Requirements For Future Teaching Assistants

Students who expect to be supported as Teaching Assistants must satisfy university requirements for being a TA. These are:

  • the TA Training course (Ling. 495)
  • for foreign students, the TOP exam, a test of oral proficiency in English

Ling. 495 is generally offered every Spring, so first year students may be required to take it in anticipation of a TAship for the second year. Consult the department course schedule for information about Ling. 495.

The TOP Exam

The TOP Exam is an oral test used to determine the spoken English proficiency of persons whose native language is not English.  The University policy concerning the TOP Exam for prospective international teaching assistants is established by UCLA Graduate Council, a faculty committee.

Who Must Take the TOP Exam?

All international students whose native language is not English will need to pass the TOP before they are allowed to work as a teaching assistant (TA) at UCLA. “Native Speaker” is defined as the first language you learned from your parents while growing up. If you do not plan to work as a TA at UCLA, you do not need to take the TOP.

Graduate students who are not US citizens and who are bilingual in English and another language must choose one of their languages as their “native” language for purposes of these regulations. If English is selected, then the student is exempt from taking the TOP exam but must satisfy the departmental foreign language requirement (e.g. in the second native language). If the other language is selected, then the student can satisfy the language requirement with English (by petition), but must take the TOP exam. Bilingual students who are US citizens are advised to choose the other language as their “native” language, because US citizens are exempt from the TOP exam, and the foreign language requirement can be satisfied by English (by petition).

About the TOP Exam

The TOP exam is administered by the Office of Instructional Development. The exam is specifically designed to test the oral English ability of international graduate students to work as Teaching Assistants (TA) at UCLA. The three tasks in the TOP have been chosen because they are representative of vital areas of communication between TAs and undergraduate students in all disciplines of the university. The exam does not seek to be a test of teaching skills nor of graduate students’ knowledge of the content of their disciplines.

In addition to the test taker, there are four people in the testing room. Two people act as a “class”, listening to the test taker and asking questions at any time throughout the exam. It is very important the the test taker do his/her best to answer the “class” fully and completely, as would be expected in a TA situation. Two raters are also present during the exam, and score the test during and immediately after the exam. They may speak to the test taker, but usually will not ask any questions. Test takers should concentrate on speaking to the “class”. The test will be scored in four categories: Pronunciation, Vocabulary/Grammar, Rhetorical Organization, and Question Handling. In each case, raters are looking for situationally-appropriate language, in other words the language that is necessary and appropriate for the communicative task at hand.

For more details on the exam, please visit Exam Details.

What is a Passing Score?

Scores from TOP are reported on a 10-point scale. Scores from 0 to 6.3 are considered non-passing. Scores from 6.4 to 7.0 are considered marginal passing. Scores from 7.1 to 10 are considered clear passing.

If the graduate student has received a score of 7.1 or higher, they are eligible to be hired as a TA. If the graduate student has received a score of 6.4 to 7.0, he or she has provisionally passed the examination and will be allowed to be a teaching assistant at UCLA only upon passing or concurrent enrollment in one of the following ESL courses: ESL 39A, ESL 39B, ESL 39C, ESL 38, or ESL 108. The student must pass one of these courses to be eligible for further TAships. Once students pass either course they do not need to retake the TOP exam. Those who score 6.3 or below will not be eligible for a teaching assistant position until they achieve a passing score, but will be allowed to take the exam during the next scheduled administration period.

When to take the TOP Exam

The TOP is typically offered during a two-week period in mid-September, before the school year begins. Check the Office of Instructional Development’s TOP exam schedule for more information. The exam is offered several additional times during each academic school year.

Students need to sign up on-line at TOP Exam Registration.

The TOP is free to students for the first and second times they take it. There is a charge for the third and subsequent times. If a student registers for the exam but does not come on time, or does not cancel 48 hours in advance, the student is required to pay a fee before they are allowed to take the exam the next time

Office of Instructional Development
Tel.: (310) 825-3106