The Language Center administers placement tests to all students who intend to continue studying a foreign language at Stanford. The purpose of testing is diagnostic: it assesses students' current language abilities in order to match them to the course most suitable for that level.
Accurate initial placement is a key factor in successfully learning a foreign language. The Center conducts all proficiency testing of language students, collects these data and analyzes the results of student performance. All data are maintained in the Language Center and used to inform and advise individual language departments of the quality of both incoming and exiting students of their programs. Further, the Center is able to use these data as a baseline for future improvements in language teaching.
Placement as well as exit exams in each language consist of both written and oral components. All written portions test grammatical features as well as the ability to write connected discourse and to read authentic prose material. Most written portions are administered on-line via the Language Center website, which students can access only once using their Stanford ID numbers. Having the examinations available in this manner enables students to test at their convenience and to have the written scores immediately calculated.
After completing the written portion of the examination, all Stanford students proceed to the oral interview portion. German, Japanese, Chinese, Italian, Spanish, French, and Portuguese use the Simulated Oral Proficiency Interview (SOPI) developed by the Language Center and consistent with guidelines published by the Center for Applied Linguistics. In other languages, SOPIs are also being currently developed. This is an audio tape interview with an accompanying booklet. Students are asked questions as well as to describe events or pictures in the language, and their responses are recorded. Each interview is then assessed by trained raters.
In offering flexibility to students in terms of time and place, web-based testing is a program unique to Stanford University. The combined results of both written and oral components of the placement exam determine the most appropriate language course for the student who decides to continue studying that language, whether to fulfill the language requirement or for personal or professional interest. Proficiency testing measures what students are able to do with the language. Because of the nature of language acquisition and maintenance, placement test results are valid for one year.