Oral Proficiency Requirement for International TAs

The Test of Oral Proficiency (TOP) Requirement

What is the TOP requirement?

This oral proficiency requirement was established by the UCLA Graduate Council and its purpose is to determine whether an international graduate student is linguistically ready to teach and interact with undergraduates effectively. This requirement only applies to international graduate students who plan to work as TAs.

According to the UCLA General Catalog: “Nonnative English-speaking international graduate students who plan to work as teaching assistants (TAs) are required to take the Test of Oral Proficiency (TOP), which is administered by the Center for the Advancement of Teaching (CAT). Students who do not plan to work as teaching assistants do not need to take the TOP.”

To learn more regarding TA eligibility and the hiring of international TAs, read section E “Oral English Proficiency” under “Basic Qualifications for ASEs and GSRs” in the UCLA Academic Apprentice Personnel Manual.

Can I submit a score from a different speaking exam instead of the TOP?

No alternative oral examination is accepted.

Is there any way to waive the TOP requirement?

Students who hold a bachelor’s degree from a U.S. institution are exempt from taking the TOP. However, those holding only a master’s degree from a U.S. institution are not exempt.

Can Writing Programs help me waive this requirement? Are you responsible for this policy?

The oral proficiency requirement for international TAs is a university policy, not a Writing Programs policy. We do not have the authority to exempt students either from taking the TOP exam or from completing a course if they have received a marginal pass.

Just to clarify, three different units on campus are responsible for carrying out the policy regarding the oral proficiency of international teaching assistants:

  • CAT (Center for the Advancement of Teaching) evaluates an international graduate student’s oral proficiency and readiness to be a TA through the TOP exam;
  • Writing Programs offers the ESL courses which are specifically designed to address the oral proficiency needs of international TAs;
  • Graduate Division is responsible for making sure that all TAs (international and domestic) have satisfied all TA eligibility requirements. They audit TA eligibility each quarter. Please consult Graduate Division for any exception to policy request.

The Test of Oral Proficiency (TOP)

How can I learn more about the TOP exam?

The TOP is administered through the Center for the Advancement of Teaching (CAT). The TOP website provides information about exam registration, the schedule, exam details, and how to prepare.

When should I take the TOP exam?

Entering graduate students who plan to work as teaching assistants in their first term at UCLA must arrive early enough to take the TOP before instruction begins. However, if you take it in time but do not pass it, or if you receive a marginal pass but do not enroll in an approved ESL oral skills course, you will not be eligible to TA that first quarter. The examination schedule and other information about TOP are available on the CAT TOP web page.

If you are a continuing student, please do not wait until right before you plan to TA to take the TOP exam (and any required coursework). Be proactive and make yourself eligible to TA as soon as you possibly can. Sometimes your department will need you to TA unexpectedly and if you have not satisfied the TOP requirement, you will not be eligible to accept the TA offer.

What happens if I don’t pass the TOP?

For students who receive a clear pass (7.1 or above) on the TOP, no coursework is required. Students who receive a marginal pass (between 6.4 and 7.0) are required to take an approved oral skills course either before or during their first term as teaching assistants. Students scoring 6.3 or below are not eligible to become teaching assistants and are encouraged to complete recommended ESL coursework before taking the TOP examination again.

Courses That Satisfy the TOP Requirement

What courses are offered for international TAs?

Writing Programs offers 4 graduate-level oral communication courses for ITAs (see below). There are no pre-requisites for any of these courses and they can be taken in any order. Any one of the four will satisfy the course requirement for students with a provisional/marginal pass on the TOP. These courses address fluency, pronunciation, and listening comprehension within the context of the American undergraduate classroom. Each includes opportunities to do microteaching demonstrations to practice these skills. These courses are not only good preparation for being a TA, they can also help you in your everyday interactions in English. Many students choose to take several courses, whether they are required to or not. Our program generally offers 2 of these courses per quarter.

