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Home > Future Students > NOVA ESL > College ESL > Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

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1. Which English placement test should I take?

NOVA has two English placement tests: ACCUPLACER ESL and COMPASS English placement. There is no charge to take a NOVA placement test and no appointment is necessary.

ESL students take the ACCUPLACER test and native speakers of English take the COMPASS test. The ACCUPLACER ESL test places students into College ESL and ENG 111. The COMPASS test places students into developmental English and ENG 111.

If you are not sure which test is right for you, speak to Testing Center staff, a counselor or an ESL faculty member. You can ask that person to help you decide which test is right for you.

2. What kind of test is the ACCUPLACER?

The ACCUPLACER is a computer test of 60 multiple-choice questions in reading skills, language use and sentence meaning. There is no time limit to the test, which means you may spend as much time as you wish on each question. Be sure to give yourself at least two hours to complete the test.

3. How is my placement test scored?

If you score from 225 to 299 on the ACCUPLACER, you will begin in College ESL Level 2 or Level 3. If you score 300 or higher, you will write an essay and your placement will be Level 3 or higher. It is possible to place directly into ENG 111 if you write the essay. All placement essays are evaluated by a full-time College ESL faculty member. Readers look for fluent writing with good vocabulary and varied sentence structures, a sense of organization and evidence of analytical thinking.  

4. When and where can I take the ACCUPLACER?

The ACCUPLACER is administered by the Testing Centeron each campus. You can find information about the Testing Center hours by looking on the NOVA website. You don’t need an appointment to take the test. Just bring your photo ID and your Student ID.

5. I completed the ESL program at my high school (or at another college). Why do I have to take ESL classes here?

NOVA’s College ESL program is an academic ESL program that will prepare you to succeed in English 111 and other academic courses at NOVA. Your placement into ESL classes here means you do not yet have the necessary English language skills to succeed in ENG 111.

6. I scored below 225 on the ACCUPLACER. What should I do?

NOVA’s other ESL program, the American Culture and Language Institute (ACLI), offers both full-time and part-time ESL classes at a variety of levels. If you score below 225, someone from the Testing Center will direct you to the ACLI office on your campus.

7. I am an international student and I have a TOEFL or IELTS score. Can I use that score instead of taking the ACCUPLACER ESL test?

NOVA uses the TOEFL and IELTS to issue academic I-20s for F-1 visas. If you get a high enough score, you will be issued an academic I-20; otherwise, you will be issued a language-training I-20.

Even if you have taken the TOEFL or IELTS, you still need to take NOVA’s ESL placement test to determine whether you qualify for ENG 111, or if you do not, where you should begin in NOVA’s ESL programs. The placement test compares your skills to those of other students who study at NOVA. The placement test does not require an appointment, and there is no fee for taking it. 

8. I took a college composition class at another college or university (or community college) in the United States and I am transferring that credit to NOVA. Do I still need to take the placement test?

No. As long as you passed the course at a regionally accredited institution of higher education in the United States with a grade of C or better, and the course is considered equivalent to NOVA’s ENG 111, you can show an unofficial transcript to a counselor and register for classes without taking the placement test. You will need to have an official transcript from your previous college or university sent to NOVA in order to get credit for ENG 111.

If you fall into this category and think you need help with your English skills, we encourage you to take the placement test and consider taking some ESL classes.

9. I was tired (or in a hurry) on the day I took the placement test. I think I can be in a higher level class. What should I do?

Diagnostic tests which show your instructors your strengths are given during the first week of each course. Students are tested in writing, reading and speaking. If you think you were not placed in the right level, be sure to speak to your instructor during the first week of class so that your diagnostic tests can be checked. If your language skills are high enough, you might move to a higher level for one or more classes.

10. I took the placement test and I am not happy with the result. When can I retake the test?

If you are taking credit classes now at NOVA, you may not retake the test. You will be given diagnostic tests in your classes and moved if your placement was wrong.

If you scored below 225 and did not place into College ESL, you may retest after six months. If you scored 225 or higher but do not enroll in classes, then you may retake the test after one year.

If you never enroll in credit classes, you may retake the test after one year.

If you took classes in the past but stopped, you may retake the test one year after the end of your last class.

