Frequently Asked Questions

What is the SPEAK Test?

The SPEAK test is the institutional version of the Test of Spoken English. It is a recorded oral examination that lasts approximately 20 minutes (total testing time from check-in to completion is about 30 minutes). The test is administered in a language laboratory to a small group of students at each sitting. Test takers listen to twelve questions on a recording, and their answers are recorded. Each test is scored by a minimum of three trained graders who teach at the Applied English Center.


Who is required to take the SPEAK Test?

Any KU student whose native language is not English and who wishes to be a Graduate Teaching Assistant at the University of Kansas must qualify for a position with a SPEAK score of 50 or higher. Scores of 50, 55 and 60 qualify a student for a Graduate Teaching Assistant position.


What do the scores mean?

Assessments about responses are made considering the following categories:

  • Functional competence: the speaker's ability to select functions to reasonably address the task and to select the language needed to carry out the function (functions are the purposes of communication: giving directions, arguing, apologizing, etc.).
  • Sociolinguistic competence: the speaker's ability to demonstrate an awareness of audience and situation by selecting language, register (level of formality), and tone that are appropriate.
  • Discourse competence: the speaker's ability to develop and organize information in a coherent manner, and to make effective use of cohesive devices (conjunctions, transition markers, order markers) to help the listener follow the organization of the response.
  • Linguistic competence: the effective selection of vocabulary (including proper word forms), control of grammatical structures, and accurate pronunciation, along with smooth delivery, in order to produce intelligible speech.

The following is a general description of the abilities at each 10-point score level:


The speaker understood the question and answered appropriately. The rater could receive and understand the answer with little effort (native-like efficacy, effective; not necessarily error-free).


The speaker understood the question and answered appropriately. The rater could receive and understand the answer with reasonable listening effort. The rater may have a question about the response (near-native efficacy, generally effective).


Communication breaks down or the speaker's answer was not appropriate to the question. The rater understood the basic idea of the answer but not all the details, or there were several gaps in receiving and it would take considerable effort, visual support, or questioning to feel that all the necessary information was exchanged (somewhat effective). One-on-one communication is probably most effective, but communication to groups will be less effective.


The rater catches only words and an occasional idea. The speaker's frequent re-starts, hesitations, and inappropriate pacing or pausing make it extremely difficult to understand. It is not clear what the function of the response was (not very effective).


The individual did not give a response, or the individual's response was not intelligible. The rater had no idea what the function of the response was (not effective).

How often can I take the SPEAK Test?

Eligible KU students can take the SPEAK Test one time every four months. There are no exceptions to this rule established by the Provost.


How can I apply to take the SPEAK Test?

You cannot sign up by telephone or e-mail. You must come to the Applied English Center, 204 Lippincott. Tell the receptionist that you want to take the SPEAK Test. You will complete an application form. Return the application to the receptionist and you will receive further instructions. You must register for the test not less than 1 working day, preferably 2, before the test date.


Is there a charge or fee?

There is no charge for this test for students of the University of Kansas. In general, only students who are enrolled (or about to enroll) at the University of Kansas may take this test offered by the Applied English Center.


When can I take the SPEAK Test?
Please refer to the SPEAK Test Calendar.


Can I test on another day or time?

Requests for special testing dates must come from the department that is considering hiring the student. Someone from the hiring department should contact the SPEAK Test coordinator at the Applied English Center.


When and how can I get my score?

In general, results are available for students to pick up at the Applied English Center about a week after each test. Refer to the calendar on the main SPEAK Test webpage. We make an effort to make scores available in time for consideration for GTA appointments. Students must present a photo ID to the receptionist at the Applied English Center to get their results. Students receive two official, sealed copies of their results, and must deliver them to departments where they are applying for GTA positions.

In addition to a score report, you will also receive a paper titled "Areas for Improvement." This is a summary of the most frequent or distracting features of your speaking that the exam raters commented on. You should use this as a guide for working on changing your speaking patterns. The AEC does not report your SPEAK scores to anyone else at KU. You must deliver your own score reports.


How can I prepare for the SPEAK Test?

KU students can check out a sample SPEAK Test (booklet and recording) at the Applied English Center, 204 Lippincott Hall. If you have a KU Online ID, you can log in to see and listen to the practice materials online. The practice test is provided to familiarize you with the format of the exam and the type of questions. Repeated practice of the same questions over and over is generally not helpful as you are only practicing answers to those questions, not the questions you will hear on the examination.

As stated in the General Introduction to the test, it is important to speak clearly and to answer all of the questions as completely as possible, since raters of your speech sample evaluate your proficiency level on what is recorded. Remember that the SPEAK Test is a test of your ability to speak English, so practice speaking English with native English speakers as often as possible.


Can I get professional help with my speaking?

You certainly can. The Applied English Center has a list of people who want to be English language tutors. You can see this list at the AEC Front Desk, 204 Lippincott. Some of these people work at the AEC, and others do not. Some charge small amounts for tutoring, others much more. Some will trade English lessons for lessons in other languages. The AEC does not guarantee their work, and does not endorse anyone on this list because it is not an official AEC course offering. We provide this as a service to tutors and students.

The AEC does not offer any SPEAK Test preparation course or workshops.


What is the exam procedure, and how long does it take?
  • Length of Test: The actual test is about 20 minutes long, and consists of 12 questions. Check-in and closing instructions take about another 5-10 minutes. You should arrive at the exam location (language lab, 4068 Wescoe Hall) about 5-10 minutes before your scheduled exam time. So you should plan on about 30 minutes total for this test.
  • Photo ID Required: At check-in, you must present your completed information form and a photo ID, preferably your KU student ID. A passport or driver's license is also acceptable. No Photo ID = No Examination. There are no exceptions to the photo ID requirement.
  • No Other Materials Needed: Other than the information form and photo ID, you do not need to bring any other materials to the test.
  • Test Environment: Several students are tested simultaneously in the laboratory. You will be given a test booklet and will listen to recorded questions. The questions and the amount of time that you have to answer them are printed in your test booklet. All of your responses will be recorded.


What happens if I arrive late?

Anyone arriving after the door has been closed will not be admitted. If space permits, they may be allowed to test at a later time the same day, if there is another scheduled testing session. This is not guaranteed. It is possible that a late arriving student will have to reschedule for another test day.


What happens if I do not show up for the test?

Nothing. However, it is helpful if you contact the SPEAK Test Coordinator, at the Applied English Center in advance to say that you will not be there. You can call the SPEAK Test Coordinator at the Applied English Center to reschedule your test. Emergency situations will be handled on a case-by-case basis.


Can I use my SPEAK score from another university?

Scores from SPEAK Tests given at another institution are not accepted. Likewise, other institutions will not accept a SPEAK score from the University of Kansas.


What score is required to be eligible to be a Graduate Teaching Assistant?

The Kansas Board of Regents has established the minimum score of 50 (on the SPEAK Test) to qualify for a GTA appointment. Scores of 50, 55 and 60 qualify a student for consideration to be a Graduate Teaching Assistant.



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