Carnegie Mellon University

Student Academic Success Center

Office of the Vice Provost for Education

ITA Language Certification

Language assessment is required for all nonnative English speaking students who want to work as teaching assistants (TAs) at Carnegie Mellon, in accordance with CMU policy and PA law.

Apply for Certification

Overview of the ITA Test

The ITA test is an exam that assesses a candidate's ability to communicate with learners/ people outside their field. The test consists of two parts (both will be recorded):

  1. A conversational interview on various academic topics.
  2. A more formal explanation (roughly 5 minutes) of a topic from the candidate's field (topics are not chosen in advance). The team of raters will ask questions to clarify misunderstandings and to elicit additional aspects of academic fluency.

Language Skills Assessed

  • pronunciation
  • grammar
  • the fluency to explain and define academic terms and concepts
  • the ability to understand and respond clearly to questions.

Teaching skills and knowledge of the field are NOT assessed.


ITA test candidates receive one of four scores.

TOEFL Speaking Score ITA Certification Score
28 to 30 Pass
26 to 27 Restricted I
22 to 25 Restricted II
Below 22 Cannot use TOEFL Option

Feedback and Results

Test-takers meet with an ICC instructor to learn their score, review strengths and weakness, and get advice about additional language training. While the final test score is based solely on language skills, feedback on presentation skills and cultural understanding is also included, but is not part of the final score. Both students and their departments receive copies of the final written evaluations.

Assessing teaching fluency in an ITA test

student pointing at dry-erase whiteboard while other student look on

Who Needs to have a Language Certification

Both university policy and PA law require that all nonnative English speaking students, undergraduate as well as graduate, have their language skills assessed before working as teaching assistants who meet with students.

Commonly Asked Questions About Language Certification

Anyone whose native language/ mother tongue is not English, regardless of citizenship or visa status. This can include:
  • Newly arrived international students
  • Students who attended all or part of high school or college in the US
  • Students who attended English speaking schools in another country
  • Students who are nonnative speakers but live in an English speaking country, e.g., a Canadian student who is a native English speaker does not need this certification; a native French speaking Canadian does
  • Students who are speakers of another variety of English, e.g. from India, Singapore, Hong Kong
Yes. Any student who is not a native speaker of English needs this certification, regardless of citizenship. US residency or citizenship is not a guarantee of English proficiency.
Yes, they do. Many students in this category have strong English skills, but many do not. Using English as the primary language of instruction or coming from a country in which English is an official language is not the same thing as "native language".

Graders who work with students need to have the ITA certification.

Department defines "grading" in many ways: different skill sets are required for

  • quantitative grading only with no student contact
  • grading while also meeting with students to explain and discuss grade
  • grading that requires the ability to communicate effectively in written English, e.g., grading lab reports or journals, essays, responding to discussion boards, writing test questions.

    Use the chart below to determine what type of assessment would be appropriate for a specific grading job. However, be aware that the TOEFL Writing score does not give information about the ability to respond in a culturally appropriate way to students.

Type of Grading Assignment

Method to Certify Appropriate Language Skiils for Job
Grading that requires meeting with students to explain and discuss grade, answer questions, etc. Language assessment required, Restricted II minimum.
Grading that requires ability to communicate effectively in written English, e.g., grading lab reports or journals, essays, writing test questions, responding to discussion boards. Recommend minimum TOEFL Writing score of 24 along with department assessment of the necessary skill set, including ability to respond in a culturally appropriate way to students.
Quantitative grading only with no student contact TOEFL Speaking score of 18 (minimum recommended for academic work at CMU).

Students who have completed undergraduate and graduate work in this country may still have basic problems with speaking and listening skills. Even a student who has worked as a TA at another university may not have the language skills necessary to function as a TA at Carnegie Mellon University.

To insure a uniform policy, please insist that all nonnative speakers complete the language certification.

ITA Language Certification for Master Students

Students in master programs can request an ITA Certification only when they have a job offer for a specific class, even if it is just a tentative job assignment.

Why do master students need to find a job before requesting ITA certification?

This allows us to use our resources efficiently. Not every master student who wants to TA will find a job. One added note: given the competition for TA jobs, master students should start looking for TA positions on campus as soon as possible.

Do master students need an ITA certification rating before applying for a job?

No, they do not. However, students who use their TOEFL speaking score in lieu of the ITA test can anticipate their rating in advance by referring to the ITA Language Certification scoring guide.

Students can satisfy the certification requirement in 1 of 2 ways

TOEFL Option

Use this option if you:

  • Have a TOEFL Speaking score that gives you an ITA Certification score which meets your TA job requirements.
TOEFL Speaking Score ITA Certification Score
28 to 30 Pass
26 to 27 Restricted I
22 to 25 Restricted II
Below 22 Cannot use TOEFL Option

ITA Test Option

Use this option if you:

  • Do not have TOEFL

  • Do not have minimum TOEFL Speaking score of 22

  • Have a TOEFL Speaking score that gives you an ITA Certification score which does not meet TA job requirements

The test will determine your certification rating

If you have a condition that may impact your ability to successfully complete the ITA Test, contact Disability Resources at

Certification Rating Using TOEFL Speaking

TOEFL 28 - 30

Pass - Strong Proficiency

TOEFL 26 - 27

Restricted I - Adequate Proficiency

TOEFL 22 - 25

Restricted II - Limited Proficiency

Below 22

Not Ready - Weak Proficiency

ITA Language Certification Scoring Guide

For additional information, see Understanding the four certification scores [PDF] and Understanding the four proficiency levels [PDF].

Jobs Permitted:

  • All TA assignments
  • Can also serve as sole instructor

Jobs Permitted:

  • All TA assignments

Jobs Permitted:

  • One-on-one sessions: e.g., office hours or tutoring, instructor assistant for labs or studios (if supervised by an instructor present in the lab or studio, and not responsible for safety instructions or for giving presentations),
  • Grader: meeting with students to explain and discuss grades, answer questions, etc.

Jobs Permitted:

  • Assignments that do not require communication with students
  • (on-going language support strongly recommended)

Applying for ITA Language Certification

Please review the following information before filling out the ITA certification application.

NOTE: ITA testing takes place at the beginning and end of each semester.

First-time Applicants

If you are requesting language certification for the first time, complete the application.

Students in master programs can register for an ITA language certification when they have a job offer for a specific class. Review the certification policy for Masters students before filling out the application.

ITA Recertification

To test for ITA recertification, students must fulfill the following two conditions:
  1. Have a job assignment that requires a higher score than what they currently have.
  2. Have completed a significant amount of the work needed to improve robust fluency; typically students require 25-35 hours of ICC work, sometimes for several semesters, to move to a higher score. This is especially true for students who just took the test in the previous semester.