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Language testing - Scales/Levels

Where do you rank?

You want to know how you would rank on the oral, reading and writing proficiency scales? Read the descriptions of the levels.

Oral Proficiency Rating Scale

5Educated Native ProficiencyFunctionally equivalent to that of a highly articulate and well-educated native speaker. Reflects the cultural standards of the country where the language is spoken. Language usage and ability to function are superior throughout.
4+Advanced Professional Proficiency, PlusSpeaking proficiency is regularly superior in all respects and is usually equivalent to that of a well-educated, highly articulate native speaker. Speaks effortlessly and smoothly on all topics. Understands all forms and styles of speech and shows strong sensitivity to social and cultural references. Language usage and ability to function are fully successful. There may be an occasional non-native slip.
4Advanced Professional ProficiencyAble to use the language fluently and accurately on all levels normally pertinent to professional needs. Language usage and ability to function are fully successful. Can tailor language to audience and discuss in depth highly abstract or unfamiliar topics. Able to speak with a great deal of fluency, grammatical accuracy, complex vocabulary and in an idiomatic fashion. Understands all forms and styles of speech and shows strong sensitivity to social and cultural references. May have some difficulty with some dialects and slang.
3+General Professional Proficiency, PlusAble to use the language to satisfy professional needs in a wide range of sophisticated and demanding tasks. Operates at level 4 most of the time, but cannot sustain the performance across a variety of topics. Understanding is complete, including idioms, nuances, register shifts and humour or irony. Often matches a native speaker's strategic and organizational abilities. Basic and complex structures are fully controlled except for an occasional error in low-frequency structures. There are no patterned errors.
3General Professional ProficiencyAble to speak the language with sufficient structural accuracy, vocabulary and cohesiveness in discourse to participate effectively in most formal and informal conversations on practical, social, and professional topics. Understanding is essentially complete. Can discuss with fluency and ease abstract issues and special fields of competence and interest. Can support opinion and hypothesize. Can provide a structured argument that is clear and well organized. While the influence of the speaker's first language can be felt (in pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary), there are no patterned errors and errors never distract the listener or interfere with communication.
2+Limited Working Proficiency, PlusAble to satisfy most working requirements with language that is often, but not always, acceptable and effective. Operates at level 3 most of the time but is unable to sustain the performance across all topics, i.e. when called on to perform level 3 tasks, may avoid the tasks altogether or resort to simplification through the use of description or narration instead of argumentation or hypothesis. Also, may give concrete examples to illustrate a point instead of arguing the point abstractly. Often shows remarkable ease of speech but performance is uneven. Vocabulary may still be generic (general) rather than precise. Often strong in either grammar or vocabulary, but not in both. Comprehension of normal native speech is nearly complete. Can be understood by native speakers not used to dealing with foreigners.
2Limited Working ProficiencyAble to satisfy routine social demands and limited work requirements. Can handle with confidence, but not accuracy, complicated tasks. Speaks with ease and facility on concrete topics – giving facts and talking casually about topics of current public and personal interest – using general vocabulary and linking sentences together smoothly with appropriate connectors. When dealing with more complex or abstract topics or issues, fluency breaks down. Can narrate and describe in major time frames. Can understand main ideas and most details on a variety of topics, and discourse referring to different time frames or aspects. Can be understood without difficulty by native speakers.
1+Elementary Proficiency, PlusCan initiate and maintain predictable face-to-face conversations and satisfy limited social demands. Operates mostly at level 2 but cannot sustain the performance across all topics and tasks. Can converse with ease and confidence when dealing with routine tasks and social situations, describe people and places and narrate in present tense. May hesitate and change the intended message due to lack of language resources. Understanding of normal native speech is inconsistent due to failure to grasp details and, sometimes even main ideas. Influence of first language is evident in pronunciation, grammatical structures and vocabulary. However, can be understood by native speakers not used to dealing with foreigners, although repetition and reformulation may be needed.
1Elementary ProficiencyAble to satisfy courtesy requirements and maintain simple face-to-face conversations on familiar topics. Can ask and answer simple questions and participate in simple conversations on topics beyond the most immediate needs. Speaks in sentences but often hesitates and pauses to search for adequate vocabulary. Able to understand sentence-length utterances on a variety of concrete topics, but understanding is uneven. Can be understood by native speakers used to dealing with foreigners.
0+Memorized ProficiencyAble to satisfy immediate needs using mostly rehearsed utterances. Can handle level 1 tasks but cannot sustain the performance at that level. Shows little autonomy of expression, flexibility and spontaneity. Relies heavily on learned phrases or a recombination of these and words used by the interlocutor. Inability to conjugate verbs. Strong influence of first language in pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary (borrowed words, literal translations). Can usually differentiate most significant sounds when produced in isolation, but when combined in words or groups of words, may have difficulty understanding. Can be understood by native speakers used to dealing with foreigners.
0No ProficiencyUnable to function in the spoken language, except for a few isolated words and phrases.


