Graduate Advisers and Graduate Coordinators are encouraged to read over our ITA Department Information page for cost information, instructions, and best practices specific to departments.
International Teaching Assistants (ITA)
In order to be eligible for a TA or AI appointment, non-native speakers of English must receive ITA English Certification.
The goal of ITA English Certification is to assess and enhance the skills ITAs need to be effective educators in the classroom. Certain exemptions apply and some departments may have additional requirements.
What's the process?
The Graduate Adviser or Graduate Coordinator of the employing department must register you in the ITA Program database. You must be registered in order to begin the certification process. If you have a TA offer, some departments may pay the screening fee. If you do not have a TA offer, your department will register you in the ITA system, but you will have to pay the $80 assessment fee on your own. Check with your department if you have any questions.
For Departments: Please check our ITA Department Information page for comprehensive instructions specific to Graduate Advisers and Coordinators.
If your native language is not English, you will need to schedule an appointment to take the Oral English Proficiency Assessment.
Foreign language TAs are exempt from the English Proficiency Assessment; however, Foreign language AIs are not exempt and must take the assessment.
All assessments are conducted by the English Language Center. For spring 2021, we will offer screenings by appointment Nov. 9 - 13, Dec. 7 - 11, and Jan. 4 - 15; click here to schedule an appointment. All screenings will be done online via a secured platform.
Familiarize yourself with the directions for all four sections of the assessment and practice responding to each section. It is very helpful to record yourself on tape and then listen to how your speech actually sounds. Suggested practice activities for each of the sections follow:
- Brief conversation - For the introduction, practice saying a greeting, your name, EID, and major. For the conversation, practice talking about the following kinds of topics: what's been going on in your life recently, your studies, your future plans, daily life, and current events.
- Explanation of a basic concept in your field — Practice speaking for 5 minutes about your concept. Be sure to use organizational expressions to help your listeners follow your ideas. Think about questions that the raters might ask you, and practice potential answers.
- Explanation of a visual — Practice describing and discussing information presented in a graph or chart. This usually involves talking about numerical data, percentages, and trends. Be especially careful about verb tenses with this task.
- Syllabus role play — Imagine you are an instructor on the first day of class and need to give your students information about the class schedule, location, test dates, textbooks or lab materials, etc. Make sure that your message is clear and that you emphasize the key points.
The Assessment is scored by two English Language Center professionals and the two raters' scores are averaged.
Scores range from 0-300 as follows:
250-300 = Passed
230-245 = Conditionally passed
0-225 = Did not pass
If your score on the assessment is 230 or higher, then your next step is to complete the ITA Workshop, which is offered online. You must have a user name and password to access the workshop; this will be provided to you when you receive your results.
*Note: You do not have to complete the workshop in the same semester as the assessment, but you must take the assessment before you can complete the workshop.
If you have conditionally passed the assessment (with a score of 230-245) and if you will be appointed to a position with student contact, you must be enrolled in the ITA course, ESL 389T, during the semester of your appointment.
If you did not pass your initial assessment, you may schedule an appointment to take an additional assessment the following semester. Students may take the assessment only once per semester and are limited to three attempts per year, with a maximum of five total assessments. In order to receive unconditional English Certification as a TA or AI with student contact, you need to obtain a score of 250 or higher on the Oral English Proficiency Assessment and complete the ITA Workshop.
Note: After the initial assessment, the student must pay for all additional assessments. You will also be charged the assessment fee if you schedule an appointment but do not show up.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the oral English proficiency assessment?
This 30-minute assessment is designed to determine whether your level of English oral proficiency is sufficient to work as a TA at The University of Texas at Austin. It measures your ability to communicate in English in an instructional setting and includes a variety of situations to demonstrate how well you speak English in the context of presenting information in your academic area to undergraduates.
During Summer 2020, we will assess you in an online session. You will either meet with a proctor who will forward your recorded session to two raters, or you will meet live virtually with two raters. You will be rated on the following skills: Fluency (30%), Grammar (20%), Vocabulary (20%), Pronunciation (15%), and Communicative Competence (15%).
The four assessment tasks are:
Task 1: A brief conversation
(Speaking time: 2-3 minutes of conversation with your proctor or raters)
When the proctor or raters begin the recording, please greet them and tell them your first and family names, your UT EID, and your major. You will then be asked some small talk questions and may be asked some questions about your daily life, your studies, and/or your future plans. Be ready to talk about yourself.
Task 2: Introduction of a basic concept in your field
(Speaking time: 5-minute explanation, followed by 2-3 minutes answering questions about the concept)
In advance, prepare an explanation of a basic concept from your field. This should be a concept that students in a first-year undergraduate course would learn. You should approach this task as if you were explaining it to a small group of freshman undergraduates. You have the option of using screenshare and sharing ONE visual to support your explanation.
You may use an outline or notes, but do not read your explanation. Look up at your computer camera as much as possible.
After your explanation of the concept, you will be asked 2-4 questions about what you just explained.
