Language Testing FAQ

Language Testing Frequently Asked Questions

For Clients

What is language proficiency testing?

Language proficiency testing evaluates how well a candidate can use language to communicate orally (listening and speaking test) and/or in writing (written test).

What are the main different types of language tests? What do we test in a language test?
  • Listening/Speaking: The listening and speaking test assesses a candidate’s proficiency in oral communication. The ALTA Listening and Speaking Proficiency Test consists of several pools of prompts, with each pool targeting a specific objective (e.g. describing future plans). For this test, candidates will be speaking aloud in response to oral discussion prompts.
  • Writing: The writing test assesses a candidate’s proficiency in written communication. The ALTA Writing Proficiency Test consists of several pools of prompts designed to elicit writing samples in a variety of styles and forms. For this test, candidates will be reading prompts and responding to them in writing.
  • Translation: The translation test assesses a candidate’s ability to convey the meaning of a source language text in another language. The ALTA Translation Proficiency Test consists of three passages that encompass several topics (e.g. news article, business). The translation of the first passage is required. The candidate then chooses to translate either the second or third passage. For this test, candidates will be reading prompts and translating them in writing.
  • Interpretation: The interpretation test assesses the ability of a candidate to facilitate the oral communication between users of different languages. The ALTA Interpretation Test consists in a dialog specific to a professional field (e.g. medical) that the candidate must interpret. For this test, candidates will be listening to speakers and then orally interpreting the conversation.
  • Reading Comprehension: The reading comprehension test assesses the ability of a candidate to understand the main idea of a text as well as stated and implied details. The ALTA Reading Comprehension Test consists of a series of passages with multiple choice questions. For this test, candidates will be required to read passages and respond to multiple choice questions about the content of the passage.
Does ALTA provide language tests for specific industries?

ALTA has off-the-shelf tests for specific industries like: healthcare providers, law enforcement (police patrol), behavioral health, dentists and hygienists, and document reviewers. ALTA develops new industry-specific tests on an ongoing basis to meet the needs of any organization or industry.

What is the difference between the ALTA standard test and a customized test?

Many of ALTA’s clients want a general test to place the skills of their candidates on a language performance scale. A standard off-the-shelf test typically meets this need.

For other clients who have needs that go beyond our standard test offerings, the ALTA team will identify the language skills and specific terminology necessary to perform the tasks. This process involves interviews, document collection, development of a customized test, and beta-testing of incumbents currently performing the job in order to determine the job’s requirements from a language standpoint. By defining the requirements for a job in quantifiable terms, an organization can use language testing results as part of the selection process and have a defensible basis for where the pass-fail line is placed when testing is done.

Why is language testing important? Why do I need to have my employees tested?

Imagine your organization needs to hire several customer service representatives who can handle questions from your Spanish speaking customers. The candidate’s ability to communicate effectively in Spanish is a key function of the job, but how will you ensure that the individuals you hire speak the language they say they speak? How will you ensure they are at the level of proficiency required for the task? Language testing provides an objective, standardized way to ensure that language abilities are clearly measured, which is vital when they are a key function of the position.

What is the value of using independent language testing? Why can’t I have an employee who speaks the language test our new employees?

An independent testing organization such as ALTA has no vested interest in the outcome of the tests. We have no incentive to pass or fail candidates because of other factors such as personality, a need to fill positions, or existing relationships. An independent testing organization instead focuses only on the candidate’s performance in using the language. We have a strong interest in maintaining our reputation for quality, and our emphasis is on using valid and reliable tests to properly rate the candidate’s performance. As a result, independent language testing gives the assurance that the testing is legally defensible.

What languages does ALTA test?

The languages are listed here.

Can I test a candidate in two languages, for example Spanish and English?

Yes. Some of our clients test candidates in two languages when the job requires both.

How do I schedule the live language proficiency tests?

Once your organization is registered, you may schedule tests in one of two ways: (1) by email at or (2) by telephone at 888.465.4648 (U.S. only) or 404-920-3817. Scheduling is done Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. ET except holidays. All oral live tests begin on the hour or half hour. Normally, common languages can be scheduled with a one-day lead time, and a two-day notice is generally required for the less common languages.

