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College of Arts & Sciences

Preparing for the SPEAK Test

Ohio University offers the SPEAK Test (Speaking Proficiency English Assessment Kit, created by Educational Testing Services ETS) twice every semester. It is used to clear students who are not native English speakers for teaching assignments on campus.

Information Session

Students should watch this information session video before they arrive to take the test.


Questions about SPEAK test times, location or procedure should be addressed to Dr. Dawn Bikowski at or 740-593-0201. Questions about compliance with these standards should be addressed to Dr. Katherine Tadlock at or 740-597-2860.


Listen to native North American English speakers to find out how the following elements of an accent are expressed. You can look these topics up online for more information on what they are and how they sound.

Stress: word stress, phrasal stress, prominence. See word stress. See sentence stress. Intonation: pitch movement, tone choice, pitch range, key. See pronounciation. Rhythm: pausing between thought groups, linking, reductions, rate Consonants & Vowels.

Although it is difficult to study for this test since it is a test of skill, you can at least familiarize yourself with the format of the test and how it is rated. If you need to improve your pronunciation, this may take longer than you anticipate. You are encouraged to take one of ELIP’s Graduate Oral Communication Courses for help.

Study Tips

Practice recording your spoken answers to the sample test. Listen to your recordings for any weaknesses, then work to improve them. Again:

  • Your responses should address the task clearly and fully. Think not only about what to say, but also the organization of your answer. Please note that if you have addressed the task well, there is no penalty for not finishing what you wanted to say. (It is a test of spoken English, not timing.)
  • You should demonstrate an appropriate range of vocabulary and effective use of grammar.
  • You should speak fluently; in other words, your delivery should be smooth. Please understand that this is not the same as rate—speaking too quickly and without pausing between sentences can lead to low listener comprehension. Essentially, you want to sound like you are not making an effort to speak.
  • Your pronunciation should be intelligible with only very minor problems. That is to say that you can have an accent different from what is common here, but if you have frequent pronunciation errors or a heavy accent, your listeners will have difficulty understanding what you say, and your SPEAK test score will be lowered.
  • To prepare for the test, be sure you speak English most of the day, practice your grammar and vocabulary, practice speaking without being choppy, identify specific pronunciation issues you should work on, and work on those specifically every day. Repeated practice of the same questions over and over is generally not helpful for the test. More generally, it is useful to practice speaking at length about a variety of topics with different purposes. See the grading chart/rubric.

Please remember the following details about the test:

  • Only graduate students who have been registered for the test by their department and have a photo ID can take the test.
  • The test takes approximately 30 minutes to complete and is recorded on a computer. You also receive the questions in a printed booklet that you can read during the test.
  • The test consists of 12 questions and speaking prompts. Time is given to think of the response before having to answer. There is no penalty for giving an incomplete response if the speaker is cut off with the next question. No pencils or note taking are allowed during the test.
  • The test is designed to evaluate your general language proficiency, so you will be asked questions about topics not necessarily related to your field of study. Typical prompts are a question for directions on a map, describing a graph, discussing one’s opinion about a subject, comparing and contrasting two ideas, telling a story based on a series of pictures, making recommendations, giving alternate scenarios, and explaining changes to a schedule.
  • It is important to speak clearly and to answer all of the questions as completely as possible.
  • Responses are rated based on how easily an U.S. undergraduate would understand the responses. Higher scores are awarded to responses that are clear, smooth and not choppy, have clear pronunciation and correct word stress and intonation, have no confusing grammar or vocabulary mistakes, make sense in terms of content, and require little effort to understand. According to Educational Testing Services, four categories are used to rate responses: functional competence (knowing how to use language for functions such as giving directions); sociolinguistic competence (knowing how formal of language and tone to use in different situations); discourse competence (being able to organize your response logically and use things such as transition markers); and linguistic competence (knowing effective vocabulary and grammar to use; having accurate pronunciation; having smooth delivery; and being intelligible overall).


  • Questions about SPEAK test times, location or procedure should be addressed to Dr. Dawn Bikowski at or 740-593-0201.
  • Questions about compliance with these standards should be addressed to Dr. Katherine Tadlock at or 740-597-2860.

Departmental Social Media

College of Arts & Sciences