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 (Italian exam is 120 minutes). 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.

For Spanish, the candidate may consult a dictionary as well as a verb charts (i.e. 501 Spanish Verbs, etc.). No textbooks or other reference books are permitted. Online dictionaries are prohibited.

For Italian, the candidate may consult a dictionary as well as a verb charts (i.e. 501 Italian Verbs, etc.). No textbooks or other books of Italian grammar are permitted. Online dictionaries are allowed.

For Portuguese, the candidate  may consult a dictionary (online dictionaries are acceptable) as well as a verb charts (i.e. 501 Portuguese Verbs, etc.). No textbooks or other books of Portuguese grammar are permitted. 

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 2023 Exam Dates:

  • March Exam - Exam date is March 12 and Registration Deadline by March 1
  • April Exam - Exam date is April 10 and Registration Deadline by April 3

Examination Policies

On the day of the exam, you will receive the test packet electronically at 10:00 am. All materials, including the exam handouts, must be returned on the day of the exam, electronically no later than 4:00 p.m.

Exam answers must be typed in Word (no PDFs).

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 Linda Newman at

Examination Fee and Registration

The exam fee ($20.00) must be paid prior to the test being administered. Your check or money order can be dropped by NCH 444 or mailed to Department of Spanish, Italian and Portuguese, P.O. Box 400777, Charlottesville, VA 22904. Please present a check or money order made payable to the University of Virginia.

All candidates must register online for the exam at least one (1) week in advance. Two weeks prior to the exam date, registrations will begin to be reviewed and confirmed. An email confirmation with then be sent. If you don't receive a confirmation, please contact Linda Newman 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 administrator, 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.