Doctoral Language Exams (University)

The Doctoral Language Exams in Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese, also known as Proficiency and Mastery exams, are offered twice per semester through the Department of Spanish, Italian and Portuguese. The exams are available to currently enrolled graduate students who are required to demonstrate foreign language "proficiency" or "mastery" in order to satisfy certain degree requirements. The precise dates of the exams are set early in the semester, although they are generally offered in October, November, February and March.

Proficiency and Mastery

Proficiency Exam

The Proficiency Exam consists of a translation from Spanish, Italian, or Portuguese to English on a topic in the general area of study of the candidate. The student is allowed 90 minutes for the exam. The passage given is normally longer than the student will be able to translate in 90 minutes, and thus a complete translation is of the text is not expected. What is expected for a grade of “Pass” is an accurate translation of a good portion of the text. Through the translation the student must demonstrate an understanding of the structure of the language, such that an accurate sentence-by-sentence rendering is expected. Simply summarizing the gist of the passage will not suffice.

The candidate is allowed to consult a dictionary, as well as verb charts (and even works such as 501 Verbs, etc.), but on-line dictionaries, textbooks or other books of the target language grammar are prohibited.

Mastery Exam

The Mastery Exam consists of three parts: (1) a translation, (2) a reading, and (3) an essay of approximately 300 words. The candidate is allowed two hours to complete all three parts, and it is suggested that 40 minutes be devoted to each.

Part One: A Translation - Expectations for the translation are the same as those for the Proficiency Exam (described above). Also, while the quality of the translation is most important, a greater quantity of translation than that of the Proficiency Exam is expected.

Part Two: A Reading - The student is expected to read an article in the general area of his or her field of study and answer several questions in the target language about the article.

Part Three: An Essay - The student is asked to write an essay about his or her particular interest within the field of study (e.g., what the student might be planning to investigate for the Ph.D. thesis, etc.). The student must demonstrate mastery of the language in part three of the exam by writing an essay that is virtually free of grammatical errors. Basic errors of grammatical agreement, misuse of the lexicon, etc., will result in a grade of “Fail”.

Should the student provide a good translation and accurate answers to the reading, but fail to write an essay that demonstrates mastery of the language, the student may retake part three (the essay) without having to retake parts one and two.

Fall 2019 Exam Dates:

  • October Exam - Exam date is 10/23/19  and Registration Deadline by 10/17/19
  • November Exam - Exam date is 11/20/19 and Registration Deadline by 11/14/19

Examination Policies

On the day of the exam, please report to the department office (New Cabell Hall 444) between 10:00 a.m. and 12:00 p.m. to pick up the exam materials. All materials, including the exam handouts, must be returned on the day of the exam, to the department, by no later than 4:00 p.m. Students who do not reside in the Charlottesville-area may request to take the exam electronically in the 'Comments' section of the registration form.

Exam answers may be typed or legibly handwritten. If the answers are handwritten, a blue/green examination book (size 8.5" x 11") must be used. Examination books are available for purchase from the UVa Bookstore. The department does not provide them.

Students are on their honor to complete the exam within the specified time limit. If a student does not return his/her exam, he/she will receive a failing grade and will not be eligible for a refund of the exam fee.

The department does not provide examples or practice exams.

If you have any questions, please contact Tally Sanford at

Examination Fee and Registration

The exam fee is $20 per exam and must be paid when the exam is picked up. Please present a check or money order made payable to the University of Virginia. Cash is not accepted.

All candidates must register online for the exam at least one (1) week in advance. Registrations will be confirmed via e-mail within 2-3 business days. If you don't receive a confirmation, please contact Tally Sanford at


Notification of Results

Please note that the exams are graded promptly (within approximately two weeks) and the results are sent to the graduate advisor or the department secretary, depending on the department’s policy. This department will not directly report exam results to students.

The graded exams are the property of the University of Virginia and they remain in the Department of Spanish, Italian and Portuguese.