College Language Competency Assessment
Frequently Asked Questions

Before the exam

What does the exam test?

The Competency Exam does not include direct testing of grammar or vocabulary. Instead, as the name suggests, it is a test of how competent you are in the language, if you were dropped into a place where that language is used after having studied it for one year. It is not a test of grammar or vocabulary – although you need knowledge of both of those to do well. Rather, we test the reading, writing, speaking and listening skills we would expect you to have after one year of study of the language. Those whose registration is confirmed will receive a document that details the exam format and question types.

Is the exam multiple choice?

No. You can find a sample Competency exam in English here. Please look at it before the test in order to familiarize yourself with the kinds of tasks you’ll have on the exam in the language you have studied. Please keep in mind that the actual exam will be in-person and in paper-and-pencil format.

How does the exam work?

On the scheduled exam day, you will take the reading, listening & writing portions of the test. Once you’ve completed these portions, you will receive instructions on how to schedule the speaking exam.

Can I take the exam in multiple languages?

Your transcript only shows that you passed the language competency exam and thus fulfilled the language requirement. It does not show the language of the exam that you took.

If you wish to take the competency exam in another language because you did not pass it in the first language that you tried, you may do so in a subsequent year if you have placed into the second year of that second language.

How often do you offer the language competency exam?

We administer the Competency exam each January, once per academic year.

When should I take this exam in the course of my studies at UChicago?

We recommend taking the exam as early as possible. Do not wait until your fourth/final year, because you may need to take a language course that is not offered in the Spring Quarter. Plan ahead!

What is considered ‘passing’ on this exam in order to fulfill the language requirement?

To pass the language competency exam, you must earn a 65% or better in each of the four sections of the exam (speaking, listening, reading, writing). If any section of the exam is less than 65% correct, this is not considered passing. Please note, the 65% threshold is strict and we do not make exceptions even if your score is ‘close’.

How do I prepare for the exam?

Please keep in mind that the Competency Exam is a proficiency test, which measures what a person can do with the language. In that regard, it is not a type of exam that one can formally prepare for. Language proficiency definitely improves through consistent and frequent practice but it is not something one can study for and pass (e.g. through rehearsals etc.). Therefore, the best way to prepare is to expose yourself to the test language as frequently as possible (e.g. by reading and listening prior to the exam.

You must have placed into the second year of the language in order to be eligible to take the competency exam in that language. If you are unsure about your placement, check with your adviser, or contact our center director, Dr. Catherine Baumann (

If you have placed into a first-year course (usually 10100-10200-10300) we recommend taking language courses in order to fulfill your requirement. You can find out more about the requirement here.

If I’m a native speaker of another language, do I need to take this test?

If you are a native speaker of another language and if you have had formal schooling in another language, please file a Language Petition or contact the director of the Language Center, Dr. Catherine Baumann (

What if I missed the deadline to sign up for the exam?

We do not accept registrations less than 7 days before the exam. If you have missed the deadline, talk to your adviser, or look at the College Catalog to find out other ways to fulfill the requirement.

If I’ve already taken a language course at UChicago, do I need to take the competency exam?

Not necessarily. Check with your adviser or visit this page to see if your language requirement has been met in taking that course before you sign up for this exam.

I require testing accommodations. How does that work?

The Office of Language Assessment is committed to serving all our test-takers and supports the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Eligible students requesting accommodations for the College Competency exam must submit their Accommodation Determination Letter from Student Disability Services (SDS). If you require testing accommodations, please be sure to send your SDS letter to Catherine Baumann, the Competency Exam Coordinator, ( no later than the registration deadline. If we receive your letter later than the registration deadline, you may need to wait until the following year to take the test.

I have a lab or other activity that conflicts with the exam time. Can I take the exam at a time that works for me?

Unfortunately we cannot accommodate individual schedules. Because this exam is offered only once each academic year and is part of your degree requirement, you should be able to be excused from whatever activity conflicts with the exam time.

How long does the exam take?

You have up to 2.5 hours to complete the listening, reading, and writing sections of the exam, but if you are finished early, you may leave. The speaking part of the exam will be scheduled on a different day and time on a one-to-one basis. This portion of the exam will take about 15-20 minutes.

What if I have a question that’s not covered here?

Please contact