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International student giving a lecture.

English Language Proficiency Requirement

International Graduate Student TAs

Many international graduate students report that working as a teaching assistant (TA) is one of their most rewarding experiences in graduate school. Working with UCSD undergraduate students can be extremely gratifying. In addition, TAing increases graduate students’ competencies in ways that may benefit their future careers.

All international graduate students at UC San Diego are required to demonstrate a high level of oral and aural competence in the English language before they may be appointed as a teaching assistant (TA). This is a UC San Diego Graduate Division policy, established in compliance with the California English Proficiency in Higher Education Act
The English Language Program for International Instructors (ELP-ii) helps international graduate students establish their linguistic readiness to work as Teaching Assistants (TAs) and assists them in developing their teaching skills by administering the English language proficiency test and offering language proficiency courses and workshops.

How to Satisfy the English Language Proficiency Requirement

Per UC San Diego Graduate Division policy, prospective Teaching Assistants (TAs) who are non-native English speakers must satisfy the oral English proficiency requirement before they can be hired as TAs. Graduate students may satisfy the language proficiency requirement and be cleared to TA in one of the following ways:

  • achieve a score of 28-30 on the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) within the past 2 years
  • achieve a score of 8.5-9.0 on the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) within the past 2 years
  • achieve a score of 83-90 on the Pearson Test of English (PTE) within the past 2 years
  • pass the English Language Certification Exam (ELCE) administered at UC San Diego
The table below shows what the language testing scores mean and next steps you may need to take before you can be appointed as a TA.

TOEFL   Speaking  Score IELTS   Speaking  Score  PTE  Speaking  Score   Cleared to TA? What Your Score Indicates
 28 - 30 8.5 - 9 83 - 90 Yes Your score indicates you are fluent in the English language. You do not need to take the language test. 
23 - 27 7 -  8 65 - 82 No Graduate Division requires you to pass the language speaking test at UC San Diego prior to accepting a TA assignment.
 0 - 22 0 – 6.5   0 - 64  No Your score indicates you need further language classes prior to qualifying for the language test. You may not accept a TA position at this time.

To pass the ELCE, you must demonstrate proficient language skills and communication techniques. (See Evaluation criteria below for details.) If you do not pass the ELCE, you will be required to work on your oral communication skills and retake the ELCE before you are offered a TA position.

More information about the ELCE is available in the drawers below. 

English Language Certification Exam (ELCE)

The English Language Certification Exam (ELCE) is a 15-minute live interview and teaching simulation. During the interview, prospective TAs will be asked both general questions (about the prospective TA's life, background, interests, etc.) and technical questions that undergraduates would ask in the course for which the test taker is the prospective TA.

During the teaching simulation, the test taker must use a whiteboard or chalkboard and visuals to organize their ideas and explain concepts.

Who must be tested?

Any prospective TA whose native language is not English must be tested, except:

  • Students who achieve a TOEFL Speaking section score of 28 or above on the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) taken within the last two years.  
  • Students who achieve an IELTS Speaking section score of 8.5 or above on the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) test taken within the last two years.  
  • Students who achieve a PTE Speaking section score of 83 or above on the Pearson Test of English (PTE) test taken within the last two years.  
  • Students who serve as a language assistant in a course conducted in their native language. 

Test dates and deadlines

Departments are asked to adhere to the deadlines below when scheduling appointments for the prospective TAs to take the ELCE. It is the hiring department's responsibility to coordinate appointment times between the prospective TA, the faculty representative(s), and the ELP-ii test administrator

ELCE Academic Year Schedule 2019-2020 & New Location Update

The ELCE is offered 4 times per academic year:  The month of September, and Finals Week & the Week After

  • September 10-30, 2019
  • December 9-20, 2019
  • March 16-26, 2020* [*Friday, March 27, is Cesar Chavez Day, a university holiday]
  • June 8-19, 2020

New Location Update:  Starting Fall 2019, the ELCE will be held in the Student Services Center (SSC) with check-in by the Graduate Division.

Scheduling the ELCE appointments

The graduate coordinator or staff representative from the hiring department should schedule the ELCE test date and time with the Teaching + Learning Commons. The hiring department is responsible for coordinating the exam schedule with each prospective TA and faculty representative.

