International Student English (ISE) Exam

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About the ISE Exam

The ISE exam is a free placement exam given to determine the English proficiency of international students. After taking the ISE exam, students are either "released" from any ALI requirement or receive an ALI placement. A student's ALI placement may vary from 2 units to more than 18 units depending on their ISE exam scores. With few exceptions, international students whose native language is not English must take the International Student English (ISE) Examination.

The exam will be given in August for students beginning their studies in the fall semester; and in January for the spring semester. To find out if you are required to take the ISE exam, check your letter of admission and your I-20. There is no fee for taking the ISE exam. Bring your letter of admission to USC, your passport (or other official document with a picture and signature), and a pen to the examination room.   

If you cannot attend the ISE exam that is currently posted on the website, you may check back on or after that test date for additional tests. Tests are posted one at a time.

We recommend that you to take it as soon as possible because you will not be able to register for any classes until after you receive your ISE exam results.

Email with your USC ID number and name for more information.

Exemptions From Taking the ISE Exam

Students who meet the following conditions may not be required to take the ISE exam*:

  • Ph.D. and undergraduate applicants who have achieved an Internet Based TOEFL (iBT) score of 100, with no less than 20 on each sub-score; or an IELTS score of 7, with no less than 6 on each band score, taken within the past 2 years, will be exempted from taking USC’s ISE Exam.
  • Applicants to master’s programs who have attained an iBT score of 90, with no less than 20 on each sub-score; or an IELTS score of 6.5, with no less than 6 on each band score, taken within the past 2 years, will be exempted from taking USC’s ISE exam.
  • Students who hold a bachelor's degree from a regionally accredited university located in the United States or in another country in which English is both the language of instruction and the only official language of the country. The entire program must be completed in the qualifying country. Please note: a graduate degree from a U.S. college or university does not exempt students from taking the ISE exam.
  • Students whose native language is English.


The ISE examination may only be taken once in any given year. There are two parts to the exam which may be given on two different days. Students' English language proficiency is assessed in writing and oral skills .

Writing skills are assessed by an essay. Students are given 40 minutes to write an essay.  A team of experienced graders read the essays and grade students on their ability to write a well-organized essay, using accurate and appropriate English. Students are assessed on comprehensibility, academic style, vocabulary, grammar, development, and coherence.

Oral skills are assessed in an oral interview that takes approximately ten minutes. The interview is carried out in a relaxed, friendly atmosphere by two interviewers who ask students to talk about their personal life, the composition that they wrote previously, and a topic chosen by the interviewers. Students are assessed on fluency, pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar.

*Please email for current requirements.