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Academics: Proficiency Exams

Take the Spanish proficiency exams

All education students with a major or minor in Spanish (or bilingual education) are required to pass three proficiency exams—the oral proficiency exam, the grammar exam, and the composition exam.
The Spanish proficiency exams are offered four times during the school year—twice in the fall and twice in the spring. In order to be approved to student teach you must pass all three exams one year prior to your student-teaching experience. If this requirement is not met, you must make a formal appeal to the department to be allowed to student teach. Download the appeal form here (.docx).

Find out more below!

The Oral Proficiency Exam

Have questions about the OPI? Or just nervous about taking it? Check out our list of FAQs below.

What is the OPI?

OPI stands for Oral Proficiency Interview. The examination consists of a 20-30 minute telephonic interview, during which you will probably be asked to answer questions, talk about your interests, and take part in a role-play. There are also different varieties of the OPI that you may choose to take. See a description of them here.

For a more in-depth description of the OPI, take a look at the OPI Familiarization Manual.

Do I need to take the OPI?

If you are an education student with a Spanish major or minor (or bilingual education), you must take and pass the OPI. Besides the OPI, you must also pass a grammar and composition examination.

When should I take the OPI?

The OPI is usually offered by the Spanish Department four times during the school year—twice in the fall and twice in the spring. It is recommended that you take and pass the exam 1 year prior to your student-teaching experience—December 20 if you are student-teaching in the fall, and May 20 if you are student-teaching in the spring. If it is not completed before this deadline, you must make a formal appeal to the department to be allowed to student teach.

We recommend that you take the OPI at the end of your study-abroad experience, when you are most confident with your Spanish-speaking skills.

How do I sign up?

Sign up two weeks in advance. The dates for the OPI/OPIc will be announced in the weekly Spanish department newsletter, Enlace. Click on this link to apply for and pay to take the OPI/OPIc.

How much does it cost?

There are two different versions of the OPI that are listed below:

Certified Oral Proficiency Interview (OPI)

The OPI is a live telephone interview administered by an ACTFL Certified Tester. This test must be scheduled at a specific appointment time. The OPI assesses speaking ability from Novice Low through Superior. All tests are rated by a minimum of two ACTFL Raters, with ratings available within two weeks ($139).

Certified ACTFL Oral Proficiency Interview by Computer (OPIc)

The Certified OPIc is an on-demand test of speaking proficiency delivered by computer or telephone and rated by a minimum of two ACTFL Certified Raters. The OPIc measures from Novice Low through Superior. Ratings are available within one week. ($70)

What happens if I don’t pass?

You may take the exams as many times as you need to. However, LTI will not allow you to sign up for a retake until after a 90 day period between exams. You may fill out an appeal form that LTI will send to you if needed. They will let you know if your appeal has been accepted, allowing you then to retake the OPI/OPIc before the 90 days have passed. Every time you apply to take the exam, you must pay the corresponding fee to LTI.

What score do I need to get to pass the OPI?

You must pass the OPI with a score of Advanced Low. However, we recommend that you aim for a score of advanced mid, so that you will be well prepared for the exam.

What do I need to do to get a certain level? 

View the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines (.pdf).
Also check out the differences between sublevels (.pdf).

What is the interview like? How can I prepare?

View a list of FAQs from ACTFL about the OPI (.doc).
View a list of FAQs from ACTFL about the OPIc (.pdf)

Want a few tips?

Click here to view a PDF with tips from a blog post written by former Calvin Spanish major Andrea Campo ('12). She passed the OPIc and decided to share some advice with students who are preparing for the exam. Give it a look!

Additionally, click here to view a PDF with useful vocabulary to learn and use when you take the OPI.

Looking for more practice?

Check out this website that has many Spanish proficiency exercises. By clicking "site index" near the bottom of the page, you can view various exercises from beginning to superior levels, with sample questions and answers, as well as practice with specific grammar topics.

Click here to view sample answers for an Advanced English proficiency rating. In addition to videos of the interviews, you can read the rationale for each rating.

For listening practice, check out the Radio Ambulante podcast, which has clips on various topics ranging from politics to culture.

To explore various activities designed for practicing grammar, click here.

The grammar and composition exams

Education students must also pass a grammar and a composition exam. However, doing excellent work in Spanish 301 and 302 can be to your advantage. There are certain portions of the 301 and 302 final exams that can count for the proficiency exam if they meet the criteria.  These portions have to be rerated by two professors to determine the level achieved. The semester following your completion of Spanish 302 you will receive a notification from the Spanish Department with your scores for grammar and composition (providing that you have filled out the BLUE sheet from your Spanish advisor).
The grammar and composition exams are offered on the same dates as the OPI. The same deadlines also apply. The cost for these exams is $15 for one or $20 for both. (The first time you take it, however, it is free.) You may re-take these exams as many times as necessary. Unlike the OPI, these exams are graded within the Calvin Spanish department. In order to pass you need to attain the following scores:

Wondering more about the structure of the grammar exam?

Download the grammar exam study guide (.docx) to see descriptions of each section you will encounter on the exam and some example questions and answers.

Download review exercises for the grammar exam (.docx) for extra practice.


Why can't I reach advanced low?

View the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines (.pdf) to see what a score of "advanced low" really means for speaking and writing.

Look at more descriptions (.pdf) of the differences between the sublevels and find out what it takes to move from intermediate high to advanced low.

Or, if you would like some more information from the Calvin Spanish department, set up an appointment to speak with your advisor.