TA Information

How can I become a TA?

Each department chooses its own TAs, so you would need to discuss options for becoming a TA with your departmental advisor.

What is the TA Language Evaluation?

This exam is required of students whose home language is other than English who are offered a TAship for the first time. The exam determines if you can communicate clearly enough to be given sole teaching responsibilities over an undergraduate class.

UCSB’s Graduate Division requires international TAs to take the exam, and has authorized the EMS Program to administer it.

The exam consists of a short presentation on an academic topic, which you will prepare in advance. You will present it to two UCSB faculty members, one from the EMS Program and one from the department which is offering you the TAship. After your presentation, those faculty will decide your evaluation result.

Three results are possible:

  1. You are certified to teach;
  2. You are conditionally certified; or
  3. You are not certified.

The first result, certified, means that you are determined to have sufficient oral English ability to teach an undergraduate class. You will not have to be re-evaluated, and you will not be required to take an oral English course.

The second result, conditionally certified, means that you have some language weaknesses that could make your speech difficult for undergrad students to understand, and/or you had problems understanding and responding to questions. A conditionally certified TA may teach an undergraduate class on the condition that you also complete an EMS oral skills course. Your required course will be determined by your evaluating faculty. You will have to enroll in the course during the same quarter as you are teaching or successfully complete it before you begin to teach. Although you will not have to re-take the TA Language Evaluation, you must pass your required EMS course.

The third result, not certified, means that you have some weaknesses that could make your speech difficult for undergrad students to understand, and/or you had problems understanding and responding to questions. You may not teach an undergraduate class until you have been re-evaluated and certified. In order to become eligible for re-evaluation, you will have to first successfully complete an EMS oral skills course. Your required course will be determined by your evaluating faculty.

Who must take the TA Language Evaluation?

I have taken the ELPE. Must I also take the TA Language Evaluation?

Yes. The oral ELPE is given to all international students who come to UCSB without an offer of a TAship. Students offered a TAship at a later time must take the TA Language Evaluation, which is different.

I have taken the oral ELPE and my result is Exempt. Am I also exempt from the TA Language Evaluation?

No; the TA Language Evaluation, because it holds applicants to a higher standard, is still required in such cases.

I have taken the TA language evaluation. Must I also take the ELPE?

If you are a new graduate student at UCSB and have already taken the TA Language Evaluation, you will not need to take the Oral ELPE. However, you may be required to take the written ELPE. (See our Graduate FAQs for more information.)

I finished my undergrad degree at a U.S. university. Must I take the TA Language Evaluation?

Yes. If you have been notified that you must take the TA Language Evaluation, it is because you have already been identified as being required to take the exam.

How do I prepare to take the TA Language Evaluation?

What topic may I choose for my presentation?

Most departments assign a topic or list of possible topics from which to choose. If not, check with the graduate student assistant in the department that is considering you for the TAship.

Most topics ask you to define a term or concept or solve a conceptual problem, one that does not rely on any significant discussion of detailed formulas and equations. The topic is usually appropriate to an introductory, undergraduate class. It is usually, though not necessarily, within the discipline that you would be teaching.

May I choose a different topic than the one that is assigned to me?

Keep in mind that the topics that a department assigns are based on years of experience with the TA evaluations, and normally topics are designed to help ensure the best possible result for you. For example, your presentation does have to be an academic topic, allow for maximum audience interaction, and not rely heavily on detailed formulas and equations.

Will I be evaluated on my knowledge of the topic area?

The evaluation process is only concerned with your ability to organize and communicate ideas and interact with your audience. Your result will not be affected by whether you do well or poorly at demonstrating a competent graduate student’s level of knowledge of the topic or the discipline.

Why can’t I use math formulas as part of my presentation?

The format of the evaluation will maximize your spoken interaction with the audience, which is extremely important to your success as a future TA. Furthermore, the time of each evaluation is quite short. As a result, you want to minimize the time you spend writing on the board, so that you can talk more.

