Frequently Asked Questions

The SPEAK test is the institutional version of the Test of Spoken English. It is an oral examination that lasts approximately 30 minutes and is administered online. Test takers listen and respond to twelve questions. Responses are recorded. Each test is scored by trained graders from the Applied English Center.

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.

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:

  • (60) 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).
  • (50) 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).
  • (40) 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.
  • (30) 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).
  • (20) 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).

Students may enroll in AESP 160: Pronunciation Fundamentals. Those who are referred by departments and have successfully completed this 7-week course may retake the SPEAK Test in under four months. Otherwise, eligible KU students can take the SPEAK Test one time every four months. Students not referred by a department will be charged a non-refundable fee of $100. Before taking the SPEAK Test again, it is highly recommended that eligible students consult with the SPEAK Test Coordinator for ways to improve their English. For AESP 160 enrollment information, please email aec@ku.edu.

To register for the SPEAK Test, please complete the application form.

Eligible students can reschedule their SPEAK test day or time by contacting the SPEAK Test Coordinator at mberardo@ku.edu or aec-speak@ku.edu.

In general, results are available approximately one week after each test.  We make an effort to make scores available in time for consideration for GTA appointments. Students and the contact person in the hiring department are emailed a SPEAK Test Results Report including a statement of what the numeric score means. The report also has a list of tips for improving spoken English and specifies frequent errors or distracting linguistic features. Students should use this as a guide for working on changing speaking patterns.

The AEC officially enters the SPEAK test score in the University of Kansas' Student Information System database, Enroll and Pay. Once in Enroll and Pay, the department will have access to the SPEAK test score. It is your responsibility to let the hiring department know you have completed the SPEAK test and have received the results.  You can do this by forwarding a copy of the SPEAK Test Results Report.

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. A printable SPEAK Practice Test document is available by request. Please email aec-speak@ku.edu.

It is important to speak clearly and to answer all 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.

Yes. To prepare for the SPEAK test, we recommend that you enroll in AESP 160: Pronunciation Fundamentals. You may also contact the Applied English Center for more information about how you can improve your speaking skills.

Length of Test

  • The test takes approximately 30 minutes.

Photo ID Required

  • At the time of the test, you must present your 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 photo ID, you do not need to bring any other materials to the test.

Test Environment

  • The SPEAK test is administered online through Zoom. The student will receive a link approximately 15 minutes before the scheduled time of the test. All responses will be recorded.

If either the student or SPEAK Test Coordinator does not have the time to complete the SPEAK test, a new test day and time will be scheduled.

Nothing. However, it is helpful to contact the SPEAK Test Coordinator as soon as possible if the student needs to reschedule. To reschedule the test, please send an email request to the SPEAK Test Coordinator, mberardo@ku.edu or aec-speak@ku.edu. Emergency situations will be handled on a case-by-case basis.

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.

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.