International Student English (ISE) Exam

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About the International Student English (ISE) Exam

The ISE Exam is a free placement exam given to assess the English proficiency of international students at USC. After taking the ISE Exam, students are either released from any ALI requirement or receive an ALI placement.

Scheduling Your ISE Exam

The ISE Exam will be given in August for students beginning their studies in the fall semester; January for the spring semester; and May for the summer session. The ISE Exam may only be taken once in any given year.

To find out if you are required to take the exam, check your letter of admission. There is no fee for taking the exam. Bring your USCard, or passport, or other official ID with a picture and signature, and 2 pens to the examination room.

If you cannot attend the ISE exam that is currently posted on the website, you may check back on or after that test date for additional tests. We recommend that you take the exam as soon as possible because you will not be able to register for any classes until after you receive your results.

Exemptions From Taking the ISE Exam

Students who meet the following conditions may not be required to take the ISE Exam:

  • Ph.D. and undergraduate students who have achieved an Internet Based TOEFL (iBT) score of 100, with no less than 20 on each sub-score; or an IELTS score of 7, with no less than 6 on each band score, taken within the past 2 years.*
  • Students admitted to master’s degree programs who have achieved an iBT score of 90, with no less than 20 on each sub-score; or an IELTS score of 6.5, with no less than 6 on each band score, 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 (typically four years) 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.

*Some departments may have higher requirements for English proficiency than what is listed above. USC must receive scores electronically from the testing service for them to be considered official. Photocopies or paper copies of scores are not acceptable. Scores must be received no later than the Friday before classes begin. Students should contact the American Language Institute (ALI) Office  before the deadline to confirm that their scores have been received.

Description of ISE Exam

There are two parts to the ISE Exam (writing and oral skills) which may be given on two different days.

Writing skills are assessed by an essay. Students are given 40 minutes to write an essay on a given topic.  Students are evaluated on their ability to write a well-organized essay using accurate and appropriate English

Oral skills are assessed in an oral interview that takes approximately 15 minutes. The interview is carried out in a relaxed, friendly atmosphere by two interviewers who ask students to talk about their personal life, the essay that they wrote previously, and a topic chosen by the interviewers. Students are evaluated on fluency, pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar.