Test Overview

This is an institutional test that is offered only in-person, face-to-face on ISU campus.


Test purpose:

The purpose of the Oral English Certification Test  (OECT) is to assess how effectively international teaching assistants (ITAs) can communicate in English in typical everyday, academic, and classroom situations. OECT results help ISU departments and graduate programs make informed decisions when assigning teaching duties to their ITAs.

Test preparation:

Students must arrive one hour before their appointed test time to prepare for TEACH. They are asked to choose a topic related to their academic field and receive material on that topic. The material is from a textbook textbook used in undergraduate courses. As they prepare, no dictionaries or other text or electronic sources are allowed. Pencils and paper are provided for note-taking. 

The OECT takes 20-25 minutes and consists of two sections: an Oral Proficiency Interview (OPI) and a TEACH mini-lecture. Both sections of the test are video/audio recorded. 

Oral Proficiency Interview (OPI): The first part of OECT lasts for approximately 10 minutes and consists of:

  • Warm up - unscored informal interaction, small talk.
  • Impromptu speaking - three questions on different topics (e.g., describing events and experiences or explaining ideas and opinions). Test-takers respond without preparation, as in a normal conversation (2 minutes per response).
  • Role play - acting out a daily life situation (e.g., shopping, finding out information, or setting up an appointment). A card describing the situation and task is provided for test-takers. One minute of preparation time is allowed (2 minutes).

TEACH simulation: The second part of OECT lasts for approximately 10 minutes and consists of:

  • Preparing teaching notes on the board (2 minutes). Test-takers may also write as they present.
  • Mini-lecture on a topic selected by the test-taker (5 minutes), as if giving a lecture to a class of ISU undergraduate students.
  • Answering questions from "the class" (3 minutes). “The class” usually consists of 2-3 raters who ask questions that may concern the content presented or inquire about typical classroom matters such as homework, attendance, office hours, exams, etc.

Note: Some students are exempted from the OPI section because of high scores in both speaking and listening on TOEFL iBT or IELTS.  These students begin TEACH. See Who needs to take OECT for detailed exemption criteria. Additionally, Check Our Test Guide.

Rating procedures:

  • Raters assign a score from eight bands of scores ranging from 0 to 300 for the overall comprehensibility and effectiveness of the spoken language and listening ability in English.
  • Raters do not judge the content, but the way ideas are expressed (e.g., how freely ideas are communicated, how comprehensible the speech is, how appropriate and complex the language is, and how accurately it is spoken and understood). 
  • Raters score independently; they do not know the score given by the other raters.
  • Individual ratings are averaged. If the raters's scores are different, an additional rater performs additional rating of the video-recorded performance on the test. In addition, some recordings from each test room are rated again to ensure fairness.

Score reporting

Scores of OPI and TEACH sections are reported separately to students and departments as one of 4 possible levels of certification: 

  • Level 1 - Fully Certified
  • Level 2 - Conditionally Certified
  • Level 3 - Certified with Restrictions
  • Level 4 - Not Certified

Students in these four level categories are assigned different teaching duties and have different class requirements.
See Understand Results for detailed information. 

Testing Policies

Prospective international teaching assistants whose native-language is not English must take OECT before they are assigned teaching duties. Departments and graduate programs must inform itas@iastate.edu about the students who have to be tested.

Course Enrollment: Students with scores below Level 1 must enroll in a level-based section of GR ST 540: English for Teaching Purposes.

- Note: Starting Fall 2023, ENGL 180 will be called GR ST 540 -

OECT Retest:

  • Students who are enrolled in GR ST 540 can retest at the end of the semester.
  • Students who have previously enrolled in GR ST 540 can retest within one full year after their previous test date.
  • Students who have initially taken the OECT but did not enroll in any GR ST 540 cannot retest until they have completed one semester of GR ST 540.

We enforce these restrictive re-testing policies for the following reasons:

  • It is depressing and demoralizing for test candidates to retake the test but see little, if any, improvement in scores.
  • The test is thorough, but expensive and time consuming to administer.
  • Significant progress in oral English is generally slower than most students expect. A number of students improve to scores of around 200 (a mid level-3) or even lower, and then plateau. (Plateauing around the score of 200 is not surprising. 200 scores mean that communication is somewhat effective. Students with these scores are able to operate in English fairly successfully thus having less reason to work on improving, although their English language abilities are somewhat limited and/or have errors. Persistent problem areas often include pronunciation, grammar and limited vocabulary.  Language proficiency needs constant practice and focused work on problem areas for improvement to take place.)
  • Most of ITAs who are not taking English classes retest at the same level as previously. Students who move up a level have at least 10 months of instruction, and in some cases over 2 years, between test dates. There have also been cases when students made no significant improvement on OECT for a long time.

Note: Postdoctoral associates applying for the Preparing Future Faculty Program are waived from the 1-year rule for retesting.

Who Needs to Take OECT?

If you are unsure whether you or someone else needs to take the OECT tests, please contact itas@iastate.edu.

International graduate students who fall in one of the following categories need to have their oral English language proficiency certified through OECT:

  • Has been appointed or is considered for a teaching assistantship
  • Will have some instructional responsibilities even if not a assigned a teaching assistantship
  • Is currently applying for the Preparing Future Faculty (PFF) Program.


  • Students from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, and the United Kingdom whose first language is English are exempted from both OPI and TEACH.

  • Students who present the following valid official scores are exempted from the OPI but are required to take the TEACH:

    • TOEFL iBT listening and* speaking scores of 23

    • IELTS listening and* speaking modules of 7

    • PTE-Academic listening and speaking scores of 85

  • Students who present the following valid official scores are exempted from both OPI and TEACH:

    • TOEFL iBT listening and* speaking scores of 24 - 30

    • IELTS listening and* speaking scores of 7.5 - 9

Students who qualify for a full exemption from OECT should send a copy of their TOEFL or IELTS record at itas@iastate.edu for verification. Then, they receive an official OECT certificate.

If the TOEFL/IELTS scores expired by the time of OECT but had been filed with the university when they were still valid, students can request institutional verifcation and provide their ISU ID number. 

The following criteria do NOT qualify as an exemption from OECT:

  • Having completed one or more semesters of graduate work at ISU or another U.S. institution of higher education
  • Having received a bachelor's or master's degree from a U.S. institution of higher education OR having been educated in a school where English was the official language
  • Coming from a country where English is one of the official languages (e.g. India, Nigeria)
  • Having U.S. permanent residency or citizenship.


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