English Proficiency Testing FAQs
Frequently Asked Questions Heading link
Here are the answers to some of the most frequent questions that we receive from students and administrators about our English testing process.
What is the Oral Certification Interview (OCI)?
What is the Oral Certification Interview (OCI)?
The Oral Certification Interview (OCI) is a one-on-one conversation between the student and a member of the ITA staff. A variety of different questions will be asked in order to determine what the student is able to do with the English language and how they communicate during a variety of different tasks.
The student should come to the interview prepared to have a natural conversation about academic and non-academic topics. Depending on interviewer availability, the OCI may be conducted in-person or online through Zoom.
The OCI is not a test of the student’s topical knowledge or an indication of how successful the student will be as a TA. The OCI is used only to assess how well students are able to communicate in English and to determine a student’s oral English proficiency certification status.
Who has to take the OCI?
ALL non-native English-speaking teaching assistants (regardless of citizenship status) must be assessed for their oral English proficiency before they are given instructional responsibilities in the classrooms, discussions, or laboratories or asked to hold office hours at UIC.
There are NO exceptions. If your first language is not English and you are a TA, then you need to take the OCI.
What if I was a TA at another university before coming to UIC?
Although UIC’s ITA Program does communicate with other institutions’ ITA programs, you still need to make an appointment with us and participate in the OCI to ensure that we are following Illinois law and UIC policy.
Didn't I already demonstrate English proficiency when I applied to the Graduate College?
The Graduate College sets the English proficiency requirements for admission into graduate degree programs at UIC, and some departments also have additional proficiency requirements. However, there is a significant difference between the minimum language proficiency needed to be a graduate student and the level of spoken English ability needed to be a confident and successful TA in the U.S. university classroom.
Regardless of the English test scores (TOEFL iBT, IELTS, etc.) that you submitted when you applied to UIC — or even if your English test score requirement for admission was waived — your TA appointment means that you now need to demonstrate that your English speaking and listening skills are sufficient for you to fulfill your TA responsibilities.
Please schedule an OCI with the ITA Program so you can take care of this requirement.
How do I prepare for the OCI?
Before your OCI, please email these 3 documents to email@example.com:
- a picture of your UIC i-card or other photo ID
- a copy of your most recent TOEFL/IELTS/PTE scores (if less than 2 years old)
- a copy of your TA offer letter
You may also want to read the information on our “Preparing for Your OCI” page.
What are the possible outcomes of the OCI?
The OCI has 3 possible outcomes: Full Certification, Conditional Certification with Full Teaching Assignment, and Conditional Certification with Limited Teaching Assignment.
Full Certification: students receiving Full Certification have successfully demonstrated the level of spoken English proficiency required for teaching and can assume full teaching responsibilities. They are not required to enroll in ITA courses or complete additional language testing related to their TA position.
Conditional Certification: all students receiving Conditional Certification have NOT reached the level of spoken English proficiency required for teaching and are required to enroll in an ITA course during the semester in which they are working as a TA. The ITA courses are designed to help these students improve their English and prepare for the required end-of-semester Performance Evaluation (PE). Once enrolled in ITA courses, students must pass the PE to receive Full Certification.
Students who receive Conditional Certification will be recommended for either a Full Teaching Assignment or a Limited Teaching Assignment.
Full Teaching Assignment: no restrictions are placed on TA duties. TAs may teach a discussion or recitation section, lead a lab section, hold office hours, etc.
Limited Teaching Assignment: TA duties are restricted to those with minimal student contact, such as grading (without office hours), lab preparation, etc.
How do I get Full Certification through the OCI?
In order to receive Full Certification through the OCI, the student must be able to consistently:
- participate fully as an able, willing, and independent interlocutor
- use repair and circumlocution strategies
- narrate and describe events in all major time frames with some control of aspect
- handle routine situations with a complication or unexpected communicative task
- speak in connected, paragraph-length discourse
- speak about a variety of topics in most formal and informal situations (work, school, home, current events, etc.)
- be easily understood by native English speakers unaccustomed to non-native English speakers
These students may still demonstrate minor errors in grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation, but these do not affect their overall ability to communicate effectively in English.
What happens if I get Conditional Certification on my OCI?
Conditional Certification means that you have NOT reached the level of spoken English proficiency required for teaching.
All students who receive Conditional Certification on their OCI are REQUIRED to:
- enroll in an ITAP English support course* (GC 510, 511, or 509) during their first semester working as a TA
- take the end-of-semester Performance Evaluation** (PE), which ITAP courses will prepare you for
*Your Certification Form will indicate which course(s) the ITA staff recommends based on your OCI performance.
**Passing the PE is the only way to get your status changed from Conditional Certification to Full Certification.
I'm assigning TA positions in my department. Can you help me assess a student before I make the offer?
The ITA Program is happy to assist the DGS and other graduate program support staff in making English language assessments for purposes of assigning TA positions. Please contact the ITAP Director, Vandana Loebel, if you would like us to conduct interviews with potential ITAs to assess their English proficiency before you give them teaching responsibilities.