Test of Oral Proficiency

Test of Oral Proficiency (TOP) Exam Overview

The TOP exam is designed to test oral English ability of international graduate students as they pertain to Teaching Assistant duties. These duties may include, but are not limited to, conducting discussion sections and/or labs, holding office hours, and interacting in English with undergraduate students in the course of normal TA duties. It is not designed to test teaching skills or knowledge of subject matter. International graduate students must pass the TOP exam before working as a TA in any department at UCLA.

Who Needs To Take the TOP Exam?

Any graduate student who is a non-US citizen must pass the TOP before working as a TA in any department at UCLA. This includes international students and permanent residents. The only exception to this requirement is if you hold a bachelor’s degree from a U.S institution. If you do, you are automatically except from taking the test and do not need to take any further action with the TOP program.

Please review the following information carefully when determining whether you need to take the TOP Exam:

  • No alternatives to TOP are accepted. Scores on any other language proficiency exams may not be used as a replacement for the TOP (e.g., SPEAK, TSE, TOEFL, ESLPE).
  • Holding a master’s degree from a U.S. institution does not qualify for an exemption.
  • If you do not plan to work as a TA at UCLA, you do not need to take the TOP. Other positions (e.g., special reader, GSR) do not require the TOP.

Requesting an Exemption

The TOP program simply administers the TOP program as outlined by Graduate Division and is unable to grant exemptions of any kind. If you believe that you should receive an exemption from taking the TOP for any other reason (e.g., native speaker of English), please contact your home departmental Student Affairs Officer/Academic Advisor directly to request an exception from the Graduate Division.

Departments and University Personnel: Please refer to this PDF file for additional exam information.

When is the TOP administered?

The TOP is administered once per quarter. Students who plan to work as TAs must take the TOP before the quarter they plan to teach. For example, if you plan to work in the Fall, you must take and pass the exam during the summer exam dates or before. Only one exam may be taken per administration. Please consult your department for specific hiring deadlines.

Exam Schedule: 2020-2021

Administration I

  • Summer 2020 (September 15th – 25th, 2020)
  • Location: Remote via Zoom
  • Dates for all students who plan on TA-ing in Fall 2020 or later

Administration II

  • Fall 2020 (November 2020, Dates: TBD)
  • Location: Remote via Zoom
  • Dates for all students who plan on TA-ing in Winter 2021 or later

Administration III

  • Winter 2021 (February/March 2021, Dates: TBD)
  • Location: Remote via Zoom
  • Dates for all students who plan on TA-ing in Spring 2021 or later

Administration IV

  • Spring 2021 (May 2021, Dates: TBD)
  • Location: TBD
  • Dates for all students who plan on TA-ing in Summer 2021 or later

Where and how is the TOP administered?

Please note that the Summer, Fall, and Winter administrations for 2020-2021 will be held remotely via Zoom due to COVID-19 restrictions. Once you have registered for the exam, you will receive an email with detailed instructions about how to take the exam via Zoom.

  • Summer 2020, Fall 2020, and Winter 2021 Administration: Conducted remotely via Zoom
  • Spring 2021 Administration:  270 Powell Library (Instructional Media Lab). Please note that the exams are NOT administered at the TOP office.

How Much Does the TOP exam cost?

The TOP is free to students the 1st and 2nd time they take it. For the 3rd and subsequent times, the cost is $50 per exam. 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 $50 penalty fee if and when he/she retakes the exam. Charges are administered via BruinBill and will be posted to the student’s account within one month of retaking the exam.

More detailed information, including exam schedules and links for online registration, can be found at the icon bar above. Should you have further questions, please contact the TOP coordinator at top@teaching.ucla.edu. Email is the preferred means of communication. Please be informed that the TOP coordinators do not hold open office hours.

Office Location

190 Powell Library

Mailing Address

190 Powell Library Building
Box 951515
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1515
Campus Mail Code 151504

Contact Us

Email: top@teaching.ucla.edu

Business Hours

By Appointment

TOP Exam Registration

TOP Administration II for Fall quarter will be held in November 2020.  Registration for Administration II is currently open.

