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Levels of College ESL

  • students engage in a discussion during class

There are four levels in the College ESL program. Our lowest level is Level 2, low-intermediate. Our highest level is Level 5, an advanced, pre-college ESL course.

What Will I Work on in College ESL?

Through the four levels of College ESL you will become more fluent in reading, writing and speaking English. You will improve your ability to understand academic English and express more complex ideas in writing and speaking. You will expand your vocabulary and generally gain greater control of the linguistic complexities of English.

Placement into College ESL

Students take a placement test to determine their level of English before they enroll in any classes at NOVA. The College ESL placement test is called the ACCUPLACER. The ACCUPLACER is a computerized test with three sections: Reading Skills, Language Use and Sentence Meaning.

Accuplacer Score Placement


If you score 225 or higher on the ACCUPLACER but show a need for language development, you will be placed into one of four levels in the College ESL program. NOTE: If you score more than 300 on the ACCUPLACER, you will be asked to write an essay to complete your placement.

Below 225:

If you score below 225 on the ACCUPLACER, you do not have a high enough level of English to enter the College ESL program. You may take classes in NOVA's American Culture and Language Institute (ACLI) ESL Programs.

If you show a high enough level of English proficiency, you will place directly into college English (ENG 111 or ENG 111/ENF3). You will not need to study ESL.

If you have F-1 visa status, some special rules apply to you.

  • If you have the goal of obtaining a degree from NOVA, we strongly urge you to submit a TOEFL or IELTS score when you apply for your visa. If you do not submit scores, or if your scores are low, you will be issued an I-20 for language training only.
  • If you have an F-1 visa for language training and you place lower than Level 4, you will take classes in NOVA’s American Culture and Language Institute Intensive English Program (IEP). When you finish the highest level in the IEP, you may enter College ESL.
  • However, if you are program placed and come to NOVA with an academic I-20, you have a choice if you place into Level 3. You may enroll in College ESL Level 3 or you may attend the ACLI IEP for one semester. Students with academic I-20s who place at Level 4 or higher or in ENG 111 begin taking general education (credit) courses along with their ESL or ENG course(s).

Some non-native English speakers may need to take the COMPASS assessment instead of the ACCUPLACER ESL placement test. The COMPASS assessment is used to place students into Developmental English and ENG 111. If you think you read and write better in English than in your native language, you might have to take the COMPASS. If you are not sure, staff at our Testing Centers or Student Services Centers can help you understand which test is right for you.