Students may not schedule the exam. This is to verify that test takers are UCSD graduate students who are prospective TAs for UCSD courses and that the prospective TA's TOEFL, IELTS, or PTE speaking score falls within the ELCE test range. 

Evaluation criteria

The evaluation panel, consisting of at least one faculty representative from the hiring department and one linguist from the Teaching + Learning Commons, will evaluate your ability to engage in conversation and to respond appropriately to the questions using comprehensible pronunciation. The panel will consider the test taker's competency in the following language skill areas:

  • pronunciation
  • listening comprehension & question handling
  • general and discipline-specific vocabulary
  • smoothness and fluidity
  • grammatical accuracy and organizational clarity.

and use of communication techniques:

  • eye contact
  • board work (whiteboard or chalkboard)
  • presentation manner

Students who do not pass this test will require training before they may be hired into a TA position at UC San Diego.

Preparing for the ELCE test

Prospective TAs can prepare for the test by 
  • participating in communication skills courses or practicing speaking aloud
  • practice using a whiteboard or chalkboard
  • reviewing in English the basic vocabulary, concepts, and problems of the course they will TA

Test scores and recommendations

After the test, the test taker must leave the room. The panel will then discuss the test taker's performance and determine a cumulative score. Possible recommendation results from the test include:

  Score      What Your Score Indicates   
 3.5 - 4.0  Pass. The test taker has met the requisite language skills for teaching and may accept an offer for a TA position. No further testing required.
 3.0 - 3.4  Pass w/Conditional Certification. The test taker has met the requisite language skills for teaching but must brush up on pronunciation accuracy and/or communication skills. The test taker may accept an offer for a TAship but must work on targeted skill(s) concurrent with your assignment. Upon successful completion of the work, the requirement to “pass” will have been satisfied. No further testing required.
2.5 - 2.9 Provisional Pass. The test taker has met some of the requisite language skills for teaching but must develop pronunciation accuracy, speech flow, and grammatical accuracy. The test taker may accept an offer for a TAship but must work on targeted skills before or concurrent with your assignment. Upon successful completion of the work, the graduate student will be tested again to verify improved language skills.
 0.0 - 2.4  Fail. The test taker has not met the requisite language skills for teaching. They need to improve overall proficiency and/or especially pronunciation accuracy. They may not accept an offer for a TAship at this time. The graduate student must retake the test after they have worked to improve all proficiency skills. 



Retaking the exam

If a student fails the ELCE, there is an opportunity to retake the exam. PhD students must qualify to TA by the third test. MS students must qualify to TA by the second test.

Students are encouraged to utilize all language resources available to them prior to retesting. UC San Diego graduate students with a TA requirement may utilize the free ELP-ii classes

Notification of test results

The hiring department representative will be notified whether the test taker qualified to TA as soon as possible, in most cases immediately after the test, and that person will inform the test taker if they qualified.

Details of the formal recommendation, including overall score, subscores, and comments, will not be immediately available during test periods. Instead, an email with the formal recommendation and detailed information will be sent to the test taker and the hiring department representative. If the recommendation is to improve language and communication skills, the student will be advised of the programs in which you are eligible to participate.

Programs & classes available for English language development

For students who have taken the ELCE, the English Language Program for International Instructors (ELP-ii) in the Teaching + Learning Commons offers non-credit language training. For additional resources, please visit Language and Communication Resources.

Exemption requests

If a student's department chair or program director wishes to seek an exeption to the ELCE policy on behalf of a graduate student, they may submit a formal letter of exception addressed to the Dean of Graduate Division for review.  The letter should address the following issues for the Dean to consider.

  1. The student’s relevant experience and skills; including the student’s ability to instruct given the language scores and evaluation from the Teaching + Learning Commons
  2. The student’s expertise in the subject matter
  3. The impact to the undergraduate population that will be receiving instruction from the student; including the perceived and actual quality of instruction the student will be able to provide

Full details on the exception process can be found in Graduate Division PPS Manual online in chapter 4, under “Exception Letter Guidelines.”

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