Task 3: Explanation of a visual (graph, pie charts, infographic)
(Preparation time 2 minutes; speaking time 2-3 minutes)
We will screenshare a graph or chart on a general academic topic. You should provide a general overview of the basic elements of the visual, identify a few specific trends or points that you find interesting, and offer an interpretation of the data. The raters will be listening to your English and are not so concerned about the content of any conclusions you draw.
Task 4: Syllabus role play
(Preparation time 2 minutes; speaking time 2-3 minutes)
You will be given a basic one-page outline of a syllabus for a class. Pretend that you are the instructor and are introducing this information on the first day of class. Talk about yourself, give contact information and other useful information from the syllabus. Preview what will be covered in the class/lab, and explain any course or university rules.
After the syllabus role play, the test is finished. The results will be emailed to you within 5 business days.
When can I take the assessment?
The dates for the Assessment are listed below:
- Monday, Nov. 9 - Friday, Nov. 13
- Monday, Dec. 7 - Friday, Dec. 11
- Monday, Jan. 4 - Friday, Jan. 15
Click here to schedule an appointment. All screenings will be done online via a secured platform.
- Dates TBD
The online calendar for summer 2021 screenings will be available in mid-April 2021.
Who is exempt?
The following students are automatically exempt from the ITA English Certification process:
- Native speakers of English from a country where English is the primary language, such as English-Speaking Canada, Great Britain, Ireland, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and the U.S.
- High school diploma or university degree (Undergraduate or Masters) from a U.S. institution
- English-medium schooling from elementary school through college (all subjects taught in English.) Most students from India are exempt based on this criterion.
- A score of 25 or higher in the Speaking section of the iBT
- A score of 7.5 or higher on the Speaking section of the IELTS
These cases DO NOT require the hiring department to complete the online Exemption Requests section of the ITA/AI English Certification Registration page. These exemptions will be made automatically in the mainframe and can be checked by your Graduate Advisor or Coordinator.
The following students are NOT automatically exempt from the ITA English Certification process:
Exempt from Oral English Proficiency Assessment and ITA Online Workshop:
- A score of 55 or higher on the TSE (Test of Spoken English)
- Four semesters of experience as a TA/AI with student contact at a U.S. university
Exempt from Oral English Proficiency Assessment, but ITA Online Workshop is required:
- Foreign Language TA
- Two semesters of experience as a TA/AI with student contact at a U.S. university
These cases DO require the hiring department to complete the online Exemption Requests section of the ITA/AI English Certification Registration page.
Other exemption requests submitted by the Graduate Advisor or Department Chair will be handled on a case-by-case basis.
How is the test scored?
The Assessment is scored by two English Language Center professionals who have received extensive training in tests of this type. The two raters' scores are averaged. If the two scores differ by 50 or more points, a third rater scores the exam, and the third score is then averaged with the closer of the two original scores. Scores range from 0-300 as follows: 250-300 = Passed, 230-245 = Conditionally passed, 0-225 = Did not pass.
What do the scores mean?
- 300 — The speaker is always comprehensible with perhaps occasional nonnative pronunciation errors or sporadic minor grammatical errors that do not interfere with intelligibility. Speech closely approximates that of a native speaker.
- 250-295 — The speaker is almost always comprehensible with occasional nonnative pronunciation errors or sporadic minor grammatical errors that rarely interfere with intelligibility. Speech is smooth and effortless, and communication is very effective.
- 230-245 — The speaker is usually comprehensible with errors in pronunciation, grammar, word choice, or pauses or rephrasing that generally do not interfere with intelligibility. Communication is generally effective.
- 200-225 — The speaker is somewhat comprehensible with consistent, distracting errors in pronunciation, grammar, word choice, or nonnative pauses that sometimes interfere with intelligibility. The speaker struggles with the language needed to communicate ideas.
- Below 200 — The speaker is generally not comprehensible because of frequent pronunciation errors and foreign stress and intonation patterns, lack of grammatical control, limited grasp of vocabulary, and numerous pauses and/or rephrasing that often interfere with intelligibility. Communication is not effective, and the listener is left confused.
How can I give my best performance?
Speak loudly enough so that the raters can hear you easily. Articulate clearly but do not slow down your rate of speech unnaturally. Although your teaching skills are not being evaluated, your presentation and delivery skills do affect the quality of your communication. Your knowledge of your field is not being evaluated, so do not worry if you are unsure of some information. What is most important is that you use appropriate strategies and language to explain what you do know. Serious lack of intelligibility results more often from non-native intonation and fluency problems than from isolated errors in pronunciation or grammar. To enhance your comprehensibility, emphasize key words, link phrases fluently, and use the rhythm and cadence of English correctly.
What does this assessment measure?
The assessment measures your ability to communicate in English in an instructional setting and and includes a variety of situations to demonstrate how well you speak English in the context of presenting information in your academic area to undergraduates.Within this context, the assessment measures 5 skills: Fluency (30%), Grammar (20%), Vocabulary (20%), Pronunciation (15%), and Communicative Competence (15%).
For more information, please email us.