  • Level 2/2+ is that on which much daily communication and social interactions are handled routinely and effortlessly among native speakers.
  • Levels 3 and above entail a much more sophisticated control of the language and a breadth and depth of vocabulary not normally used in everyday exchanges.

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Reading Proficiency Rating Scale

5Educated Native ProficiencyReading ability is functionally equivalent to that of the well-educated native reader.
4+Advanced Professional Proficiency, PlusNear native ability to read and understand extremely difficult or abstract prose, a wide variety of vocabulary, idioms, colloquialisms, and slang. Strong sensitivity to and understanding of sociolinguistic and cultural references.
4Advanced Professional ProficiencyAble to read fluently and accurately all styles and forms of the language in any subject as well as those pertinent to professional needs. Understands all sociolinguistic and cultural references. Can follow unpredictable turns of thought readily in editorial, conjectural, and literary texts, as well as in materials in own special field, including official documents and correspondence. Recognizes all professionally relevant vocabulary known to the educated non-professional native reader. Speed and accuracy is often nearly that of a well-educated native reader.
3+General Professional Proficiency, PlusAble to read with facility and appreciate a wide variety of texts as well as those pertinent to professional needs. Has a broad active general, specialized and abstract vocabulary. Able to comprehend many sociolinguistic and cultural references, as well as a considerable range of complex structures, low-frequency idioms, and connotations. However, accuracy is not complete, and here again some nuances and subtleties may escape the reader.
3General Professional ProficiencyAble to read within a normal range of speed and with almost complete comprehension a variety of authentic texts on unfamiliar subjects. Reading ability does not depend on subject matter knowledge, except if the material is highly dependent on cultural knowledge or outside one's general experience and not accompanied by explanation. Text types include news stories, wire service reports, international news items, correspondence, technical material, etc. in one's professional field. Material may include hypothesis, argumentation, and supported opinions. Misreadings are rare. Able to read between the lines and derive the author's implicit intent, but may not detect or understand subtleties and nuances. May experience some difficulties with unusually complex structures and low-frequency idioms.
2+Limited Working Proficiency, PlusAble to understand most general factual prose as well as some discussions on concrete topics related to special professional interests. Has a good active reading vocabulary and is able to use the context to make sensible guesses about unfamiliar vocabulary and material. Can get the gist of the information and some secondary ideas. Weaknesses include slowness, uncertainty, inability to discern nuances.
2>Limited Working ProficiencyAble to read simple and straightforward factual texts written for the general reader that are presented in a predictable sequence and contain high frequency sentence patterns. Persons who have professional knowledge of a subject may be able to scan and summarize texts that are well beyond their general proficiency level. In general, however, the person does not have a broad active vocabulary and is quite slow in reading.
1+Elementary Proficiency, PlusAble to read and understand simple texts for informative social purposes, such as biographical information or narration of events, straightforward newspaper headlines. Can guess at unfamiliar vocabulary if highly contextualized. Can locate main ideas and routine information of professional significance in more complex texts and in the professional specialty.
1Elementary ProficiencyAble to read very simple descriptions of places, things and public events such as those simplified for tourists. Can get some main ideas and locate prominent items of professional significance in more complex texts.
0+Memorized ProficiencyUnable to read connected prose, but can recognize high frequency elements of a syllabary or a character system. Able to read (but not always interpret accurately) some or all of the following: numbers, isolated words and phrases, street signs, office and shop designations.
0No ProficiencyNo practical ability to read the language.

