may also receive a waiver from the Graduate School prior to matriculation.