International Teaching Assistants

International Teaching Assistants (ITAs) account for a large percentage of graduate assistants at the University of Southern California. The University is pleased to have such a large number of ITAs. Opportunities to interact with teaching assistants from other cultures can be a great benefit to students. In order to ensure the highest quality of instruction at the undergraduate level, USC requires a high level of English proficiency for all those involved in teaching.

The American Language Institute is responsible for evaluating English proficiency, and for providing the necessary training to help ITAs obtain the language skills necessary to fulfill their responsibilities. This training may include enrollment in courses which focus on the communication skills needed for teaching.

English Language Requirements for Teaching Assistants

Any graduate student planning to accept a position as an international teaching assistant (ITA), must demonstrate English-language proficiency by completing the ITA Exam. The exam consists of a 10 to 15 minute interview. The score will determine whether or not the ITA will be cleared to teach and/or required to take ALI courses.

ITAs who meet the following requirements may not be required to take the ITA Exam:

  • ITAs whose native language is English.
  • ITAs who scored 29 or better on the speaking portion and 25 or better on the listening portion of the TOEFL iBT.
  • ITAs who scored 8.5 or better on the speaking portion and 7 or better on the listening portion of the IELTS.

Even though an ITA meets one of the above criteria, the department may still require the ITA to take the ITA Exam.

Testing and Placement

The ITA Exam is graded on a scale of 1 to 7, and placement is as follows:

6.0 – 7.0: Cleared to teach. No ALI requirements.
5.0 – 5.5: Cleared to teach. Must take a required ALI class.
3.5 – 4.5: Not cleared to teach. Must take a required ALI class.
3.0 – 1.0: Not cleared to teach. See ALI Advisor.

English Courses for ITAs

There are several courses available to ITAs to help them improve their English. ITAs who score less than 6 will have an ALI requirement as indicated above.  ALI also offers elective courses for those who want to further improve their English. These include courses in pronunciation, oral skills, advanced writing for publications and dissertations, and advanced academic and professional spoken English. All ALI classes have a mandatory attendance policy.

Tuition Assistance

An ITA’s tuition award may be used to pay for ALI classes provided that the award is enough to cover the cost. ITAs are responsible for all tuition not covered by their award. ITAs denied clearance for classroom duties should consult with their department about their stipends and tuition remission.

ITAs and the International Student English (ISE) Exam

ITAs who do not meet one of the ISE Exam exemption criteria, must also take the written portion of the ISE Exam.

uSC Program

The Undergraduate Student Consultant (uSC) Program is an exciting program offered by ALI which pairs undergraduate native English speakers (uSCs) with international teaching assistants. uSCs offer ITAs a valuable opportunity to improve their teaching skills, practice  English (pronunciation, conversation, slang, idioms, grammar, etc.), and gain a broader understanding of American culture. ITAs enrolling in an ALI class are required to spend two hours per week with their uSC.

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Frequent Questions

  1. What is the ITA Exam?
    The ITA Exam is a ten to fifteen minute interview with two examiners. The exam has two parts: A brief interview in which the candidate talks about his or her educational experience and interest in graduate studies at USC followed by an explanation of a term or concept in the examinee’s field. Two terms or concepts will be given to students 24 hours prior to the exam so that they can prepare a simulated classroom presentation on one of those terms or concepts. The two terms are taken from a list of terms determined by the student’s department. The examiners will act as students and will ask questions about the term.
  2. Who is required to take the ITA exam?
    The  ITA oral interview is required for all graduate students for whom English is not their native language and who wish to be considered for a TA award at the university. This requirement is for all international students regardless of visa, residency, citizenship status, or educational background.
  1. How do I register for the exam?
    Request an appointment at itatest@usc.edu.
  2. How do I get my test results?
    Instructions for getting your results will be given at the end of the ITA Exam.
  3. May I retake my ITA exam?
    Students may only take the ITA Entrance Exam once a year.
  4. What is a PT restriction?
    All new ITAs receive a Pending Test (PT) restriction. This restriction will prevent an ITA from receiving tuition assistance until they have demonstrated adequate English proficiency or enrolled in their required ALI class. ITAs who have scored a 6 or higher on the ITA Exam will have their PT restrictions removed. ITAs with an ALI class requirement will have their restrictions removed provided they have enrolled in their required ALI class.

For additional questions not answered on the Frequently Asked Questions page, please email itatest@usc.edu.