Spoken English Test for Teaching Assistants (SETTA)

The purpose of The Spoken English Test for Teaching Assistants (SETTA) is to assess how effectively international teaching assistants (ITAs) can communicate in English in typical academic and classroom situations. SETTA results help UMN departments and graduate programs make informed decisions when assigning teaching duties to their ITAs.

The SETTA is one of three assessments used by the University of Minnesota to determine eligibility for a teaching assistantship for students who are not native speakers of English. Scores on these assessments are converted into numerical English Language Proficiency (ELP) ratings.

Frequently Asked QuestionsSchedule a SETTA

SETTA Format

The SETTA is conducted online over Zoom and includes two presentations with Q&A (Questions & Answers) in the presence of two raters and an undergraduate student. 

The online SETTA has two tasks:

  1. Contrast 2 concepts from your field, provided by us - from our SETTA database or from your department.
  2. Define and explain with examples a process or sequence - you will provide us with 10 when you register, and we will choose 1 during your test.

During the test, on Zoom:

For the first task:

  1. You will be given a choice of two pairs of words.  You will choose ONE pair and you will have 3 minutes to think about how you want to contrast those two terms.
  2. You will talk about those two terms for 3–5 minutes and then the testing team will ask you questions about them for 5 minutes.
  3. You can write on a tablet, Zoom whiteboard, or a piece of paper to show as you talk.

For the second task:

  1. We will choose one of your topics at random.
  2. You will talk for 3 - 5 minutes about that topic.  This is not a teaching test, so you do not need to prepare anything ahead of time.  After this introduction to your topic, the testing team will ask you questions for 5 minutes.  
  3. You can write on a tablet, Zoom whiteboard, or a piece of paper to show as you talk.

How can I prepare for the SETTA?

The following video is from an online SETTA conducted over Zoom:

Practice aloud solving, explaining and contrasting concepts from a textbook in your discipline. Present to a group of your friends.


It is University policy to provide, on a flexible and individualized basis, reasonable accommodations to students who have documented disability conditions (e.g., physical, learning, psychiatric, vision, hearing, or systemic) that may affect their ability to participate in course activities or to meet course requirements.

In the same way, prospective TAs with disabilities are encouraged to contact Disability Services and the International TA Program testing coordinator to discuss their individual needs for accommodations on the SETTA. All discussions will remain confidential.

Frequently Asked SETTA Questions

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Who needs to demonstrate spoken English proficiency?

University of Minnesota policy states that in order to be employed as a teaching assistant or instructor, graduate and undergraduate students whose home language growing up was not English are required to be tested for spoken English proficiency. Reasonable exceptions can be requested by contacting Alyssa Bonnac.

Which tests can be used to determine English proficiency?

The three assessments we use to determine spoken English proficiency are:

  1. TOEFL iBT (speaking subscore)
  2. Spoken English Test for Teaching Assistants (SETTA)
  3. Final exam in International TA Program courses (GRAD 5105, GRAD 5102, or CSE: TALK)

    We convert your scores from these assessments to English Language Proficiency (ELP) Ratings and make them available to hiring personnel through UM Reports.

    If I have an TOEFL iBT score, do I need to do anything else?

    Your iBT speaking subscore will be automatically converted to an ELP rating and used to determine your eligibility for a TA or instructor position. If you’re satisfied with your score, you needn’t do anything else. However, you may take the SETTA if you think your English has improved since taking the TOEFL iBT. (There is no risk in taking the SETTA. Whichever score is higher, the iBT or the SETTA, will be used for your ELP rating.)

    What if I don’t attain a passing score on one of the three tests?

    You have two options:

    1. Enroll in the course that corresponds to your current English Language Proficiency level (GRAD 5105 for ELP 2 or GRAD 5102 for ELP 4). At the end of each course, passing your final exam will increase your ELP rating.
    2. Take the SETTA, but only 12 months after your last test.

    What if my ELP is 1, but I want to pursue professional development for teaching in the U.S. and further improving my English?

    GRAD 5105 Practicum in University Teaching for Nonnative Speakers is a great option. The 2-credit course offers discipline-specific language enhancement, teaching practice with coaching, and personalized support.  

    If you have a significant amount of teaching experience or need no English improvement, GRAD 8101 Teaching in Higher Education in the Preparing Future Faculty Program is an excellent option.

    Individual consultations may also be arranged to support teaching.

    I was not required to take the TOEFL for admission. Why do I have to take the SETTA?

    Requirements for admission are set by professional schools, and academic colleges or departments. English proficiency for teaching assistants, on the other hand, is required by the Minnesota legislature. The Language Proficiency Requirements for Teaching Assistants reflects the University’s response to this request.

    I won’t be a TA or instructor this year. Should I take the SETTA anyway?

    If you don’t have an TOEFL iBT score, we recommend taking the SETTA one or two semesters before you plan to be a TA. Your score will let you know whether your spoken English is already sufficient to teach, or whether one or two semesters of required courses are needed first. If you wait too long, and then don’t pass the SETTA, you may end up ineligible for a TA position when you need it. For advising on when to take the SETTA, contact Alyssa Bonnac.

    Since the SETTA can only be taken once every 12 months, shouldn’t I wait as long as possible to take it since my English will improve during that time?

    Maybe, but be realistic about your English improvement. Many international students are surprised how infrequently they speak English in their day-to-day lives here, and their English doesn’t improve unless they take a language course.