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Department of

Languages, Cultures and Literatures

Frequently Asked Questions for Language Placement and Alternate Credit Policies

Please read the following questions and responses. If you still have any doubts or require further details please contact the Director of Placement, Dr. Rubio-Fernaz by (

I've already taken a language class at my previous university. Which course should I take at USD?

If you've received credit for any language courses at a previous university or college and those courses have been transferred to USD (i.e. they appear in your DARS record), then you should take the next course in the sequence. For example, if two Italian courses have been transferred to USD, ITAL 101 and 102, you should enroll directly in ITAL 201. You do not need to take the Placement Exam.

I had the language requirement waived at my previous university because I had two years of high school Spanish. Can I waive the language requirement at USD?

No, you cannot waive the language requirement solely on the basis of your high school studies. You must take the Placement Exam to see what your current level is. After you've been placed, you may enroll in the course indicated in your results. Please note that we do not accept placement determinations made by other colleges or universities.

I've never studied a language before. Do I have to take the Placement Exam?

No, you may request a Waiver of Placement for 101. Once the waiver has been granted you can enroll in 101 in the chosen language.

My parents speak Spanish and our primary language at home is Spanish. Nonetheless, I do not read and write much in that language. How can I fulfill the language requirement?

Your first step is to take the Placement Exam to determine your current level.

I was born and raised in another country. My first language is not English. Do I still have to study another language at USD?

That depends on your level of proficiency in your first language. If you studied that language throughout your primary and secondary education (i.e. throughout the equivalent of the high school level in the United States), and your studies included all four basic communicative skills, you may apply for a waiver of the Core Curriculum language requirement. Contact the department chair for instructions.

Is there a study guide for the Placement Exam?

No, you absolutely must not study for this exam nor use any outside assistance when you take it; to do so would distort the exam results. In addition, it would be a violation of USD's Academic Integrity Policy. The Placement Exam is a diagnostic test and not an achievement test; its sole purpose is to determine students' current language proficiency in the target language based on their performance in combination with their prior experience with the language.

Can I keep taking the Placement Exam until I get placed into the level I want?

No, the Placement Exam can only be taken once within a one-year period; the results are considered reliable for one year from the date the test is taken. Due to the nature of the test and the configuration of the software, re-takes tend to produce distorted scores. If the test is taken more than once within the one-year period, only the first set of results will be considered valid.

I took the Placement Exam last year some time, but I didn't enroll in a language class after receiving the results. Are the results still valid? I'm not sure when I actually took the exam. Should I take the Placement Exam again?

Read number 7 above first. If you're not sure when you took the exam and/or what your results were, you should contact the Director of Placement. He can look up your results and the date of the exam, and advise you on how to proceed.

I took the Placement Exam and placed into 202 or Upper Division. However, I only need to take 201. May I drop down a level and enroll in 201?

No, students may not take a course lower or higher than the level indicated in their placement results. Students who are placed in 202 or Upper Division, but only wish to fulfill the Core Curriculum language requirement, are recommended to take the Competency Exam. When passed, the Competency Exam satisfies the Core Curriculum language requirement. Students placed in 202 or Upper Division may also choose to take 202 or an upper-division course, selected in consultation with the Director of that language program, in order to fulfill the Core Curriculum requirement. Students who begin their language studies at 202 or the upper-division level are uniquely poised to complete a major or minor; many students at USD have a double major, combining a language with another field of study. We encourage you to consider this opportunity.

What happens if I fail the Competency Exam?

If you fail the Competency Exam, you will be given a new placement based on your performance on the exam; you may then enroll in a course at that level. It is recommended that you do this. On the other hand, you may decide to wait and retake the Competency Exam at a later date. The Competency Exam may only be taken twice in any given semester.

Why does the Department of Languages and Literatures not allow a student to take a course lower than the level indicated on his or her placement results?

We understand students' occasional concerns regarding their placement, but we know that our placement process is highly calibrated and accurate. We have been using the Placement Exam for many years, and it is a reliable and proven tool for effectively placing students in accordance to the demands of our program. The only rare anomalies that occur in the results are almost always attributable to a student not following the directions and/or intentionally attempting to distort the results. We do not allow students to take a course neither above nor below their placement for a number of reasons. First, and most importantly, the exam has been proven to be accurate. Second, the Academic Regulations of the University as defined in the Undergraduate Bulletin do not allow students to duplicate credit; in other words, we do not give students credit for taking a course for which they already have credit, proficiency, and/or knowledge. Third, to allow students to take a course other than that which the placement exam has indicated, would undermine the exam itself and students would be placing themselves arbitrarily. If students were to self-place in language classes, there would be students of different levels of proficiency in the same class. Some students would be extremely under-challenged while others would be struggling to pass. Since implementing the exam and our placement policy many years ago, such imbalances have all but disappeared, and the end result is an excellent environment very conducive to student learning and progress.

I haven't studied the language for a long time, but I was placed into 201. I'm nervous about starting at this level. What should I do?

You should start practicing your language skills before the class begins if possible: review previous chapters in the book, listen to the target language, and practice speaking. With or without prior practice, the first couple of weeks of class may seem difficult to you. When a student hasn't studied the language for a semester, year, or longer, he or she has to get used to using the basic skills again. Also, one must get accustomed to the instructor's accent and teaching style. This occurs in all language classes regardless of the level. Then, after a couple of weeks, the student settles in and does well. If you do find yourself struggling in the class, even after several weeks have passed, you should consult with your instructor; he or she can explain the material more in depth if necessary and give you recommendations for improving your language skills. Likewise, the department offers a number of additional resources for our language students, such as a free Tutoring Program and weekly language conversation tables.