Please register here for the exam. If you receive a message saying “registration is closed,” this means all spots are currently full. 

Please note that due to COVID-19 restrictions, this TOP administration will be held remotely via Zoom. Once you have registered for the exam, you will receive an email with detailed instructions for signing into Zoom for the exam. Please see the Exam Preparation section of this website for further advice on how to prepare for the TOP via Zoom.

TOP Registration Policies

  • You must register at least 24 hours prior to your desired exam time
  • You may only take 1 exam per administration (e.g., the Fall administration vs. the Winter administration)
  • Should you miss your exam appointment or fail to cancel your appointment within 48 hours of your exam time, you will be charged a $50 fee and receive a score of “0” for the missed test, which will be reported to your department
  • NO SPECIAL EXAMS can be requested. If you fail to register for an exam time offered in the current exam administration, you must wait until the next exam administration

Verify, Change, or Cancel Your Exam

If you are already registered, you can verify, change, or cancel your exam here.

Preparing for the TOP Exam

TOP Via Zoom

Due to current COVID-19 restrictions, TOP will take place remotely via UCLA Zoom. You will receive the login details for Zoom by email after you have registered for the exam.  You must have a Zoom account and sign in to Zoom in order to login for the exam.  After signing in for the meeting, the TOP Coordinator will invite you to join Zoom once it is time to check-in. The TOP coordinator will provide you with additional instructions during the check-in process. Please note that you are responsible for arranging the necessary Zoom equipment (e.g., camera, microphone, internet connection) for the exam.

Taking the TOP

The exam has 3 parts and is designed to be a simulation of common TA duties, specifically, explaining course materials and presenting an academic topic in an interactive manner. The 3 parts of the TOP exam include, 1 – Self Introduction, 2 – Syllabus Review, and 3 – Prepared Presentation. Please review the information below for more details about each task and advice about how to prepare.

  Task 1
Task 2
Syllabus Review
Task 3
Prepared Presentation
Purpose Familiarize self with test environment Measure communicative ability with administrative TA tasks Measure communicative ability with presentation TA tasks
Duration 1-2 minutes ~5 minutes ~10 minutes
Scoring Not scored 50% of total score

·       Pronunciation

·       Vocabulary and Grammar

·       Rhetorical Organization

·       Question Handling

50% of total score

·       Pronunciation

·       Vocabulary and Grammar

·       Rhetorical Organization

·       Question Handling

Materials None Syllabus excerpt provided during check-in (you may refer to this excerpt during Task 2 of the exam) Blank physical whiteboard, paper ,or notebook & writing utensil
Absolutely NO other materials are permitted. You will not be permitted to share your screen when taking the exam via Zoom.
Tips for Preparing No preparation needed; expect to interact in casual conversation Practice explaining excerpts of syllabi (e.g., homework, grading policy, projects, finals, etc.) –       Prepare a presentation on a basic topic in your field, appropriate for non-expert undergraduate students

–       Choose a topic with lots of English language usage – See here for Further information about choosing a topic for Task 3

–       Practice ahead of time with friends, colleagues, or family

Other Comments –       Questioners will ask clarifying questions that are common to a classroom environment at UCLA.

–       You can feel free to elaborate or role play information that is not included in the syllabus excerpt.

–      Review the TOP Visual Reinforcement Tutorial for using a visual aid when taking the exam via Zoom. You will NOT be permitted to share your screen when taking the exam via Zoom or used any pre-prepared materials (slides, graphics, etc.). Please prepare accordingly.

–       You will be asked questions during the presentation, as in a typical lecture; prepare and practice with this in mind.

Repeat Test Takers: It is highly recommended that test-takers seek counseling from the TOP counseling team to review their exam before registering for the exam again. Please contact the TOP coordinator at TOP@teaching.ucla.edu to schedule your appointment. 


