Frequently Asked Questions

Which ESL class should I take?

Before students enroll in classes, they take the NOVA ESL Assessment to determine which level of ESL classes would be appropriate. There is no charge to take a NOVA ESL assessment.

What is the ESL Assessment?

This assessment has three parts and could take up to 2.5 hours  to complete:

  1. In the reading comprehension section, you will read six passages and answer 32 multiple-choice questions based on these passages.
  2. The writing and response section includes a short reading, which you will summarize and respond to.
  3. In the writing section, you will receive a choice of two questions and will be asked to write an essay in response to one of these questions.

How is my ESL assessment scored?

A full-time College ESL or English faculty member evaluates all ESL assessments. Your writing will be assessed  on fluency, vocabulary, sentence structure,  organization, and evidence of analytical thinking.

When and where can I take the ESL Assessment?

The ESL Assessment is administered online. Contact the Testing Center at the campus most convenient to you to take the assessment. 

You can also take the ESL Assessment from a campus testing center.

I scored Level I on the ESL Assessment. What should I do?

You should take classes through NOVA’s American Culture and Language Institute (ACLI). ACLI offers both intensive and part-time ESL classes at a variety of levels. Please contact for more information.

I am an international student with a TOEFL, IELTS, or PTE score. Can I use that score instead of taking the ESL Assessment?

Yes. NOVA accepts TOEFL, Duolingo, and IELTS scores to issue an I-20 for F-1 visa sponsorship. Depending on your score, you will be placed into the Intensive English, ESL Pathway or Associate degree program.

If you place into the Intensive English program, you will be required to take an additional oral assessment upon arrival to the College.

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 ESL Assessment?

No, if you earned a grade of C or above for a course equivalent to NOVA’s ENG 111 at a regionally accredited institution of higher education in the United States. You must show an unofficial transcript to a counselor who will help you register for classes. To get credit for ENG 111, have an official transcript from your previous college or university sent to NOVA.

If you think you need help with your academic English skills, we encourage you to speak with an ESL advisor.  Contact

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

In all ESL classes, on the first day, instructors administer a  diagnostic test that gives students another chance to demonstrate their language skills. Depending on the diagnostic results, your instructor may recommend an adjustment to your level.

I took the ESL Assessment, and I am not happy with the result. When can I retake the ESL Assessment?

  • If you are taking College ESL classes now at NOVA, do not retake the ESL Assessment. You will be given diagnostic tests in your classes and may be allowed to move to a different level at the instructor's discretion.
  • If you scored in Level 1, you may retest one time within one year of the first attempt.
  • If you scored Level 2 or higher but never enrolled in College ESL classes, you may retake the ESL Assessment after one year.
  • If you took classes in the past but stopped, you may retake the ESL Assessment one year after the end of your last class.

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

It depends on your GPA and/or your current academic English level. Talking with an advisor about your individual situation will help you decide what is best for you. Contact

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

It is recommended but not required. Each level of College ESL has two or three courses. You can choose to take one, two or three ESL classes in one semester. However, to complete the level, you must pass all of the courses at that level.

Can I take courses at two different levels at one time?

If you don’t complete a level in one semester, you  can 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 to help you make a plan.

I am ready to register for my ESL classes, but the computer is blocking me. What is the problem?

You may have a hold on your record that is preventing your registration. Please request the removal of the hold by writing to or contacting the ESL Department with additional questions.

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

Yes, you can. However, if you can take all of your classes on one campus, you will benefit from instructors working as teams and from becoming a part of a learning community with other students on that campus.

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

Yes, but keep in mind that the two programs serve students with different educational and professional goals. If you have an F-1 visa, please consult with your international student advisor to ensure that you meet your visa requirements. For more information about the two programs, click here.

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

No. If you received an “R” grade, it means that you need more time in the class to develop the academic English skills to become successful in the next-level class. The ESL Placement Assessment does not distinguish whether the students have the skills to pass a particular class.

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 academic vocabulary and become more fluent. However, the choice of classes depends on your needs. To connect with an ESL advisor regarding which class you should take, click here.

How long does it take to finish the ESL program?

The length of the time to complete the program depends on your placement level, your schedule and other obligations. Most full-time students are able to complete a level within one semester. On some campuses, we offer intensive 7-week hybrid classes on higher levels that allow students to complete two levels within one semester. 

How many levels are in the ESL program?

There are four levels in the College ESL program. 
There are six levels in the ACLI ESL program.

Can I audit ESL classes?

Legal residents of Virginia may audit NOVA classes, and those over 60 years of age can audit and receive free tuition.

For more information about auditing, see Question 5.

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 with your classmates and teacher and spend at least 2.5 hours a week working online through a course website. In addition, students in hybrid classes will receive the same amount of homework as regular face-to-face classes.

Students who take hybrid classes need basic computer skills and reliable Internet access. If you like to learn with computers and are an active independent learner, a hybrid class might be a good choice for you.

If you have F-1 visa status, consult your international student advisor before enrolling in hybrid, virtual, or completely online classes to make sure that you meet your visa requirements.

Are virtual/remote classes available?

Yes, virtual or remote learning ESL classes are available in the College ESL program. These classes meet on Zoom during the days listed in the class schedule. In addition, students are expected to complete homework assignments through Canvas, a learning management system. To take virtual classes, you need to have a laptop or desktop computer with a working microphone and a web camera, and you need to have reliable internet access. If you do not have a computer, talk to your instructor or check with the Student Services on the campus closest to you to see which options are available.

Can I take an ESL class that is completely online?

Yes, we offer completely online classes in the College ESL program. These classes do not meet; instead, students work independently while receiving feedback from instructors, who are available to meet with individual students if needed. To succeed in these classes, you have to be able to work independently and organize your time well. Talk to an ESL advisor about whether a completely online class would be a good fit for you. Email

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

If you are placed into Level 1, you may take only ACLI classes. If you are placed into Level 2 or higher, you may take College ESL courses at the recommended level. In addition, if your placement is Level 4 or higher, many NOVA credit classes are available to you. Remember that with your visa status, you will have to pay out-of-state tuition for College ESL or other credit classes. Both College ESL and ACLI classes fulfill the academic requirements of the J-1 visa.

When can I begin taking courses related to my major?

This depends on your ESL placement level. It’s recommended that students on ESL Level 2 and 3 do not take courses related to their major. Level 2 and 3 ESL courses give students a full load and prepare them for academic success in college. Students on Level 4 and 5 can start taking courses that don’t have ENG 111 as a prerequisite. If you are interested in taking courses in a particular department, contact that department for guidance on their  prerequisites for particular courses.

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

You must pass ESL 51: Composition III (or ESL 58) and ESL 52: Reading III before registering for ENG 111 with ESL 95.

How can I speak to an ESL faculty member?

Faculty members hold office hours weekly. Visit the ESL office on your campus to contact an associate dean or an ESL faculty member. You can also talk with a faculty member by phone or communicate via email. You can also contact us with any questions.