The Applied Language Institute

SPEAK test

students studying at the Oak St. dorm lounge

SPEAK Orientation/Test Content

The SPEAK Test is an evaluative tool designed by a major international testing organization to assist institutions like UMKC in determining the English language proficiency of students who want to become IGTAs, International Graduate Teaching Assistants. Achieving the minimal score of 52 on this test is not the only qualifying determinant in the IGTA qualification process, but it is certainly the most challenging step in the process for most students.

The SPEAK Test at UMKC is administered on campus at the Applied Language Institute (ALI). Any applicant who wants to take the SPEAK Test must have their department send an authorization form to ALI in order to begin the process. An applicant must also access and review SPEAK Test Preparation materials in Blackboard before the applicant can register to take the 30-minute SPEAK Test. See the SPEAK Test Process for step-by-step instructions to prepare for the test and continue IGTA certification.


Comprehensive test preparation materials are available in Blackboard at the SPEAK Test Preparation organization site, and they give applicants an opportunity to become familiar with the test process and with the contents of the SPEAK Test. Applicants learn what evaluators will be listening for, learn some strategies for success, analyze a sample test booklet, and ask questions of a trained evaluator. Students must certify that they have accessed these materials in order to take the SPEAK Test.


The SPEAK Test is administered to one student at a time, at a computer designated for this process. An ALI staff member will provide an on-site, pre-test orientation for the actual test, but the student will be guided through the testing process, step-by-step, by the computer program and the test booklet. All printed information in the booklet is also presented orally to the student through a recorded voice the student will listen to throughout the test.

There are 12 parts to the SPEAK Test, and each part will challenge the student to create and use language in a specific manner. Tasks will include giving directions from a map, explaining information in a graph, comparing two similar things, offering and supporting an opinion, giving an announcement, persuading a person to change plans, requesting some assistance, and making a recommendation. No task should be difficult to understand, but the language utilized by the student is critical.


Recordings of the student’s task language use will be sent to two evaluators who, individually, will rate each of the 12 sections on a scale of 20 to 60. The score for each section is combined into a total and averaged to determine an overall score. Finally, separate scores of the two evaluators are averaged to yield a final score that will be communicated to the student through the student’s department.

Evaluators listen particularly for evidence of clarity, comfort, control, and fluency, as well as evidence of the consistent use of appropriate vocabulary and grammatical structures. This test was designed for non-native speakers of English, and no one expects test takers to perform flawlessly. But evaluators do expect that the deficiencies revealed during the test are minor distractions that should have very limited effect on communication effectiveness as IGTAs.


Communicative competence in a second language is no less easy to attain than competence in one’s academic and professional field. The IGTAs at UMKC must demonstrate competence in both, and those who are selected are exceptional. If a student doesn’t already have a high degree of communicative competence, it is unlikely that that student will be able to attain sufficient competence in a short period of time. Such students should refocus their attention on language development.

Students who have a high degree of competence may still struggle with sections of the SPEAK Test. But, there are strategies (discussed during the orientation) that can enhance the ability of the test taker to demonstrate his/her existing competence. The best strategy is to come to the test rested and alert, and to come prepared to present information in an organized, coherent fashion. Add variety, range, sophistication, and confidence, and you have a true winning strategy!

The SPEAK Test Process

Overview of the SPEAK Process

Please remember that the SPEAK Test is just one of several certification requirements that must be met prior to certification and appointment as an IGTA. Below is an overview of the steps in the SPEAK Test process.

1. Apply to the department offering the desired IGTA position for authorization to take the SPEAK Test.

A department authority must send the ALI a completed SPEAK Authorization Form before the IGTA applicant can proceed with the SPEAK process. Department staff can contact the ALI academic adviser for details about the form.

SPEAK Test Authorization Form

2. Review the SPEAK Test Preparation site within Blackboard

All IGTA applicants must review the SPEAK Test Preparation site prior to signing up to take the SPEAK Test. To access the site, please follow these instructions:

Log in to Blackboard.

Search for "SPEAK Test Preparation" through the Organization Search (on the left side of the page).

Click the drop-down arrow next to the SPEAK Test Preparation course name.

Select “Enroll” from the drop-down menu.

Click on “Submit” on the next page (right side of the page).

Click on “OK” on the next page (lower right corner).

Read the organization/course information in the Home Page.

Click on “First Things”, “information”, “documents”, “audios”, and “videos”.

Read and view the materials as often as you would like (especially the videos).

Contact the Applied Language Institute to schedule your SPEAK test.

3. Take the SPEAK Test

After reviewing the preparation materials, schedule a testing session at the front desk of the ALI Office. Please arrive early and plan to spend a total of 40 minutes at the ALI Office for check-in and testing. Tests are offered only during the academic semester at the following times:

Morning Afternoon
9 a.m. 1 p.m.
9:30 a.m. 1:30 p.m.
10 a.m.  
10:30 a.m.  


4. Wait for Scores

Scores are sent via campus mail to the School of Graduate Studies (SGS) and the applicant’s department within 10 business days after the test. SGS and/or the applicant’s department will communicate the score to the applicant. The ALI does not issue scores directly to applicants.

5. Continue the IGTA Certification Process

  • Passing scores: Applicants who achieve a passing score (at least 52) must complete the final steps of the certification process, including the completion of a cultural orientation and simulated lecture, prior to appointment as an IGTA. See the SGS Web site for more information.
  • Scores below passing: Applicants who do not achieve a passing score cannot be certified as an IGTA. These applicants must meet with the ALI academic advisor and complete an approved course of intensive instruction prior to retaking the SPEAK Test and continuing the certification process. Please see the section below titled “Retaking the SPEAK Test.”
  • Exceptions: No IGTA position can be awarded to an applicant with a score below 52. Exceptional cases must be referred by the department and must be approved by the dean of SGS prior to awarding an IGTA position.

Retaking the SPEAK Test

Students who fail the SPEAK Test must complete the following steps prior to retaking the test:

1. Meet with the ALI academic adviser to discuss the SPEAK Test and an appropriate course of action to further develop oral communication skills (generally, enrollment in English 300F).

2. Complete the course English 300F – Academic English for IGTAs and Applicants.

3. Have the English 300F instructor authorize the student retake the test.

IGTA Preparation

The ALI offers a free SPEAK test orientation.

The ALI offers a course to prepare you to take the SPEAK Test.

The ALI serves all academic departments at UMKC by testing potential international graduate teaching assistants.

Contact Info

Applied Language Institute
5301 Rockhill Road
Kansas City, MO 64110
Phone: 816.235.1233
Fax: 816.235.5437
Hours: Monday – Friday,
8 am – 4 pm