ITA Language Screening -- General Tips for Success

Before the Screening Date: Technology

All screenings will occur via Zoom, so as soon as you are notified of your specific appointment time, think about the best place for you to participate in this screening.  Is it your home?  School?  Workplace?  Somewhere else?  You will need to have a reliable and stable internet connection.  Likewise, when selecting a screening location, be sure to avoid places that are loud or distracting as well as places that echo when you are speaking.  Test your computer as well.  (No cell phones or tablets please.)  Your computer will need a camera, microphone, and speakers.  Test the internet connection and your computer equipment several days before the screening to make sure that they work well.  
You are also encouraged to practice the teaching simulation on Zoom and to record yourself doing so.  This will allow you to make sure your computer equipment is functioning well and that you can easily share your screen as well as advance the PPT slides on Zoom.  
Don’t let technology create additional stress or difficulties for you on the screening day.

The Screening

Part 1: Interview

  1. Relax.

    The screening process will begin with an interview based on questions asked by the ESL specialist. Questions will not be about the content of your discipline, but rather about more general topics such as hobbies, travel, education, or your home country. These questions are designed to get you to talk, so talk a lot. Don’t limit your answers to short, one-word replies, but rather elaborate on your ideas with details and examples.

    While other members of the screening committee will be present, they will not be asking you questions. Instead, they will be paying attention to your answers. Specifically, they'll note whether your answers demonstrate that you understood the questions and if your answers were clear and comprehensible.

    During the interview, try to relax and get used to the screening environment as well as the speech patterns of your interviewer. This is an opportunity to warm up a bit as you prepare for the teaching simulation.
  2. Ask Questions.

    While the ESL specialist will be leading the conversation with questions, you should feel free to ask questions as well.  For example, if something the ESL specialist asked you was unclear or confusing, ask him/her to repeat or rephrase the question.  If the ESL representative mentions something of interest to you in the conversation, feel free to ask a follow-up question about it.

Part 2: Teaching Simulation

  1. Choose a good topic.

    Choosing an appropriate topic for your teaching simulation is extremely important for your success in the language screening.  Although you will not be evaluated on content knowledge, if the presentation is too technical, it may cause your evaluators to have to focus more on meaning than on how well you are communicating.

    Do not overestimate the background knowledge of your audience. You should imagine an audience of first-year students in an introductory course for non-majors. If you are in a scientific field (biology, chemistry, engineering, etc.), make sure that the vocabulary in your presentation can be understood by someone with no background knowledge in your area of study.  If your presentation includes terms that may be unfamiliar, be sure they are clearly written and well explained.

    Your topic must be in the subject area you are TAing for, but it should be very basic and introductory.  Ideally, the topic should be one with which you are so familiar that you can discuss it without memorization or without relying heavily on notes.  Speak about a topic you are comfortable with.  Your department may have a list of recommended topics, but ultimately the choice is yours.  Be sure that you understand the topic and can pronounce any key terms that you will need in your presentation.
  2. Be prepared.

    Again, you will not be evaluated on your content knowledge or teaching ability.  However, clear organization can help you to communicate effectively with your audience. Make sure that your teaching simulation has a purposeful structure and that your audience understands what they should be learning. Is there an objective? Is there a key idea or lesson? Be explicit and identify a goal for your lesson at the beginning of the teaching simulation.

    The screenings will occur online via Zoom, so it is imperative that you have a computer with reliable internet access.  You are also welcome to prepare a maximum of 3 static PPT slides to supplement your lesson.  The slides should not include any audio or video, and you will not be judged on their visual quality.  Rather, they should support your teaching by being clearly organized and identifying key words for your lesson.

    Practice your teaching presentation:  the content, the delivery, and the technology. Because it will last only about 5 minutes, you do not have to prepare a lot of information to share, but you should make sure you know what you want to say.  You should not memorize your presentation, but be sure to rehearse what you want to say so you feel more comfortable with the content.   If you can, practice with a friend and/or a native English speaker to ensure that he or she can understand your pronunciation.  And don’t forget to practice using the technology.  More specifically, be sure you are familiar with Zoom and know how to share your screen so you can share your PPT during this portion of the screening.  You might even choose to record yourself on Zoom and analyze your recording for areas to improve. You do not need to memorize your presentation (in fact, you should not), but rehearsing what you want to say should help you feel more comfortable.
  3. Be engaging.

    Your evaluators must feel that you are communicating and interacting with them. If you are simply reciting a speech that you have memorized or if you read from your notes, it is difficult for the evaluator to judge your ability to communicate. As you prepare and give your teaching simulation, try to engage your audience. Do not be afraid to ask questions or ask for feedback in the middle of your lesson. Ask if everyone understands the concepts. Ask them if they can think of any examples of the concept you are discussing. Your scores will improve if the evaluators feel that they can understand you and that you can understand them. 

