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College ESL

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  • NOVA esl student
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College ESL is an academic program that is part of an academic division on each campus.

NOVA’s College ESL program teaches students from all over the world. Many of our students are immigrants to the U.S. who live in Northern Virginia. We also teach students who come to the College on student visas. In addition, we enroll other visitors to the area who have diplomatic or other short-term visa status.

The primary goal of College ESL is to get you ready to succeed in college-level classes. We help you build your academic literacy and critical thinking skills. We also help you develop the English language skills you need for jobs and in your everyday life.

Levels of College ESL

We have four levels of instruction from Level 2 (low-intermediate) to Level 5 (advanced). At all four levels, students take courses in reading and writing. At Levels 2 and 3, they also take a course in oral communication. Students in Levels 4 and 5 can begin taking introductory general education (credit) courses along with their ESL reading and writing courses.

In this level, you will take 3 courses: ESL 21 & ESL 22 & ESL 24

  • ESL 21 - a writing  course (5 credits)
  • ESL 22 - a reading  course (5 credits)
  • ESL 24 - a  listening & speaking course (5 credits)

Please read the description of what a student should be ready to do to be successful in this course. 

ESL 21 & ESL 22 & ESL 24

In this level, you will…

Write longer paragraphs.

Learn more advanced verb forms and sentence structures.

Read basic academic texts of 2-3 pages.

You can already…

Have short conversations about everyday topics.

Write basic sentences easily.

Write more complex sentences with some errors.

You may need help with…

Identifying errors.

Understanding non-academic readings longer than 2-3 pages.

Learning good academic habits & study skills.

In this level, you will take 3 courses: ESL 31 & ESL 32 & ESL 33

  • ESL 31 - a  writing course (5 credits)
  • ESL 32 - a reading course (5 credits)
  • ESL 33 - a listening & speaking course (5 credits)

Please read the description of what a student should be ready to do to be successful in this course.

ESL 31 & ESL 32 & ESL 33

In this level, you will…

Learn how to prepare and give presentations.

Write multi-paragraph documents.

Read basic academic texts of 2-5 pages.

Take notes based on academic lectures. 

You can already…

Identify some errors and correct them.

Talk in class about everyday topics most of the time.

You may need help with…

Reading texts longer than 1-2 pages.

Learning how to identify your own mistakes and fix them.

Using good academic habits & study skills consistently.

This pairs two 5-credit advanced ESL classes to provide a strong foundation of reading and writing skills designed for multilingual learners.

In this level, you will take 2 courses: ESL 41 and 42 

  • ESL 41 - a  writing  course (5 credits)
  • ESL 42 - a reading course (5 credits)

Please read the description of what a student should be ready to do to be successful in this course.

ESL 41 & ESL 42

In this level, you will…

Learn how to write 5-paragraph essays.

Practice taking notes on academic subjects.

Learn basic strategies for organizing your writing.

You can already…

Identify errors and correct them with guidance.

Prepare and give presentations of 2-5 minutes.

Write multiple paragraphs on everyday topics easily.

Write about academic topics with support and preparation.

You may need help with…

Learning the process for writing (brainstorming, drafting, revising).

Using good academic habits & study skills consistently.

Listening to academic lectures and taking accurate notes.

Reading shorter (2-5 pages) academic texts and taking accurate notes.

These two 5-credit pre-college ESL classes  will help you develop advanced reading and writing skills. 

  • ESL 51 - a  writing course (5 credits)
  • ESL 52 - a  reading course (5 credits)

Please read the description of what a student should be ready to do to be successful in this course.

ESL 51 & ESL 52

In this level, you will…

Learn how to use research-based evidence in your papers.

Learn advanced strategies for organizing your writing.

With support, write multiple five-paragraph essays and a research essay in a semester. 

You can already…

Identify most of your errors and correct them independently.

Give presentations fluently and accurately with little preparation.

Listen to academic lectures and take accurate notes.

You may need help with…

Reading mid-length (3-9 pages) academic texts and taking accurate notes.

 Doing research on assigned topics and including research evidence in your papers.

Organizing your work to meet deadlines.

ESL 95 is a support course  that is paired with college-level English.  ESL 95 is designed for multilingual learners. You’ll benefit from working with trained ESL instructors to help you be successful in ENG 111. 

In this level, you will take 2 courses: ESL 95 & ENG 111. 

  • ESL 95 - a writing support course (3 credits)
  • ENG 111 - a  college-level  composition course (3 credits)

Please read the description of what a student should be ready to do to be successful in this course. 

In this level, you will…

Work with support to write multiple papers of 3-5 pages in a semester, and at least one longer paper of 5+ pages.

You can already…

Identify nearly all errors and correct them independently.

Write 5-paragraph essays. 

You may need help with…

Reading longer (10+ pages) academic texts and taking accurate notes.

Doing research on assigned topics and including research evidence in your papers using appropriate style and format.

Organizing your work to meet deadlines.

Placement Testing

Who needs to take the ESL Placement Assessment?

  1. Students who did not complete high school in the United States, whose primary language is not English, and who do not have TOEFL/IELTS/ACT/SAT test scores.
  2. International students (F/M/J) whose primary language is not English and who do not haveTOEFL iBT or IELTS-Academic test scores from 2015 or later. International students should work with their International Student Advisor.
    • TOEFL iBT score of below 19 in each of the four sections: Writing, Reading, Listening, and Speaking.
    • IELTS-Academic score below 6.5 in each of the four sections: Writing, Reading, Listening, and Speaking.
  3. Students who completed high school in the United States, for whom English is not a primary language should contact the ESL department (ESL@nvcc.edu) to speak with an ESL advisor about placement options.

What is the ESL Placement Assessment?

This assessment has four parts and should take less than two hours to complete:

  1. Reading Comprehension section with questions about multiple short reading passages.
  2. Listening Comprehension section with questions about multiple short listening passages.
  3. Reading Response section with a short reading to which you will write a response.
  4. Writing Response section with an open question to which you will write a response.

How do I take the ESL Placement Assessment?

  • Contact the Testing Center at NOVATesting@nvcc.edu to take the assessment.
  • You can take this assessment only once, so be sure you take it at a time you can do your best.

How do I get my results for the ESL Placement Assessment?

  • You will receive your assessment result by email.
  • Contact the ESL Department for questions about your placement and class registration information or any other follow up questions.
  • Each ESL class will have a diagnostic (pre-test) on the first day of class. Your placement may need to be adjusted based on the results.

How can I prepare for the ESL Placement Assessment?

You may use any online resources to review or check out the links below.


Tuition Information

Tuition for College ESL classes is based on the total number of credit hours you register. If you meet certain Virginia residency requirements, you can pay in-state tuition. Otherwise, you have to pay out-of-state tuition. If you qualify for financial aid, you can use those funds to pay for College ESL classes.

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