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English Competence - Research Doctorate



To establish the content, form, timeline, and reporting requirements for assessment of English competence.


Academic Goal

To assure that all candidates for the research doctorate demonstrate high-level competence in the use of the English language, including reading, writing, listening, and speaking.



All students enrolled in programs of study leading to the Ph.D.

No graduate student will be fully able to meet the Graduate Council Scholarly and Professional Goals for All Graduate Degree Students and ultimately be successful in their chosen field of study without being able to communicate effectively with their adviser, their committee, and other scholars in their field.

Policy Statement

  1. Every graduate program shall have a formal mechanism for assessing and improving English language competence of both domestic and international students. This mechanism, to include guidelines and evaluation criteria, must be presented in the graduate program’s handbook, which must be provided to the student upon matriculation. If English language competence is assessed contemporaneously with another assessment, it should not be conflated with the assessment of disciplinary knowledge, analytical thinking, or other skills.
  2. Assessment shall include:
    1. Original writing of a length and complexity suitable for assessing high-level English language competence.
    2. An oral component that assesses the student’s listening, comprehension, and speaking skills.
  3. The AEOCPT, TOEFL and/or IELTS tests do not adequately assess the level of English competence expected of a doctoral degree candidate and for conferral of a doctoral degree from Penn State. Consequently, these tests do not in themselves constitute sufficient forms of assessment of English competence.
  4. Programs and advisers shall identify any areas of English competence requiring improvement before or at the Qualifying Examination and direct students into appropriate activities and support services to improve their English skills.
  5. Programs must document the outcome of the assessment of English competence, including any areas requiring improvement and remedial steps, at the time of reporting the outcome of the Qualifying Examination.
  6. English competence shall be formally attested to by the graduate program before the doctoral student’s Comprehensive Examination is scheduled.

Further Information

English Competence - Research Doctorate - FAQs

Revision History

  • Approved by Graduate Council, October 17, 2018. Effective date: Spring 2019 (12/17/2018).
    • Minor revisions were made to clarify that:
      1. programs must describe their procedures for assessing English competence in their handbooks;
      2. an oral component must be included in the assessment;
      3. AEOCPT, TOEFL, and/or IELTS scores are not sufficient to assess English competence; and
      4. programs must document the assessment of English competence when reporting the results of the Qualifying Examination.
  • Adapted from Graduate Bulletin: June 2018.
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