    Volume and speed are other important aspects to effective communication. Due to nervousness, many TAs speak too quietly or too quickly during the screenings.  Make a conscious effort to project your voice (be sure to check your microphone’s quality in advance of the screening date) and to speak at an easily comprehensible speed.
  4. Try to relax.

    As difficult as this process may seem, try your best not to be intimidated. Through acceptance into your graduate program, you have already proven to be a talented and capable individual. Be confident that the screening will go well. The Graduate School and the members of your screening committee all want you to succeed. You should take the screening seriously, but you should not allow the process to scare you. 

    Give the best 5-minute teaching simulation that you can. There will only be 3 or 4 people in the Zoom room, so interact with them. Be relaxed and do your best.

    Do not be too surprised if a committee member stops you before you have finished your lesson. The committee members may have heard a sufficient language sample to make their decisions, and stopping you before you conclude your lesson does not reflect on the level of your performance.

Part 3: Question/Answer

  1. Anticipate questions.

    The evaluators have been instructed to ask questions during your language screening, so do not be surprised when they do. You can expect each of your evaluators to ask at least one question. Try not to become flustered or nervous when a question is asked. Even if your lesson was perfectly clear and understandable, the evaluators will ask questions in attempts to engage you in conversation. You should demonstrate that you understand their questions and that you can form a clear answer. While the questions may come during or after any segment of the screening, they are most common during the teaching simulation and are typically related to the lesson you are teaching.

    When preparing, you may also want to brainstorm possible questions that may arise during the screening. What questions might an undergraduate student ask who is new to the material presented in your lesson?  When you are practicing your presentation, have a friend or partner ask questions. Again, your responses should not be memorized, but thinking about possible questions can help you to feel more comfortable if similar questions arise.
  2. Ask questions yourself.

    As mentioned earlier, you should do your best to engage your evaluators. If you are asking them questions and involving them in the lesson, then they will be more likely to feel that you are actively communicating with them. Ideally, your lesson should sound more like a discussion of content and less like a memorized presentation, so engage your audience.
  3. Understand the questions.

    Before you begin to answer a question, make sure you understand the question being asked. If your answer addresses something that was not asked, then the evaluator will feel a break in communication. Prior to answering a question, pause to reflect on the question and to collect your thoughts for the answer. The aforementioned strategy of anticipating questions should be helpful. However, even if a question arises that was not anticipated, try not to panic. If you do not fully understand the question, ask for clarification. What does the evaluator mean with the questions? Or you can ask the individual to rephrase the question another way. Take time to understand the question and do your best to give an answer that is simple and understandable. If you encounter a question that you don’t know the answer to, that’s ok.  Talk more about the information that you do know that is related to the question and say that you don’t know the precise answer, but you will find out.  Teachers often encounter questions in the classroom that they do not know the answers to, so don’t panic if this happens during the screening.
  4. Follow up on your answers.

    After finishing your answer, follow up to make sure that your answer was understood.  You may want to ask the individual, “Did that answer your question?” or “Did I understand your question correctly?”  Be prepared to give examples or to illustrate a concept if necessary.  Your highest priority should be to ensure that you are effectively communicating your ideas.

Part 4: Role Play

The role play is meant to duplicate a TA-student interaction that might take place during office hours or immediately after class. In the role play, the undergraduate student will approach you with a question or concern. The student will probably start the role play by saying, “Hi, I wanted to talk to you about …”  or “Excuse me, I have a problem that I am hoping you can help with." In this situation, listen to the student's problem, do your best to understand the situation, and then answer any questions the student might have.
It's important that you respond to the student in a polite and professional manner.  The student may address you or challenge you in a way that may seem rude or inappropriate.  However, you must explain your decisions calmly and politely.  The student may never agree with your position, but treat the student respectfully.
In the role play, the student should not be the only person asking questions.  As the TA, you should ask the student for explanations and more detailed information. Your questions should allow you to better understand the situation. You may also ask the student for his or her opinions or suggestions. The role play is a discussion that should go both ways. Engage and communicate with the student by asking questions and involving him/her in the discussion. Do your best to be personal and responsive.
There are no right or wrong solutions to the role play scenarios. Your score will not be based on the "correctness" of your solution to the problem. Rather, you will only be evaluated based on your ability to communicate effectively with the student. If you do not know an answer to a question the student asks, you can make it up. You can also refer to an imaginary course syllabus or an imaginary lecture you gave to the class. Your explanations can be creative as long as you can clearly communicate these ideas to the student.


Contact Angela Garner ( or Dr. Morris Grubbs ( in The Graduate School.