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Writing Proficiency Rating Scale

5Educated Native ProficiencyWriting proficiency is functionally equivalent to that of a highly articulate educated native. There are no non-native errors of structure, spelling, syntax or vocabulary. Writing is both clear, explicit, informative, and imaginative.
4+Advanced Professional Proficiency, PlusAble to write the language precisely and accurately in a wide variety of prose styles pertinent to a variety of audiences and professional needs. Varied use of stylistic devices and flexibility within a style. Can both write and edit formal and informal correspondence, official reports and documents, and professional articles, including writing for special purposes which might include legal, technical, educational, literary and colloquial writing. The writer employs a very wide range of stylistic devices.
4Advanced Professional ProficiencyAble to write the language precisely and accurately in a variety of prose pertinent to social issues and professional needs. Errors of grammar, syntax, punctuation and vocabulary are rare. Writing is consistently and explicitly organized with appropriate connectors and discourse devices (ellipsis, parallelisms, subordinates).
3+General Professional Proficiency, PlusAble to write in a variety of prose styles pertinent to general, social and professional needs. Good control of basic and complex structures, all verb tenses and tense sequence, morphology, syntax and punctuation. Usually uses cohesive devices well, but variety is limited. May not be able to express nuances or subtleties very well, nor tailor language to audience.
3General Professional ProficiencyAble to use the language effectively in most formal and informal written exchanges on practical, social, and professional topics. Can write reports, summaries, short papers on current events and particular areas of interest, or on special fields with reasonable ease. Control of structure, general vocabulary and spelling is adequate to convey message accurately but style may be obviously foreign. Punctuation is generally controlled. Good control of grammar with occasional errors in complex structures and tense sequence. Consistent control of compound sentences. Relationship of ideas is consistently clear.
2+Limited Working Proficiency, PlusShows ability to write with some precision and in some detail about most common topics. Can write about concrete topics relating to particular interests and special fields of competence. Often shows surprising fluency and ease of expression, but under time constraints and pressure language may be inaccurate. Can control basic and some complex structures, with some errors in more complex constructions (passives, relative clauses, word order, tense usage and sequence). Generally strong in either grammar or vocabulary, but not in both. Normally controls general vocabulary and some working vocabulary with some misuse. Can handle most social correspondence and take fairly accurate notes on what has been presented orally.
2Limited Working ProficiencyAble to write routine social correspondence and prepare documentary materials required for most limited work requirements. Can write simply about a limited number of current events or daily situations. Good control of morphology and basic syntactic structures. Uses a limited number of cohesive devices. However, still makes common errors in spelling, punctuation, and constructions (plurals, articles, gender, prepositions, verb tenses, negatives).
1+Elementary Proficiency, PlusAble to meet most survival needs and limited social demands. Can write short paragraphs related to most survival needs (food, lodging, transportation, immediate surroundings and situations) and limited social demands (greetings, relating personal history, daily life preferences, etc.). Can express fairly accurate present and future time and some past verb forms, but not always accurately. Can control elementary vocabulary and basic syntactic patterns only. Generally cannot use basic cohesive elements of discourse (relative constructions, object pronouns, connectors).
1Elementary ProficiencyAble to meet limited practical needs. Writes in simple sentences with errors in spelling, grammar, and punctuation. Writing tends to be a loose collection of sentences or sentence fragments without much organization. At this level, can write simple phone messages, excuses, notes to service people and friends.
0+Memorized ProficiencyWrites using memorized material and set expressions. Can produce 50 of the most common characters, write dates, own name, nationality, address, and a few short sentences. Spelling and characters may be incorrect.
0No ProficiencyNo functional writing ability.


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