PLEASE NOTE: These policies are effective as of October 1, 2022.

Nature and Purpose of the Exam

  • The College Language Competency Assessment Exam (also known as the CLCA Exam or simply the Competency Exam) is administered by the Office of Language Assessment (OLA) in Winter Quarter and tests the reading, writing, listening, and speaking skills students should have after one year of study.
  • The CLCA is a proficiency exam, which means that it assesses how well students can use their knowledge of the language and culture to communicate. It is not a test of grammar and vocabulary, although knowledge of those plays into language use.
  • Students who place into the second year of a language and do not intend to study that language or any other language can take the Competency Exam to complete their College Language Competency Requirement.
  • Competency Exams are only offered in languages taught at UChicago for which an exam has already been created. A student who wants to fulfill the College Language Competency Requirement in a language outside of that group should contact the Language Placement Coordinator for that language. For a list of Language Placement Coordinators, click here.

Scheduling the Exam

  • The Competency Exam is scheduled once per year on a weekday evening early in Winter Quarter. The exam dates are published on the Office of Language Assessment website in the Autumn Quarter and announced through College Advising. It is not possible to accommodate individual schedules. Because this exam is offered only once per academic year and is one of the ways to fulfill a College degree requirement, students should be excused from any activity that conflicts with the Exam, including classes, labs, meetings, and other academic events. In cases where there are conflicts, students should consult their instructors well in advance to make arrangements. Dates are predefined by the OLA and are fixed.
  • The Competency Exam cannot be taken in absentia.

When to Take the Exam

  • The Office of Language Assessment (OLA) administers the Competency Exam each Winter Quarter.
  • The OLA recommends taking the Exam as early as possible. Students who fail the Exam will need to complete at least one language course to satisfy the College Language Requirement and should allow themselves time to do so because not all levels of all language courses are offered in the Spring Quarter. For example, a student who placed into Language 201 takes the Competency Exam in Winter Quarter of their final year. The student fails the Exam and must now complete, at a minimum, Language 201 to satisfy the College Language Requirement for graduation. However, Language 201 is only offered in Autumn Quarter, so the student will be ineligible for graduation at Spring Commencement because they have not fulfilled the College Language Requirement.


  • Exam registrants must be undergraduates who have placed into the second year or higher of a language on a University of Chicago placement test to be eligible to take the Competency Exam in that language.
  • Students’ reported placement results will be verified against College Advising placement test records upon exam registration. Following that, students will either receive an email notification that their registration has been confirmed, or instructions for next steps if their registration cannot be confirmed.
  • If a placement result is more than two years old, a student will be asked to retake the placement test before exam registration is confirmed. The student must retake the placement test and the result from the Language Placement Coordinator must be reported to the Director of the Language Center before the exam registration deadline; otherwise, the registration will be denied.
  • Students who intend to take language classes at UChicago should not take the Competency Exam.
  • Students are prohibited from taking the Exam in a language for which they do not have a placement result. Students who are unsure about their placement should check with their adviser or contact
  • Students who have placed into a first-year course (usually numbered 10100-10200-10300) may not take the Exam. Students in this situation should fulfill their College Language Requirement by either (1) completing the first-year language sequence into which they have placed or (2) completing the first-year sequence in a language other than the one into which they have placed.
  • Students who have had formal schooling in a country other than the United States and in a language other than English are not eligible to take the Competency Exam. They must instead either file a Language Petition or email Click here to download a Language Petition. The Language Petition is subject to the approval of the Director of the Language Center. Students will be notified about their Language Petition approval status via email. Students whose Language Petition is denied may still be eligible to take the Competency Exam.
  • Students who have already taken for a quality grade and successfully completed a UChicago language course that is either (1) the third quarter of a three-quarter first-year language sequence or (2) any language course at the second-year level or above have satisfied the College Language Requirement, and do not need to and will not be allowed to take the Competency Exam. Check with your College adviser to confirm completion of the College Language Requirement.


