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Intercultural Communication Center Tips for Doing your Best on the ITA Test
The ITA test is an oral exam that assesses a candidate's ability to communicate orally with learners. Test candidates will meet with a panel of four to five raters. The test consists of two parts: a conversational interview and an a more formal explanation of a topic from the candidate's field. Candidates are assessed on language skills such as pronunciation, grammar, the fluency to explain and define academic terms and concepts, and the ability to understand and respond clearly to questions. Candidates are not assessed on knowledge of their field nor on teaching skills. Note that candidates do not need to have native-like fluency or pronunciation to pass the ITA test.
Who Needs to Take the ITA Test
ITA Testing for Master Students
Preparing for the ITA Test
Tips for Doing your Best on the ITA Test

> Audience 
> Topic 
> Presentation Style 
> Dealing with Nervousness

Understanding the ITA Test Scoring Guide


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  1. Understand your audience for the test. Do not pretend that the raters are "students" in a hypothetical class that you might TA. Instead, work to explain clearly to the actual audience, all ESL professionals with a general knowledge of most fields at Carnegie Mellon, but little in-depth knowledge of specific topics from your field.

  2. Explain or briefly define all technical terms used that you think a general audience might not understand. Do not rely on formulas or technical jargon.

Topic for the formal explanation (part 2 of the test): The topic is chosen at the time of the test (do not prepare anything in advance). This allows for a more authentic sample of a TA's academic fluency; the real test of an ITA's academic fluency comes when he or she must respond to the unexpected questions and comments from students (a key component of labs, review sessions, recitations and office hours).

  1. Finding a topic is a negotiation between the raters and the test taker. The ITA test is a test of spoken academic fluency, not a test of knowledge. If you feel that you cannot talk about a topic we suggest, it is appropriate to ask for another topic. However, be sure to explain why the first topic is not suitable and to give some guidance about some other possible areas in your field from which we can find a topic. This conversation will give you an opportunity to demonstrate your academic fluency.

  2. You are not expected to fully cover your topic during the 5 minutes allotted for your presentation, so don't be surprised when the raters stop you before you have finished. Focus your efforts on being as clear as possible during the test rather than attempting to complete an explanation that could not realistically be completed in 5 minutes.
Presentation Style
  1. Be careful not to speak too quickly. Many test takers are surprised to find out that excessive speed made their language less comprehensible.

  2. Expect questions during your presentation. Raters will ask questions both for clarification and, if needed, to help you get back on track, e.g., to clarify overly technical language, to ask for an example, or to remind you to slow down.

  3. Use good communication techniques:
    • Interact with the audience (e.g., to check for understanding, to get them to think, etc.)
    • Use the board; the audience needs to see as well as hear.
    • Use transitional language to help the audience understand the organization of your presentations (e.g., moving from general ideas to specific examples, when rewording, moving on to new topics, etc.).
Dealing with Nervousness
  1. Don't be surprised if you feel nervous before and during the test. Most people are and this is perfectly normal. Take a deep breath, remember to go slowly and realize that even people who get the top score might make some mistakes with grammar, pronunciation or word choice.

  2. Be aware that your test will be recorded (some people feel additional stress if they had not expected a camera). The video is for feedback and evaluation purposes only; we will not show it to anyone else without getting your permission.

  3. Review the ITA test webpage thoroughly; the more you know about the test, the more likely that you will be able to demonstrate your true level of academic fluency. Remember to participate as actively as you can in order to show your language at its best.