We do understand that many TAs routinely deal with equations and formulas as a regular part of their job, and some TA Evaluation presentations will rely to an extent on some basic formulas or simple equations. However, the area where undergraduate students have difficulty understanding their TAs is often the conceptual discussions.

How long a presentation should I prepare?

You should be prepared to speak for only five or six minutes and assume that you will receive questions from the evaluators during your presentation. Your entire TA evaluation will take about 10 minutes.

Does that time include Q & A afterward?

Your evaluators will ask you questions during your presentation, not after. In fact, you should be prepared for them to surprise you by asking unexpected questions or at unexpected times. This is a normal part of every evaluation; you should not take it as a signal that something is wrong. Your evaluators simply want to make sure that Q/A interaction is a dominant part of the evaluation.

Your evaluators will ask you questions that a typical undergrad student might ask, and the questions will start coming shortly after you begin your presentation. When a question arises, you should respond to each question as completely as you can and then continue with your presentation. You might find it helpful to speak to the evaluators as if they are your students in a course you are teaching.

What if I do not finish my presentation in that short time?

Generally, you should expect that you will not have enough time to finish everything that you prepared to say about your topic. If you are asked to stop before you finish, you should not be worried. This is normal for a TA evaluation, and has no effect on your result.

May I use a laptop--for example, to show PowerPoint slides--during my presentation?

You may use a laptop of tablet to hold notes for your own use, but we cannot allow students to show presentation slides, such as a PowerPoint (PPT) show. We understand that may teachers use such slides as a normal part of their teaching. In your very brief evaluation time, however, we need to create an environment that will keep you interacting with your audience.

For an effective visual aid, we recommend that you make use of the white board in your evaluation room; you may also prepare a simple handout or overhead transparency. The key is not to read too much text directly from the visual aid; instead, maximize your eye contact and speak naturally and extemporaneously.

Are there certain English skills I should study to prepare for the TA Language Evaluation?

Your TA Language Exam result will depend on how well you demonstrate your overall fluency, grammatical accuracy, ability to use appropriate vocabulary, comprehensible pronunciation, and ability to understand and respond to questions.

When and where can I find out the result of my TA Language Evaluation?

It will usually take about one or two days before you find out your result. The graduate student assistant in the department that is considering you for a TAship will contact you, usually by e-mail, when the department has been notified.

After taking the TA Language Evaluation

What happens if I am not certified?

Students who are not certified are assigned to take an EMS course in order to improve in their weak areas. Usually, the EMS Program offers several oral English courses for graduate students, so your evaluators will have chosen a course that is specific to your needs. If you have been told you are not certified, you should have also received this course placement along with your result. You will be required to complete, and pass, this course before you can be re-considered for a TAship. If you were not certified, you will not be offered a TAship until you are certified.

I was having a bad day and did not do well on my TA Language Evaluation. May I re-take the exam?

We cannot allow students to re-take the TA language evaluation immediately—you will be re-evaluated at the end of the quarter in which you have successfully completed your required course as described in the previous paragraph.

I was not certified. Does this mean I will have no financial support this quarter?

The EMS Program is not involved in funding decisions.Students should contact their major department to see if there are other funds available.

I have a course conflict with the EMS course I am supposed to take.What should I do?

You should contact the EMS Program and your department’s graduate student advisor if this is the case. Often, departments will advise a student to prioritize their EMS course above major courses.

I have a placement for a course that is not offered this quarter. What should I do?

You should contact the EMS Program and your department’s graduate student advisor if this is the case. The EMS Program makes every effort to ensure that future TAs have access to the EMS courses they need.

If the class I need to take is full, or not offered this quarter, may I take a lower class instead? Or may I wait until next quarter?

If your required class is full, you should contact the instructor and explain your situation. Although most of our graduate courses are open to all graduate students, we often give higher priority to future TAs.

You should not attempt to substitute another course for your required course without first consulting with the Director of the EMS Program to explain your situation.

The Director of the EMS Program is Dr. Jan Frodesen. Her e-mail address is: frodesen@linguistics.ucsb.edu.