  • There is currently no direct fee for students to take the Competency Exam.
  • Registration is open for 2-3 months before the Exam. When registration opens, students receive notification from College Advising with exam information, a link to the registration form, and contact information for the exam coordinator.
  • The registration deadline is typically 3 weeks before the Exam. Students are not permitted to register after this deadline. Students who have missed the deadline should talk to their adviser or check the College Catalog for other ways to fulfill the requirement.
  • Communication about the Competency Exam will be sent to students’ official university email address. Students who do not respond to messages about registration for the Exam will be removed from the roster and notified that their registration is not confirmed.
  • Registration for the Exam is not official until an applicant has received confirmation via email from the exam coordinator.
  • Students who attempt to register without an official UChicago placement result will be asked to (re-)take a placement test.
  • Placement tests may be taken and their results reported until the exam registration deadline. Students who take a placement test after the registration deadline will not be able to have their registration confirmed for the Exam, and will be asked to wait until the following year.
  • Students may only take the Exam in one language each year. If students register for the Exam in two languages, they will be asked to choose one. If students do not respond to this inquiry, their second registration will be cancelled and their registration will be finalized for the first Exam for which they registered.

Cancellation Policy

  • Students may cancel their registration up to 7 days before the Exam.
  • Students who cancel less than 7 days before the Exam will be asked to provide documentation as to why they must cancel. If the explanation is deemed acceptable by the exam coordinator, they will be allowed to register again for the Exam in a subsequent year. If the explanation is not deemed acceptable, the student will not be allowed to register for the Competency Exam again and must fulfill the College Language Competency Requirement through another means.
  • Students who are registered for the Exam but fail to attend and do not have an acceptable explanation will receive a “Fail” and may not register for the Exam again.
  • The exam coordinator has the right to reschedule the Competency Exam in the case of inclement weather, campus emergencies, or changes to the academic schedule.

Exam Accommodations

  • Students who need an accommodation for the College Competency Exam must provide an Accommodation Determination Letter from Student Disability Services (SDS). Once the test coordinator receives the Determination Letter, they will contact the student to arrange a time and place to take the exam if necessary or make additional arrangements.
  • Students should arrange to submit their Accommodation Determination to OLA at the time of registration or as soon as possible thereafter, and no later than the registration deadline, i.e., 7 days before the exam date. Timely submission of accommodation information is important because the exam is only offered once per year. If OLA is unable to provide a last-minute accommodation, the student will either have to take the exam without the accommodation or wait to take the exam in a subsequent year.

During the Written Portion of the Exam

  • On the scheduled exam day, students take the reading, listening, and writing components of the Exam. They have up to 2.5 hours to complete these components.
  • Several days after the written portion of the Exam, students will receive instructions via email about scheduling the speaking portion of the Exam. This component of the Exam is administered individually via Zoom and takes approximately 15-20 minutes.
  • The Competency Exams are administered by trained proctors, whether in-person or virtual.
  • Students’ identities will be verified on exam day using their University of Chicago ID card. All students must bring their UCID to the exam location.
  • Test takers may not remove any materials from the testing room, including note paper. If they do, they will receive a “Fail” on the Exam and will not be allowed to register for future Exams.
  • A proctor has the authority to dismiss a student from the Exam if, in the proctor’s opinion, the student’s behavior warrants such dismissal.
  • Exam responses will be handwritten, unless announced otherwise.
  • Eating is not permitted during the Exam. Students may bring a beverage but must consume it quietly without disturbing other test takers.
  • No dictionaries or translators, electronic or otherwise, or other language references may be used during any part of the Exam, either written or spoken.
  • Rules regarding academic misconduct apply when students take the Competency Exam. The OLA reserves the right to investigate suspicious behavior on the Exam and evaluate it on a case-by-case basis, including anything deemed suspicious by a proctor, a grader, or the OLA. Examples of unacceptable behavior include but are not limited to plagiarism, copying words, phrases or sentences from one section of the Exam for use on another section, copying from other students, or using prohibited resources such as dictionaries or translators during the Exam.
  • During the Exam, students should keep all belongings in their bags. The only items on the desk should be writing utensils, exam booklets, and students’ University ID cards.
  • Cell phones and other electronic devices should be on airplane mode so as not to disrupt the exam.
  • Students may take a break during the exam after the reading and listening components and before the writing component to use the restroom or get a drink of water. Breaks will last no longer than five minutes and all mobile devices must remain in the testing room.
  • Students who arrive late to the written portion of the Exam will not be allowed to take the Exam. They will be counted as no-shows, will receive a grade of “Fail” and will not be allowed to register for the exam in subsequent years.
  • Recording, photographing, or replicating the Exam in any way is strictly forbidden. Such behavior will result in immediate dismissal and a failing grade on the Exam.
  • Exams that are administered virtually are subject to the same policies as those administered in-person.

