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Testing

The Oxford Online Placement Test (OOPT)

The OOPT is taken by students who apply to full- or part-time study at the American Language Program (ALP). The test helps us place students into one of the ALP's levels. The test cannot be used for any purpose other than placement into the program

The OOPT is an online, multiple-choice exam which tests ability in grammar, vocabulary, reading, and listening. It takes around one hour to complete.

There are two sections in the test, and the ALP places students using individual scores for the two sections, not the total score.

When students arrive at Columbia, their speaking, writing, reading and listening skills are checked by instructors, and if necessary placement is adjusted. 

Students must apply to the ALP before taking the OOPT. After being admitted, students are sent a link to the test, which can be taken from any computer (sound required). 

Note: the ALP does not transmit test scores to students before arrival. The OOPT is used as a guide for placement only. 

The ALP Essay Exam

The ALP Essay Exam is a 105 minute writing test taken by students who have been admitted into a degree program at Columbia University, and whose first language is not English. The purpose of the test is to confirm English language ability for the purpose of admission to a degree program, or for satisfaction of graduation requirements, as determined by individual schools and departments of Columbia University. The exam measures a student's ability to apply their knowledge of English grammar and vocabulary in the context of an academic essay.

The standard of excellence against which essays are judged is very high. See the section ALP levels 7-10 Writing Descriptors below for specific details.

Students should consult with their Columbia University school or department for the specific requirements for their program of study.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) About The ALP Essay Exam

HOW DO I REGISTER FOR THE ALP ESSAY EXAM?

Individuals cannot register for the exam with the ALP.  Please contact the admissions office of the Columbia program/school to which you have been admitted to learn the time and location of your program's English exam.

WHAT IS THE FORMAT OF THE ALP ESSAY EXAM?

Students must write (by hand) an argumentative essay in response to two short reading passages. The passages present differing views on one topic, and you will need to say which one you agree with and why, supporting your opinion and offering arguments against the opinion you do not agree with. The passages are general enough to be answered by a person from any field of study. 

The exam is 105 minutes long.

HOW DO I PREPARE FOR THE ESSAY EXAM?

The ALP Essay Exam is designed to assess your current ability in English, so it is not something you can really prepare for - other than making sure you know how to write an academic essay.

ARE THERE ANY OLD OR PRACTICE EXAMS THAT I CAN REFERENCE?

No. The test prompts are different every time and so looking at old exams won't really help you prepare. The test is simply designed to see what you can do in English, and how well you can write an argumentative essay. 

WHO READS THE ALP ESSAY EXAM AND WHAT ARE THEY LOOKING FOR?

Essay Exams are read by a committee of experienced ALP faculty members. They are reviewing your writing in four main areas: development, organization, grammar and vocabulary. 

They look for evidence that you:

  • understand English essay structure
  • are able to sustain a convincing in-depth analysis of a complicated issue 
  • are able to use complex grammatical structures 
  • are able to use varied, sophisticated vocabulary

See the Writing Descriptors section below for specific details about what is expected at ALP levels 7-10.

WHEN WILL THE EXAM RESULTS BE READY?

The results of the ALP Essay Exam will be emailed to you and your department/school in about 10 business days after your test.

CAN I TAKE THE TEST AGAIN, OR DO I HAVE TO TAKE A CLASS?

The ALP Essay Exam (and/or Qualifying Exam, see below) may be taken no more than once in any six month period. Taking the test again without enrolling in English language courses is strongly discouraged. The reason for this is that at high-intermediate and advanced levels of proficiency, learners may have the skills to get along relatively well in an English-speaking environment, but--precisely because of this general level of comfort in the language--there is little incentive in normal daily life to push on to higher levels of control in English. 

The academic and linguistic demands placed on degree candidates at Columbia far exceed those which are encountered in normal daily life.  What is demanded of the university student at Columbia is excellence. What is needed for students whose first language is not English to reach that level of excellence is usually explicit instruction in the language.

Qualifying Exam

Students in levels 7, 8 and 9 who are enrolled in ALP Academic Writing, Intensive, or Advanced Academic Preparation courses take the Qualifying Exam in the final week of the term. The Qualifying Exam is exactly the same format as the Essay Exam (see above). 

The standard of excellence against which essays are judged is very high. See the section ALP levels 7-10 Writing Descriptors below for specific details.

ALP Levels 7 through 10 Writing Descriptors

Level 10  

A level 10 essay has a strong thesis statement which shows an understanding of the complexity of the topic. It is clearly supported by 2-3 focused body paragraphs with compelling examples and reasoning. Relevant information from source texts is selected, attributed, and integrated with the student’s reasoning to support rhetorical goals and critical thinking is evident. The introduction and conclusion effectively communicate the thesis and evidence the writer's consideration of audience. Coherence and cohesion are skillfully achieved within and across paragraphs through a variety of linking words and phrases, as well as more sophisticated techniques. The grammar throughout is accurate, varied, and sophisticated, and certain structures (e.g., inversion, noun clauses in subject position) are used to communicate subtle meanings and attitudes. Language flows naturally, and errors do not impede meaning. A range of general, academic, and also sophisticated, more specialized vocabulary is used successfully to realize complex functions, such as summarizing, analyzing, and hypothesizing. Collocations are natural, register is as expected, and idiomatic elements are included when appropriate.

Level 9

A level 9 essay has a strong thesis statement which shows a coherent understanding of the topic. It is clearly supported by 2-3 focused, detailed body paragraphs with relevant examples and reasoning. Relevant information from source texts is selected, attributed, and used to support rhetorical goals. Critical thinking is evident. The introduction and conclusion clearly communicate the thesis and evidence the writer's consideration of audience. Coherence and cohesion are achieved within and across paragraphs through a variety of linking words and phrases, as well as more sophisticated techniques (e.g., synonyms, parallelism). Simple and complex are used mostly accurately, and often for rhetorical effect. A range of general and academic, as well as sophisticated and more specialized vocabulary is used successfully to realize complex functions, such as summarizing, analyzing, and hypothesizing.

Level 8

A level 8 essay has a thesis statement which shows a coherent understanding of the topic. It is clearly supported by 2-3 focused, detailed body paragraphs. Relevant information from source texts is selected, attributed, and used to support rhetorical goals. Main points and details are clearly distinguished.  An introduction and conclusion clearly communicate the thesis. Coherence and cohesion are achieved across and within paragraphs through ordering and logical connectors. All the major structures of English (e.g., verb tenses, modals, passives, adverb/adjective/noun clauses) are used appropriately and mostly accurately.  A variety of sentence structures is evident, especially in sentence openings. A range of general and academic vocabulary is used successfully to go into topics in detail, such as describing causes and effects, describing processes, and arguing a point.

Level 7

A level 7 essay has a thesis statement which shows a coherent understanding of the topic. It is clearly supported by 2-3 relevant and detailed body paragraphs. Main points and details are clearly distinguished. An introduction and conclusion clearly communicate the thesis. To show the relationships among ideas, sentences and paragraphs are ordered and linked with expressions such as for example, therefore, and in addition. Basic constructions (complex sentences, verb tense, and subject-verb agreement) are used accurately.  Structures commonly taught at this level (adjective clauses, conditionals, participles) are used appropriately and mostly accurately. A range of general vocabulary (the first 5000 words) as well as some academic vocabulary, is used successfully to go into topics in detail, such as describing causes and effects, describing processes, and arguing a point.