GSI Teaching & Resource Center



language proficiency program

language proficiency program

Language Proficiency Program

English Language Proficiency Testing:
The SPEAK Test

What is the SPEAK test?
The SPEAK test is an oral proficiency test that measures how well you understand and express yourself in spoken English. In the test, you respond to questions that you hear and your speech is recorded. Your responses are then rated by trained evaluators.

How do I sign up for the SPEAK test?
If based on your responses to the Language Proficiency Questionnaire we determine that you need to take the SPEAK test, we will send you an email message with instructions to sign up online. If you have not already done so, you should fill out the Language Proficiency Questionnaire so that we can advise you.

What will my SPEAK results mean?
If you receive a score of 50 or above (“Pass”) on the SPEAK test, you may complete your application for a GSI position. If you score 40 or 45 (“Not Passing”), you may demonstrate readiness to assume GSI duties by passing the Oral Proficiency Test (OPT). (See information on the OPT.) If your score on the SPEAK test falls below 40, you must enroll in a Language Proficiency Program course (LAN PRO 100A) and take the OPT at the end of the semester. (You can view this information in a table format on the SPEAK/TOEFL iBT Speaking Section Equivalences table below.

What is the SPEAK test experience like?
When you take the SPEAK test, you will be in a language-lab environment, speaking into a microphone, in front of a computer. There will be other people in the room taking the test at the same time. When you practice the test, keep in mind this environment, which is different from speaking to a person, or practicing in a quiet room alone.

What else should I know about the SPEAK?
There is a time limit for each response, clearly marked in the test book. It may help to practice with a stopwatch.

If I don't finish an answer, or have extra time left and have nothing more to say, will I receive a low score on the SPEAK?
Not necessarily. If you address the question well and run out of time, this will not affect your score. If you have extra time, but have answered completely, again, this will not affect your score.

Should I take the test as soon as my plane gets in?
We recommend that you give yourself at least two days after flying a long distance before taking the SPEAK. Fatigue and jet lag can have an adverse effect on your ability to do well.

Can I practice the test?
Absolutely. Not only can you practice, you should practice, even if you feel your oral skills are good. This type of test has a particular format which may be unfamiliar. Becoming familiar with the SPEAK test format through practice makes it more likely you will be able to demonstrate the extent of your proficiency. You can practice in any of the following ways:

  • Use the SPEAK test practice materials at the Berkeley Language Center (BLC) on campus. The SPEAK Practice Test is available in the computer lab in B-21 Dwinelle Hall. You should check the BLC schedule to find out what the lab hours are. When you are in the computer labs, follow the posted instructions to log on (Username: student, etc.). Then click on the “Languages” folder; then click on “SPEAK Practice Test.”

  • Read and listen to the SPEAK practice test on reserve at the Moffitt Library Media Resources Center, Room 150 Moffitt Library (bottom floor).

  • Consult the book Toward Speaking Excellence, The Michigan Guide to Maximizing your Performance on the TSE Test & SPEAK Test by Dean Papajohn, 2nd ed. (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2005). This guide is on reserve at the Engineering Library in 110 Bechtel Engineering Center (call numbers: PE1128.P264 2005; PE1128.P264 2005 c.2), and can also be checked out at the GSI Teaching & Resource Center in 301 Sproul Hall.

Who rates the SPEAK test and how is it rated?
The SPEAK test is rated by qualified and trained language specialists. Each test is rated by at least two different raters, who do not know the score that the other rater has given to your test. The test is rated not only for pronunciation, but for how well you address the question. The table below shows the SPEAK score levels assigned by test raters:

Scale Description
60 Communication almost always effective
55–50 Communication generally effective
45–40 Communication somewhat effective
35–30 Communication generally not effective
25–20 No effective communication
(Reprinted with permission of Educational Testing Service, the copyright owner.  No endorsement of this website by ETS should be inferred.)

If I know I did badly on the test, can I retake it again right away?
You can only take the SPEAK test once. Therefore, it is important to practice, to ensure you do your best. See the table below to find out next steps after taking the SPEAK.

SPEAK/ TOEFL iBT Speaking Section Equivalences

SPEAK** Score

Speaking Section Score

Notes/Next Steps



Pass. Highest possible score.









Must take OPT. If student fails OPT, Lan Pro 100A class is recommended. Otherwise student waits 6 months to be retested.



Lan Pro 100A class required. OPT administered at end of course.



Same as 35/20



Same as 35/20



Same as 35/20

* These equivalences have been established for use at the UC Berkeley campus. They do not represent equivalences determined by the Educational Testing Service (ETS), the publisher of the SPEAK.

For additional information, please contact:
Language Proficiency Program


Last update: 3/13/14