TOP Scoring Details

TOP Scoring Categories

Only the syllabus presentation (Task 2) and the prepared presentation (Task 3) are scored. Two raters score the exam based on a rubric that includes the following 4 categories:

  • Pronunciation
    • e.g., phonemes, word and sentence stress, intonation, pauses and thought groups, linking and connected speech, etc.
  • Vocabulary and Grammar
    • e.g., word order, word choice, oral grammar (tense, subject-verb agreement, etc.), etc.
  • Rhetorical Organization
    • e.g., transitions between sentences and ideas, cohesive devices/ logical connectors, overall organization of ideas, maintenance of organization despite spontaneous questions, etc.
  • Question Handling
    • e.g., ability to demonstrate understanding of questions (re-wording questions or incorporating the question into the answer) and respond appropriately to spontaneous questions while maintaining control of the presentation

TOP Category Rating

Each category is rated on a scale from 1-4.

  • 1 = very difficult to understand, major errors, extreme listener effort required
  • 2 = frequent errors leading to moments of unintelligibility, especially with high-frequency words/ideas or content words/ideas pertinent to the task (key vocabulary/concepts and or ideas), listener effort required
  • 3 = some errors, but errors don’t impede communication; key concepts and vocabulary are clearly identifiable
  • 4 = near-native; errors are rare and ideas/concepts/vocabulary require no listener effort

TOP Scores

Based on the scores from the 4 scoring categories, test takers can earn a final score ranging from 2.5 – 10. Pronunciation is weighted 1.5 times as heavily as the other three categories. The highest possible score is a 10, with a score of 4 in each category. A score of 3 in each category yields 7.5. The final scores are broken down into 3 decision categories:

  • Clear Pass (7.1 – 10): The student is permitted to TA immediately with no restrictions. Test takers who receive a clear pass are not permitted to retake the exam.
  • Provisional Pass (6.4 – 7.0): The student is required to take an approved ESL oral skills course (ESL 310, 311, 312 or 313) either before or during the first quarter of TA work. Test takers who get a provisional pass are not permitted to take the exam again. However, a small number of departments require students who receive a provisional pass to retake the exam in lieu of enrolling in an ESL course. These students are permitted to take the exam as many times as needed to receive a score of 7.1 or higher; please check with your department to inquire about their policy.
  • Non-Pass (2.5 – 6.3): The student is not permitted to TA and must take the exam again (in a later exam administration).

What Happens if I Fail and I Need to Take the Exam Again?

We suggest that you meet with a TOP Counselor to receive counseling regarding your exam performance before taking the exam again. Please reach out to the TOP Coordinator ( to be added to the counseling request list. Please note appointments are scheduled in the order they are received and it may take up to two weeks for a counselor to get in touch due to demand. You can register to take the exam again at a future exam administration as soon as the exam registration page is up. The TOP is free to students the 1st and 2nd time they take it. For the 3rd and subsequent times, the cost is $50 per exam.