Task 2 – Syllabus Review

All examinees will be provided a copy of a syllabus excerpt during the check-in process to use during Task 2. No other materials are allowed during Task 2. The undergraduate students you will be presenting to will also have a copy of the syllabus excerpt. When taking the exam via Zoom, you will not be permitted to share your screen.

Task 3 – Prepared Presentation in your Field

Examinees are not allowed to use any materials such as slides or pictures (when taking the exam virtually) and/or posters, flashcards, computers, maps, charts, or multimedia of any kind (when taking the exam in person). This strict policy is to ensure a high degree of consistency between test performance across departments and to reduce distractions.

You may choose to create a visual representation or aid during Task 3 using a whiteboard and dry erase marker when taking the exam in person. When taking the exam via Zoom, you may use a whiteboard, notebook, or other blank surface you have available to you to create your visual representation or aid. Please see the TOP Visual Representation Tutorial for a demonstration about how to use a visual representation or aid when taking the exam via Zoom. Please note that you will NOT be allowed to share your screen at any point during the virtual exam.

As the TOP primarily assesses your speaking and listening skills, visual representations are completely optional and should only be used as a supplement to your prepared presentation. The visual representation should be blank before starting and created during Task 3. If the visual has already been created, you will be asked to stop the exam and reschedule.

Test Duration

The exam takes about 40 minutes from the time you check in to the time you leave the exam room. This includes time for check-in, time to prepare for Task 2 – Syllabus Review, and time to take the actual exam. The actual exam is approximately 20 minutes long. Once you have entered the testing room, you may not leave for any reason.

People In The Room

In addition to the test taker, there are typically 4 people in each exam room.

  • 2 questioners act as students in a class, listening to the test taker and asking questions during the exam. It is very important to answer the students fully and completely as how you respond to questions is a part of your exam score.
  • 2 raters will be present and will score your exam. They may speak to the test taker and prompt him/her to begin specific tasks, but they do not generally ask any questions. Test takers should direct their attention to the questioners.

TOP Scoring Categories

Only the syllabus presentation (Task 2) and the prepared presentation (Task 3) are scored. Two raters score the exam based on a rubric that includes the following 4 categories:

  • Pronunciation
    • e.g., phonemes, word and sentence stress, intonation, pauses and thought groups, linking and connected speech, etc.
  • Vocabulary and Grammar
    • e.g., word order, word choice, oral grammar (tense, subject-verb agreement, etc.), etc.
  • Rhetorical Organization
    • e.g., transitions between sentences and ideas, cohesive devices/ logical connectors, overall organization of ideas, maintenance of organization despite spontaneous questions, etc.
  • Question Handling
    • e.g., ability to demonstrate understanding of questions (re-wording questions or incorporating the question into the answer) and respond appropriately to spontaneous questions while maintaining control of the presentation

TOP Category Rating

Each category is rated on a scale from 1-4.

  • 1 = very difficult to understand, major errors, extreme listener effort required
  • 2 = frequent errors leading to moments of unintelligibility, especially with high-frequency words/ideas or content words/ideas pertinent to the task (key vocabulary/concepts and or ideas), listener effort required
  • 3 = some errors, but errors don’t impede communication; key concepts and vocabulary are clearly identifiable
  • 4 = near-native; errors are rare and ideas/concepts/vocabulary require no listener effort

More information about the 1-4 scores for each scoring categories can be found in the TOP Scoring Rubric.

TOP Scores

Based on the scores from the 4 scoring categories, test takers can earn a final score ranging from 2.5 – 10. Pronunciation is weighted 1.5 times as heavily as the other three categories. The highest possible score is a 10, with a score of 4 in each category. A score of 3 in each category yields 7.5. The final scores are broken down into 3 decision categories:

  • Clear Pass (7.1 – 10): The student is permitted to TA immediately with no restrictions. Test takers who receive a clear pass are not permitted to retake the exam.
  • Provisional Pass (6.4 – 7.0): The student is required to take an approved ESL oral skills course (ESL 310, 311, 312 or 313) either before or during the first quarter of TA work. Test takers who get a provisional pass are not permitted to take the exam again. However, a small number of departments require students who receive a provisional pass to retake the exam in lieu of enrolling in an ESL course. These students are permitted to take the exam as many times as needed to receive a score of 7.1 or higher; please check with your department to inquire about their policy.
  • Non-Pass (2.5 – 6.3): The student is not permitted to TA and must take the exam again (in a later exam administration).

