Test of oral proficiency

Second Language Evaluation – Test of Oral Proficiency

Evaluates your ability to communicate orally in your second official language in work-related situations.

Evaluates all general proficiency levels required for bilingual positions in the federal public service, based on the Treasury Board Secretariat’s Qualification Standards in Relation to Official Languages.

Level A Level B Level C
NOTE: “E”: Exemption from further testing because performance contains no major weaknesses. Can handle most situations in the second official language with excellent control of the language and a high degree of ease

NOTE: “X”: Performance does not meet the minimum requirements for Level A

Understands most speech that deals with concrete and routine topics and is delivered slowly and clearly in standard speech

Understands the main points of clear standard speech that deals with concrete, work-related topics and is delivered at normal speed

Understands linguistically complex speech that deals with work-related topics and is spoken in standard dialect at normal speed

A person speaking at this level can:

  • make themselves understood in short contributions, even though pauses and false starts are very evident
  • talk about everyday aspects of routine activities
  • handle a simple question-and-answer exchange

A person speaking at this level can:

  • give a simple description of a concrete topic
  • explain main points comprehensibly
  • compare and discuss alternatives when complications arise
  • speak with some spontaneity, although pauses for grammatical and lexical planning and repair are evident in longer stretches

A person speaking at this level can:

  • give clear, detailed descriptions of complex topics
  • summarize a discussion
  • express and sustain opinions
  • respond to complex and hypothetical questions

A person speaking at this level:

  • has sufficient basic vocabulary and grammatical structures to conduct routine transactions involving familiar situations and topics
  • uses structures and vocabulary borrowed from another language which can interfere with the clarity of the message
  • has a pronunciation that requires close attention from the listener, but there are no long stretches that are unclear

A person speaking at this level:

  • has sufficient vocabulary and a variety of simple grammatical structures to handle concrete, non-routine situations and topics and can link a series of simple elements into a connected sequence when giving a factual description
  • may be miscommunicating in some areas, but most stretches are clear
  • has a pronunciation that is generally clear enough to be understood, despite an evident accent from another language
  • will, at times, be asked by the listener to repeat or clarify

A person speaking at this level:

  • has a fairly natural and even delivery, with occasional hesitations, but most hesitations are for ideas
  • has a broad range of vocabulary and structures when talking about complex and abstract topics, with a relatively high degree of control
  • makes errors, but these rarely lead to misunderstanding
  • has a pronunciation that is clear, even if an accent from another language is noticeable
  • has occasional mispronunciations but they rarely interfere with communication
The assessors
  • assessors are selected on the basis of their knowledge of the language that they will assess, their oral communication and their interpersonal skills
  • assessors have, at a minimum, a university degree and:
    • must pass a rigorous language test that evaluates professional-level language for the position
    • demonstrate considerable interpersonal and communication skills
    • must complete and maintain the certification on the administration of the Second Language Evaluation - Test of Oral Proficiency (SLE - TOP) and evaluation of linguistic performance
  • includes language activities about work-related topics
  • gets progressively more difficult
  • administered by telephone or face-to-face
  • lasts anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes
  • divided into four parts

Part 1: Questions and answers about work or other familiar activities

  1. You answer brief questions about your work or other familiar activities (e.g., studies or volunteer activities, if you are not currently employed) for which short, factual responses are expected.
  2. Duration: Two to six minutes.

Part 2: Listening and speaking in response to short audio recordings

  1. You listen to two short voice-mail messages (10 to 15 seconds each) and two short work-related conversations (30 to 35 seconds each) twice.
  2. Afterwards, you are asked to identify the reason for the call, what needs to be done or what help is being offered.
  3. Duration: Approximately seven minutes.

Part 3: Talk with follow-up questions

  1. The assessor proposes three topics for the talk.
  2. You choose one topic and have a minute and a half to prepare for your talk.
  3. Your talk should last approximately two to three minutes.
  4. After your talk, you will be asked to answer follow-up questions.
  5. Duration: 10 to 12 minutes.

Part 4: Listening and speaking in response to a longer audio recording

  1. You listen to a two-minute recording of a work-related conversation between two people at a meeting twice.
  2. Afterwards, you are asked to provide a brief summary of its content and answer related questions.
  3. Duration: 11 to 13 minutes.

As you progress through the test, the assessor will inform you of the different phases.

Based on the degree of proficiency you demonstrate during the test, the assessor will determine whether you have completed two, three or all four parts.

The assessment is not based on a point system (e.g., candidates do not lose points for each grammar mistake), but on your overall ability to communicate and deliver a clear message in your second language.

Taking notes
  • you can take notes during the test (we will provide you with the materials to do so)
  • the assessor will not read your notes and will not use them to rate your linguistic performance
  • your notes will be shredded at the end of the test
The questions

Assessors choose from a large bank of questions, based on your responses about your work or other familiar activities (e.g., studies or volunteer activities).

Questions are developed so that all candidates should be able to answer them.
You can ask the assessor to repeat or reformulate a question that you did not understand. You will not be penalized unless this happens repeatedly; this would indicate a weakness in oral comprehension.

If there is a question that you are unable to answer because you don’t know or the response would reveal sensitive or confidential information, let the assessor know and they can ask a different question.

Audio recordings

The recordings are played only twice and deal with common and accessible work situations.

Your responses
  • you are not expected to structure your ideas in a particular way but to speak naturally
  • if you lose your train of thought, mention it to the assessor. They will help you get back on track and will not take this into consideration when determining your rating
  • assessors are trained to evaluate the linguistic performance of candidates who may have a variety of accents and different patterns of speech. You will not be penalized for your accent or pattern of speech. What matters is whether your response is clear and easy to understand
  • it is to your advantage to use as much of the time allotted to demonstrate your language proficiency. However, you will not be penalized if you don’t talk for the full two to three minutes in part three of the test
  • it is the assessor's role to guide you through the test so that they have the necessary samples to appropriately evaluate your oral communication skills in your second official language
  • the test is recorded to provide a record of the test for administrative purposes. All the information on the recording of the test is confidential and is protected under the Privacy Act
Detailed feedback

Detailed Feedback is a service available to organizational clients with candidates on language training who did not succeed a recent TOP.

The feedback session lasts approximately one hour. It provides the candidate, and their representative, with a detailed picture of their most recent test performance. Feedback is given with the aid of both detailed analysis and examples taken directly from the oral test in question. These examples may either be played from the audio recording of the test or be read verbatim by the Second Language Consultant. This will depend on the agreement established between the PSC and the candidate’s organization.

Admissibility criteria:

  1. The candidate must have taken the TOP within eight weeks of the date that the contract was signed;
  2. The candidate must be enrolled in language training; and
  3. The candidate must attend the feedback session with their language training representative.

The PSC will only consider requests for service that come from a federal government department or agency.

Please refer to the PSC price list for the cost of Detailed Feedback.

For more information, please send an e-mail to CFP.TCO-CQ-QC-TOP.PSC@canada.ca. If you prefer to have someone telephone you with information, please include a phone number at which you can be reached in your e-mail enquiry.

Protecting test integrity

The content of the SLE - TOP is protected. You are not permitted to disclose test content to other people (e.g., other test-takers, employees, superiors or language teachers). Any disclosure of test content is in contravention of the Policy on Government Security and the use of such improperly obtained or transmitted information could be found to contravene the provisions of the Public Service Employment Act (PSEA).

Parties involved in the disclosure of or improper use of PROTECTED test content may be the subject of an investigation under the PSEA, where a finding of fraud may be punishable on summary conviction or may be referred to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

If you realize that you have been exposed to the test questions outside of the testing session, inform the language assessor immediately.

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