Can I change the date and time of the test after it is scheduled?

Yes. You may cancel or change your schedule if you let us know by 6:00 p.m. ET on the business day prior to the test. You will be charged the full price of the evaluation for tests not canceled before 6 p.m. ET on the previous business day.

How do I assign online and oral automated tests?

Once your organization is registered, you will be provided with a password to access the ALTA portal ( Instructions to assign tests will be emailed to the persons authorized to access the portal.

Who is the evaluator?

The evaluator is a native speaker of the target language. For ALTA this means that the evaluator was born, raised, and educated at the university level in the target language culture. All ALTA evaluators are first-language speakers of the language they are testing. This eliminates any possibility that the person being tested would perform at a higher skill level than the evaluator. Each evaluator is trained using recorded audio sessions of real evaluation sessions from ALTA’s archive of thousands of oral language evaluations or using ALTA’s files of writing tests. The identity of the evaluators is confidential to prevent any chance of outside influence.

For Candidates

Can I take a language test even if I am not part of a company or organization?

No. ALTA only provides testing for organizations.

How long is my test?

The listening and speaking and interpretation tests with a live speaker are over the phone and are no more than 30 minutes. The automated listening and speaking lasts 40 minutes as some sample and practice questions are included to familiarize candidates with the system. The writing test is one hour as well as the reading test. The translation test is two hours.

Is there a way to practice for my test?

Yes. We have practice tests and information about the assessments available here.

How soon do I need to take my online or automated test?

We recommend you take your test as soon as possible. The expiration date is in the notification email sent to you.

How do I access my online or automated test?

The information for accessing your test is in the notification email sent to you. This will be a link for online tests (“ALTA’s online portal”) or a phone number and access code to enter for telephone tests.

How can I get to the portal to take my test?

Look for the notification email sent by ALTA and click on the links: “ALTA’s online portal”, or “online”. You can also access the portal by going to Your user ID is your email address.

What is my password? Do I need to change my password for each test?

Once your account is created, you will use the same password each time you have a test to take. Click on “password assistance” if you do not remember your password.

Do I need to schedule by proctored test with ProctorU?

The notification email sent to you will let you know if the session has been scheduled by your organization or if you need to go to the ALTA portal ( to do it. Follow the instructions in the notification email.

Where do I go for my test proctored by ProctorU?

You will have your test in your comfort of your home, in a quiet place, without anyone around. A live proctor from ProctorU will watch you taking the test through a webcam. The documents attached to your notification email tell you more about the proctored session.

I am on the ALTA portal for my test scheduled by ProctorU but the link does not work?

The link becomes active at the exact time of the scheduled test. Make sure to refresh the page at the time of the test, otherwise the link will not become active.

Do I go to the ProctorU portal to schedule or take my proctored test?

No. The test cannot be scheduled or taken at the ProctorU portal. Go to the ALTA portal ( to schedule and take your proctored test.

Why doesn’t my access code appear in the notification email?

Candidates who have an automated proctored test will be given the access code by the proctor.

Will I receive a call from ALTA at the time of my scheduled test with a live speaker?

No. ALTA does not call candidates unless required by the organization. You will dial the phone number and use the access code provided to you by your organization in order to be connected to your test.

How do I re-connect to my test if I get disconnected?

Call back the number right away. If your access code does not work, hold on the line for assistance.

What if I miss the time of my scheduled live test?

An email will be sent to your organization to let them know you did not call for the test. You need to contact your organization to have the test rescheduled.

What should I do if I dial in for my test but the access code does not work?

Please keep in mind that your access code will not work until 5 minutes before the time of your test. If you are calling at the scheduled time and your code seems to be invalid, remain on the line and a representative will assist you.

When is my organization notified of my results? How can I get my results? Can I have my results sent to a different company /organization?

The results of your test are sent to your organization within a week. ALTA does NOT provide candidates with results or share results with other companies. The results belong to the organization that requested the test. You may ask them to release the results to you or to the other organization.

Any other questions.

Please call: 1-888-465-4648 or email: — Monday through Friday between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. ET

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