11. Do I have to take all of the courses in one level at the same time?

Each level of College ESLhas two or three courses. You don’t have to take all of them at once; however, in order to complete the level, you must pass all of the courses at that level.

12. Can I take courses in two different levels at one time?

If you don’t complete a level in one semester, it may be possible for you to enroll in one course at that level and one or two courses at the next level. Be sure to ask a College ESL faculty member if this is a good plan for you.

13. I am currently in ESL Level 2. I am taking ESL 20 and ESL 24. I am ready to register for my Level 3 classes, but the computer is blocking me. What is the problem?

You may need to have the ESL Level 2 Service Indicator removed from your record. Stop by the ESL office on your campus or visit a counselor. Once you are enrolled in one or both ESL Level 2 courses, the Level 2 Service Indicator can be removed.

14. Can I take ESL classes on different campuses at the same time?

Yes, it is possible to register for classes on more than one campus. However, since instructors often work as teams and coordinate courses by levels, we usually recommend taking all of your ESL courses on one campus in any given semester.

15. Can I take classes in College ESL and ACLI at the same time?

Yes. The ACLI offers Specialty Courses in TOEFL preparation, language skills, culture, business and job readiness. You may take any of those classes while you are enrolled in College ESL, or you may take a break from College ESL to take ACLI classes. Please note, however, that if you have F-1 visa status and you are program-placed with an academic 1-20, you cannot use CEUs to meet the 12-credit requirement.

16. I received a grade of “R” in an ESL class. Can I retake the placement test to get into a higher level?

No. A full semester of evaluation by an instructor is a better measure of your skills than a two-hour placement test. When you re-enroll in the course, you will be given diagnostic tests and moved if you are in the wrong level.

17. I only want to take one ESL class. Which class should I choose—reading or writing?

In most cases we recommend that students take the reading class first to help them increase their vocabulary and become more fluent. However, you may receive different advice depending on your needs and background. Don’t hesitate to speak to an ESL faculty member before you register if you need help deciding which class to take.

18. What is a “hybrid” ESL class? How do I know if this kind of class is good for me?

If you take a hybrid class, you will generally meet 50% of the class time on campus with your classmates and teacher and spend the other 50% working online through a course website. In addition to the roughly 2½ hours of distance learning, students in hybrid classes should expect to receive the same amount of homework as students in regular face-to-face classes.

Students who take hybrid classes need basic computer skills and good, reliable access to the Internet and email outside of school. If you like to learn with computers and are an active independent learner, you might benefit from a hybrid class

Please note that if you have F-1 visa status, you may enroll in no more than two hybrid courses or one course that is offered completely online. 

19. I’m an au pair with a J-1 visa. Which NOVA classes are available to me? 

If your ACCUPLACER score is less than 225, you may take only ACLI classes. If your score is 225 or higher, you may take College ESL courses. In addition, if your placement is Level 4 or higher, many NOVA credit classes are available to you. Keep in mind that with your visa status you will have to pay out-of-state tuition for College ESL or other credit classes. Both credit classes and non-credit classes fulfill the academic requirements of the J-1 visa.  

20. When can I begin taking courses outside of the College ESL program?

Students who place into College ESL Level 2 are blocked from registering for anything except ESL courses. Since Level 3 is 15 credits, most students wait until they qualify for Level 4 before beginning their general education courses. In addition, some NOVA courses require placement in ENG 111 before you can enroll. If you are interested in taking courses in a particular department, you are strongly urged to contact that department for guidance on their English requirements for particular courses.

21. How do I move out of College ESL into ENG 111?

You must pass ESL 51: Composition III and ESL 52: Reading III before you can register for ENG 111. In addition, when you are enrolled in ESL 51 or in ESL 58, you must also pass the Level 5 Writing Exam given on your campus. The Level 5 Writing Exam is an essay test that is evaluated by two College ESL faculty members.

22. How can I speak to an ESL faculty member?

Faculty members hold office hours weekly. Visit the ESL office on your campusto find out how to speak to an assistant dean or an ESL faculty member. You may also be able to talk with a faculty member by phone, or communicate via email. Visit the College ESL campus page for your campus to find contact information.