Placement Tests

Placement Tests

The International Student English (ISE) exam is a free placement exam given to determine the English proficiency of international students. After taking the ISE exam, students are either released from any ALI requirement or receive an ALI placement. A student's ALI placement may vary from 2 units to more than 18 units depending on their ISE exam scores. With few exceptions, international students whose native language is not English must take the International Student English (ISE) Examination.

The USC Center for Testing and Assessment will administer the exam in August for students beginning their studies in the fall semester; and in January for the spring semester. To find out if you are required to take the ISE exam, review your letter of admission and your I-20. There is no fee for taking the ISE exam. Bring your letter of admission to USC, your passport (or other official document with a picture and signature), and a pen to the examination room.

Exemptions from Taking the ISE Exam
Students who meet the following conditions may not be required to take the ISE exam:

  • Students who have achieved an Internet Based TOEFL (iBT) score of 100 or higher with no less than 20 on each individual section of the test, taken within the past 2 years.
  • Students who hold a bachelor's degree from a regionally accredited university located in the United States or in another country in which English is both the language of instruction and the only official language of the country. The entire program must be completed in the qualifying country. Please note: a graduate degree from a U.S. college or university does not exempt students from taking the ISE exam.
  • Students whose native language is English. This applies to native English speakers from countries such as the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada (except Quebec) where English is both the only official language of the country and the language of instruction.


The ISE examination may only be taken once in any given year. There are two parts to the exam which may be given on two different days. Students' English language proficiency is assessed in writing and oral skills.

Writing skills are assessed by an essay. Students are given 40 minutes to write an essay. A team of experienced graders read the essays and grade students on their ability to write a well-organized essay, using accurate and appropriate English. Students are assessed on comprehensibility, academic style, vocabulary, grammar, development, and coherence.

Oral skills are assessed in an oral interview that takes approximately ten minutes. The interview is carried out in a relaxed, friendly atmosphere by two interviewers who ask students to talk about their personal life, the composition that they wrote previously, and a topic chosen by the interviewers. Students are assessed on fluency, pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar.

For more information, please contact the American Language Institute at 213.740.0079.