Speaking Component

  • After taking the written component of the Exam, students will receive instructions for scheduling the speaking component, which will be a Zoom interview.
  • Students will not know the results from the written component before their speaking interview. All students who take the written component must also take the speaking component for the Exam to be considered complete.
  • If a student does not respond after two attempts to contact them (either from the exam coordinator or from the individual conducting the speaking component), their speaking grade will be reported as 0% and they will fail the Exam.
  • If a student arrives late or does not show up to their speaking appointment, their speaking grade will be reported as 0% and they will fail the Exam.
  • Students who need to reschedule their speaking appointment should contact the individual conducting the speaking component at least 24 hours before the scheduled meeting.
  • The speaking component of the exam will be recorded via Zoom and the recording securely stored for five years.


  • To pass the Competency Exam, students must earn a 65% or better in each of the four exam components (speaking, listening, reading, and writing). If any component of the exam is less than 65% correct, students do not pass the exam. In other words, an average score of 65% or higher does not constitute a passing grade if any of the constituent scores is below 65%. Please note, the 65% threshold is strict and there are no exceptions even if a score is ‘close’.
  • While the timeline can vary, the OLA does its best to finalize the results of the Competency Exam by the end of Winter Quarter. Students who are worried about passing the exam should sign up for a language class in the Spring Quarter just in case they need to take one.
  • Passing grades will be reported to the student, to their adviser, and to the Registrar. The UChicago transcript only shows that a student passed the Competency Exam and thus fulfilled the College Language Requirement. It does not reflect the exam language or performance level.
  • Failing grades will only be reported to the student and to their adviser.
  • Students with questions about their results may contact the exam coordinator. The exam coordinator can review their exam with them if necessary to help them understand their score.
  • The OLA will store written exams for 5 years. After that, the exams will be securely destroyed.

Retaking the Exam

  • The OLA does not offer retakes for the Exam either in part or in whole.
  • The Exam cannot be rescheduled for individual students.
  • If a student wishes to take the Competency Exam in another language after not passing it in the first language they tried, they may do so in a subsequent year. All other conditions for registration apply in the case of a second exam language.
  • Students who do not pass the Competency Exam and plan to take a class should consult with the Language Placement Coordinator for that language for advice.

Appeals Process

  • A student who wishes to appeal their exam score should email the Director of the OLA with specific information about the reasons they believe their exam score should be changed. The Director will review and determine whether to change the exam score. The Director’s decision is final.

Exam Preparation

The OLA does not provide any exam preparation or practice materials including sample exams in any foreign language.  The OLA recommends the following regarding exam preparation:

Recommendations for Competency Exam Preparation

  • Language proficiency improves through consistent and frequent practice communicating in the language, and thus is not something one can study for and pass (e.g., through rehearsal, memorization, etc.). Therefore, the best way to prepare is through frequent exposure to the exam language (e.g., by reading and listening) prior to the Exam.
  • Students whose registration is confirmed will receive information that details the Exam format. A sample Competency Exam in English can be found here. Students should review it before the test to become familiar with the task types on the Exam while keeping in mind that the actual exam will be in-person and in paper-and-pencil format, depending on current public health protocols.