  • ESL 310: Pronunciation for International Teaching Assistants
    This course focuses on accurate articulation of sounds, word stress, linking and other features of fluent spoken English with additional emphasis on comprehending typical undergraduate speech. Frequent audio and video recordings provide opportunity for self-review and individualized instructor feedback.
  • ESL 311: Classroom Communication for International Teaching Assistants I
    This course focuses on stress, rhythm, and intonation of fluent spoken English using videos and transcripts of actual teaching assistants. Communication patterns include introducing a syllabus, explaining a visual, handling questions, and interacting in office hours. Microteaching performances are video-recorded for self, peer, and instructor evaluation.
  • ESL 312: Classroom Communication for International Teaching Assistants II
    Like ESL 311, this course focuses on the stress, rhythm, and intonation of fluent spoken English using videos and transcripts of actual teaching assistants. However, ESL 311 is not requisite to ESL 312. In ESL 312, communication patterns include building rapport, giving instructions, handling questions, encouraging participation and organizing a lesson. Microteaching performances are video-recorded for self, peer, and instructor evaluation.
  • ESL 313: Presentation and Discussion-Leading Skills for International Teaching Assistants
    This course focuses on communicating effectively as a teaching assistant through interactive teaching demonstrations and student-led discussions of topics from one’s own field. Emphasis on presenting academic subject matter in a well-organized, interactive, and accessible way. Student performances are video-recorded for extensive self, peer and instructor evaluation.
When should I enroll in one of these courses?

Enrollment is generally limited to 18 students in order to provide the maximum opportunity for students to speak up in class and receive feedback. As a result, these courses can fill up fast so be sure to enroll as soon as you possibly can. If you are scheduled to take the TOP, enroll in a course even before you receive your score. REMEMBER: it will be much easier for you to drop one of these courses than it will be to add it after it is full so sign up early!

Who has priority to enroll in these TOP courses? Do I have to be a TA to enroll?

Occasionally students who do not plan to be TAs want to enroll in these courses because they are interested in improving their oral skills. While we welcome such students if there is space, we must first and foremost serve the needs of the students preparing to be TAs. If you are not planning to be a TA and there are students on the waitlist who must take the course in order to TA, you might be asked to postpone enrolling until a later quarter.

With this in mind, priority will be given to students who:

  • received a provisional pass on the TOP exam and have a TAship the same quarter.
  • received a provisional pass on the TOP exam and will TA in the following quarter.
  • took the TOP exam but did not receive either a clear pass or a provisional pass
  • want to prepare for the TOP exam but have not taken it yet.
  • received a clear pass on the exam but still would like to improve their oral skills.
What if the course I want to enroll in is full? What if I am on the waitlist—or worse, can’t even make it onto the waitlist?

If you are on the waitlist or even just hoping to get on the waitlist, please attend starting the first day of class. Other factors being equal, priority is given to students who have attended ALL class sessions (however, waitlisted students should be forewarned that attendance the first week does not guarantee a PTE if no one drops). If you received a marginal pass on the TOP and are teaching for the first time, PLEASE contact the instructor before the quarter begins and explain your situation so that we can try to accommodate you if possible.

Can I enroll after the 1st week? I just found out I’ll lose my TAship if I can’t take this class!

If you have only missed one or two days, an instructor might be willing to let you in. If you try to enroll any later than that, you will have certainly missed too much. These are highly participatory courses that move fast and it is not fair to you or to your classmates if you are permitted to miss more than one week of class in a 10-week quarter.

Let us be clear: it is your responsibility to complete your TOP requirement in a timely fashion. If you took the TOP exam, then your results state clearly whether you have a course requirement or not. It is your responsibility to complete that course either before you TA or while you are teaching for the 1st time. Just remember to enroll before the quarter begins, and to attend beginning week 1. If you wait until you have a TA assignment, it’s possible that both ESL courses offered that quarter will be full or they might both conflict with your schedule—which leads us to our next FAQ…

What if I have to take a course for international TAs but they both conflict with my schedule?

You may not enroll in any of these courses if they conflict with your schedule. If you have an overlap—even if it’s only 10 minutes per class—you may NOT enroll. These courses are participatory and you can’t just “get the notes” from another student. You need to be in class participating; that’s the only way to deepen your command of the language. If you are a TA and you are required to take one of these courses in order to keep your TA position, then you must re-arrange your other coursework. As stated previously, you are not permitted to miss all or part of any day because of a conflict with your TAship or your other courses. That’s why you need to enroll as soon as you receive your TOP results and not wait until you actually have a TA offer.

Who can I talk to about these courses and/or enrollment?

Please contact Laila Hualpa at lailah@humnet.ucla.edu regarding any questions you might have about these courses, enrollment, or your special circumstances.