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English Competence

At Penn State, all graduate programs are required to assess Ph.D. students’ English language competence. In C I, we view this requirement as an opportunity to encourage all students to improve written and oral communication through both formal and informal learning opportunities. To support students’ development with respect to English communication, faculty may recommend engagement with one or more campus resources or programs such as those offered by EPPIC (English for Professional Purposes Intercultural Center) and the Graduate Writing Center

The assessment of English competence will take place at the time of the Qualifying Examination. Writing will be assessed through evaluation of written materials submitted for the Qualifying Examination. Competence in oral language use (i.e., listening and speaking) will be assessed through evaluation of students’ responses to questions posed by faculty during the Qualifying Examination meeting. Per Graduate School policy (see Policy GCAC-605), English language competence must be assessed separately from Qualifying Examination assessments of disciplinary knowledge. Both the Qualifying Examination content and English competence will be assessed by the faculty administering the Qualifying Examination. 

C I faculty will be guided by an agreed-upon set of criteria, as applicable to the particular writing selection and oral conversation, when assessing doctoral students’ English competence. To assess students’ oral communication, the faculty will consider whether the student …

  • speaks at a steady rate and with appropriate pauses; 
  • addresses topics and questions with focused, relevant responses; 
  • presents ideas in a coherent manner; 
  • when requested, is able to expand on topics with minimal faculty intervention; 
  • can discuss sophisticated concepts and use terms appropriate to the discipline;
  • makes few mistakes in grammar that affect clarity;
  • has few issues with pronunciation that affect comprehensibility;
  • engages with the committee using volume, eye contact, and body language appropriate to professional context; and
  • understands questions with minimal negotiation or repetition.

To assess students’ writing, the faculty will consider whether the student …

  • addresses the prompt; adheres to genre conventions for the task; demonstrates understanding of the assignment;
  • organizes ideas logically; links ideas within and across sections;
  • synthesizes information from multiple sources; positions arguments within the field of study; shows relationships among ideas;
  • uses details and examples to support arguments;
  • successfully paraphrases and quotes appropriate sources;
  • follows the discipline’s scholarly style; achieves appropriate tone; follows disciplinary citation conventions; and
  • makes few mistakes in grammar that affect clarity of meaning.

To assist with applying this set of criteria, faculty may choose to use these Written and Oral English assessment worksheets

The faculty administering the Qualifying Examination will reach a shared decision based on the criteria listed above. The adviser will bear responsibility for joint decision-making among committee members, completing the required paperwork, and sharing results with the student. Results of the assessment of English competence will be submitted to the CI Graduate Program Assistant when reporting the results of the Qualifying Exam. 

On the form, Report on Assessment of English Competence for Doctoral Students, faculty will recommend one of the following results: 

  • passed,
  • conditional pass (improvement is needed; student will be re-assessed before the comprehensive exam),
  • failed (improvement is needed; student will be re-assessed before the comprehensive exam), or
  • failed (student will not be permitted to re-take the assessment and must withdraw from program).

After the assessment, the adviser will send an email to the student indicating the results of the assessment and any recommendations for improvement.

When needed, faculty will work with students to develop recommendations for improvement. The student bears responsibility to pursue the opportunities for improvement suggested by the Qualifying Exam committee. A subsequent administration of the English competence assessment must include the adviser and at least one other C I Graduate Faculty member and will again be based on the criteria above for written and oral English assessment. Doctoral students must pass the assessment of English competence before the Comprehensive Examination is scheduled.

Faculty are encouraged to monitor students’ oral and written English competence prior to and following the qualifying examination and to promote the use of available resources for enhancing students’ language proficiency throughout the Ph.D. program. Many of the available resources may be beneficial even for students who pass the English competence assessment at the time of the Qualifying Examination.

Ph.D. Manual
Expectations, Credit Load, and Residency ○ Emphasis Areas, Dual-Title Degrees, and Minors ○ Roles of an Adviser ○ The Qualifying Examination ○ English Competence ○ Doctoral Committee Membership ○ Responsibilities of the Doctoral Committee ○ Plan of Study ○ Comprehensive Examination ○ Dissertation and Final Oral Examination ○ Procedures Concerning Graduation