Teaching Assistant Exam

The Dean of the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences has stipulated that all nonnative English speaking graduate students who will perform duties as a teaching assistant (TA) must take this exam before they can be appointed to a teaching assistantship:

Policy on International TAs
Passage of a special oral English proficiency examination, henceforth called the ELP TA exam, continues to be a prerequisite for the appointment of every new non-native English speaking international teaching assistant who will be assigned duties involving the use of English to instruct students in the College of Arts and Sciences or in University College.

Included under this requirement are course instructors, discussion section leaders, tutors, assistants expected to advise undergraduates in science laboratories, and foreign language master teachers. Students who do not pass the ELP TA exam may be appointed only to perform duties approved in consultation with the Dean of the Graduate School. Additionally, ELP coursework may be required for students who do not pass the exam.

This exam assesses whether a nonnative English speaking graduate student needs to improve oral communication skills relevant to TA duties. These skills may include presentation skills, discussion leading skills, pronunciation, and/or intercultural skills.


The ELP TA exam is administered by a panel that includes, at minimum, one representative from the ELP and one faculty or staff representative from the student’s department. The ELP representative’s main role is to assess the student’s language skills. The department representative’s main role is to help assess the prospective TA’s explanation of the topic and to provide the department’s perspective on what type of instructional role the prospective TA may have (leading a discussion section, holding office hours, etc.).

The ELP TA exam has two formats: the mini-lecture exam and role play exam. The role play exam is taken by prospective TAs for foreign language classes who will teach in their first language and hold at least some office hours in English. Other prospective TAs take the mini-lecture exam.

    • Role Play

      The role play exam is for foreign language TAs who will not lead a class in English, but will conduct at least some office hours in English. The role play exam takes about 20 minutes.

      The exam is a role play of a meeting between a TA and student during office hours. The ELP representative plays the role of a student and asks the TA questions about course policies (e.g., the format of exams) and about the language being taught (e.g., advice for improving listening skills).

      The prospective TA’s performance is evaluated based on the student’s development of the explanation, language (including pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary), delivery (including rate of speech and volume), and handling of questions.


  • Mini-Lecture

    The mini-lecture exam consists of two parts and is videotaped. It takes 20 minutes altogether.

    1. In the first part, the prospective TA presents a 10-minute mini-lecture. The lecture topic should be suitable for a first-year student’s course in that student’s academic area, and the TA is welcome to make the lecture interactive.
    2. In the second part, the prospective TA responds to questions from the examiners about the content of the lecture. The questions represent the kinds of questions that undergraduates might ask.

    The prospective TA’s performance is evaluated based on the student’s development of the explanation, language (including pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary), delivery (including rate of speech and volume), and handling of questions.

Arranging an ELP TA Exam

Whenever possible, a prospective TA should be tested at least one full semester before the department anticipates appointing him or her as a TA. TA exams for continuing students may not be conducted in August, but otherwise, TA exams may be conducted at any time of the year.

To arrange an ELP TA exam, the department should do the following:

  1. Let the student know that an ELP TA exam is required, inform the student about the format of the exam (as described above), and provide any necessary guidance to the student in selecting an appropriate lecture topic (for the mini-lecture format).
  2. Arrange for at least one faculty or staff member to serve on the exam panel as the department’s representative, and inform the department’s representative about the format of the exam (as described above).
  3. Contact Karen Schwelle, Director of ELP (935-5966 or kschwelle@wustl.edu), to schedule the exam. Please include the name and student ID number of each student to be tested.
  4. Reserve a room where the exam can be held, allotting 20 minutes per student.
  5. Refer any questions about the exam to the ELP or to the Graduate School as appropriate.

The ELP will videotape the exam, and will compile and report the exam results to the student, the department, and the Graduate School.

ELP Course Requirements

Any prospective TA who is required to take an ELP course as a result of the TA exam must earn a grade of B- or higher to satisfy that requirement. The required course may not be taken pass/fail. Any student who earns a B- or lower in a required course will be required to re-take the TA Exam.

If a student wishes to substitute an ELP course that was required as a result of the TA exam with a different ELP course, that substitution must be approved by the ELP if the student wants the course to satisfy the requirement.

The Graduate School has a policy that students who are taking ELP course work required as a result of the TA exam may be supported by teaching assistantships as graders (or in performance of other work related to teaching but not requiring contact with undergraduates) for a maximum of two semesters.