What Happens if I Fail and I Need to Take the Exam Again?

We suggest that you meet with TOP Counselor to receive counseling regarding your exam performance before taking the exam again. You can register to take the exam again at a future exam administration as soon as the exam registration page is up. The TOP is free to students the 1st and 2nd time they take it. For the 3rd and subsequent times, the cost is $50 per exam.

Scoring results from this task:

This test taker received a passing score in all 4 categories

Additional scoring notes:

  • Pronunciation: Non-native stress and intonation do not impede communication
  • Word Choice & Grammar: Appropriate use of vocabulary, minor grammar errors do not impede communication
  • Organization: Global organization adequate and sentence level transitions appropriate
  • Question Handling: Answers demonstrate understanding of questions, provide not only a good response to the student but elaborate the response in a way that highlights the relationship of the answer to other parts of the talk.

Scoring results from this task:

This test taker received a passing score in all 4 categories, with an exceptional score in the Organization category.

Additional scoring notes: 

  • Pronunciation: Non-native stress and intonation (e.g. rising intonation used for declarative statements). However,  communication is not impeded.
  • Word Choice & Grammar: Some subject-verb agreement errors (e.g. “information disappear”); some non-native word choice (e.g. “hopefully it can maintain information ever after”). However, grammar errors do not impede communication
  • Organization: Excellent use of presentation outline in introduction. Uses sign post words like First, Second, and Third. Rephrases and reiterates main points. Introduces ideas using questions and transition phrases such as “as you can see” and “for example.” Easy to follow the ideas of the talk.
  • Question Handling: Answers demonstrate an understanding of questions and provide good response. May reword and repeat the question to ensure that the student’s question was properly understood.

TOP Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What do I do if I get an error message on the registration page? 
    This occurs if you 1) did not register at least 24 hours prior to your desired exam time OR 2) no more exam appointments are available. If this happens, please email the TOP coordinators (top@teaching.ucla.edu).
  2. How do I get my exam score?
    Your exam score will be sent to the email address provided at registration within 3-4 business days of your exam. If for any reason you don’t receive your score within 4 business days, please e-mail the TOP coordinator (top@teaching.ucla.edu) so that we can send it to you again.
  3. How does my department (or a department I want to TA for) get my score?
    Your exam score will be sent by email to your department (and other departments you designated when registering) no later than 4 business days after your exam.
  4. How can I learn more about my exam performance?
    We highly recommend that test takers make a counseling appointment after their exam. During the appointment, a member of the TOP team will discuss the strengths and weaknesses of your test performance so that you can get advice about which ESL class(es) to enroll in, improve your English skills for your TA duties, and/or learn how you can perform better the next time you take the exam (for non-passing test takers only). Please email the TOP Coordinator to set up a counseling appointment (top@teaching.ucla.edu). Note: Counseling is available to all test takers regardless of their score; however, students who receive a pass or a provisional pass may not take the exam again.
  5. What happens if I fail and I need to take the exam again?
    We suggest that you meet with a member of the TOP team to receive counseling regarding your exam performance before taking the exam again. You can register to take the exam again as soon as the exam registration page is up. Students who receive a Provisional Pass may not take the exam again unless a Clear Pass is required by his or her department. The TOP is free to students the 1st and 2nd time they take it. For the 3rd and subsequent times, the cost is $50 per exam (billed to the student’s BAR account within one month of the exam date). Please email the TOP Coordinator to set up a counseling appointment (top@teaching.ucla.edu).
  6. What do I do if I want to file an exemption request for the TOP?
    The TOP office does not grant exemptions for the TOP. If you would like to file an exemption request, you and your department must do so through Graduate Division.
  7. What if I have more questions?
    If you have other questions, feel free to contact the TOP Coordinator by email (top@teaching.ucla.edu).

ESL Oral Skills Courses at UCLA

During the academic year, UCLA offers four oral skills courses that are specifically tailored to the needs of international graduate students who are planning to be TAs. More information about these classes can be found below.

ESL Oral Skills Courses at UCLA


This course focuses on the accurate articulation of sounds, word stress, linking and other features of fluent spoken English, especially with respect to classroom language and key terms from one’s own field. There is an additional emphasis on comprehending the fast, casual, idiomatic speech of undergraduate students.


This course focuses on stress, rhythm, and intonation in the context of classroom discourse. Course materials are based on video recordings of actual TAs, selected and edited into a series of short video clips of specific teaching events. The videos and transcripts are used as models of the discourse patterns commonly used to introduce a syllabus, explain a visual, field questions, and interact in office hours.


This course focuses on essentially the same skills as ESL 311—stress, rhythm, and intonation in the context of classroom discourse. Though the courses are titled I and II, ESL 311 is not a prerequisite for ESL 312. For students who need a longer time and multiple courses in order to acquire the linguistic competence to serve as a TA, ESL 312 (like ESL 311) provides models of actual TAs, linguistic support, and structured practice. The classroom contexts in ESL 312 include building rapport with students, giving instructions, encouraging participation, and organizing a lesson effectively.


This course focuses on communicating effectively as a TA with an emphasis on making technical subject matter accessible to undergraduates. The curriculum is almost entirely performance-based (and class sessions are video-recorded) after week 2. After viewing their video performances outside of class, students meet in small groups with the instructor to discuss each performance in depth.

If you have questions about any of these courses, please contact Janet Goodwin: Goodwin@ucla.edu

Dashew Center Programs

The purpose of Dashew Center programming is to provide programming for students, scholars, faculty, staff, and friends for the purposes of cross-cultural learning, cultural adjustment, language improvement and facilitating friendship building. The Center offers various programs such as American Culture & Conversation (AC&C)Language Circles, and Language Exchange.

The DASHEW Center is located at
106 Bradley Hall, 417 Charles E. Young Drive West
Tel. +1-310-825-1681

Volunteering Opportunities

At the Dashew Center: there are many times throughout the year that the Dashew Center needs volunteers for programs but in particular, their iSTART@UCLA (formerly known as NISSO) is a great opportunity for you to get involved and help welcome incoming students and scholars to UCLA. If you are interested in joining the Dashew Center Volunteer Listserv to learn about upcoming volunteer activities please e-mail intlprograms@saonet.ucla.edu.

At the UCLA Volunteer Center: there are a good number of options of things all students can do around campus. Here you will find what suits your style best, and what days and time are more convenient for you. You can improve your oral skills helping other people like you! http://volunteer.ucla.edu

UCLA Student Groups

Sponsored by the UCLA Student Affairs, this is another great opportunity for students to get involved with activities on campus and practice their English oral skills!

TA Conference

For four decades, the UCLA Center for the Advancement of Teaching TA Training Program has put on a campus-wide Teaching Assistant Conference in the Fall as a means to help both new and experienced teaching assistants improve their teaching skills. Conference participants receive this assistance through all day, hands-on workshop tracks that provide practical tools for making the most out of your teaching experience, as well as more specialized instruction for both the North and South campus TA teaching at the undergraduate level. In addition, there will be an afternoon panel with distinguished faculty and TAs to offer advice and answer questions. For more information, go to the TA Training Services page.

Graduate Student Resource Center

The UCLA Graduate Student Resource Center is a Graduate Students Association initiative that is managed by Student Affairs. The GSRC is a resource, referral and information center for graduate students, offering programs and workshops on a variety of topics, drop-in advice and assistance, meeting and study space, and the opportunity for social interaction. The GSRC works with GSA to organize the Graduate Student Orientation each fall. The Graduate Student Resource Center is also the home of the new Graduate Writing Center. All graduate and professional students are welcome. We are located in B11 of the Student Activities Center.