Language Reading Knowledge Exam
These translation exams test reading knowledge of French, German, Italian, or Spanish and meet the requirements of UW-Madison graduate programs. Register at least one week prior to your chosen exam date, select your language, and provide the name and email address of the graduate student coordinator for your department. No refunds after registration.
At a glance
What: Language Reading Knowledge Exam
When: Tue, May 2, 1:30-2:30pm
Where: 21 N. Park St., Rm. 7045, Madison, WI
or register by phone at
Register at least 1 week prior to your chosen exam date
For additional information, contact Christopher A. Moore: 608-262-7389
What to expect on exam day
When you take the exam you are given 1 hour to read and translate a prose passage that is approximately 1 to 1 ½ pages. The text selected will be compatible with your graduate degree program. You should translate as much as you can into natural-sounding English. It is not necessary to translate the entire text, as accuracy is more important than quantity. You are permitted to use a dual-language dictionary which you must provide, and one additional dictionary to aid in writing English – such as non-native English speakers may desire to use. Additional materials are not permitted. You will write your translation in a blue book which the proctor provides for you. You are given 1 hour from the time of first seeing the text to handing in your translation.
Evaluation of reading ability
Your reading ability is measured by the percentage of the text which you translate accurately and coherently. Your translation will be rated according to these standards:
French, Italian, and Spanish:
- Advanced High Pass: mastery of tense, idiom, vocabulary
- Adequate Pass: sufficient use of language as research tool
- Inadequate/Fail: unable to accurately translate basic meanings of the text
- 6th-semester (High Pass)
- 5th-semester (Intermediate Pass)
- 4th-semester (Pass)
For the exact requirements you need to fulfill, please contact your academic department. Each UW-Madison graduate program determines its own standards for reading knowledge requirements. If (and only if) you pass your department's requirements, we will automatically notify your department of your exam result. If you do not achieve the rating required by your department, only you will be notified with your results. You can retake the exam.
Preparing for the exam
We recommend that you practice the skill of writing timed translations in advance. Feel free to use the above sample exams, as well as working through self-timed translations of additional scholarly articles in the target language from your own field of research. Memorial Library and the Web are good sources for such texts.
The Division of Continuing Studies offers the following classes designed to prepare you for the text:
- French for Reading Knowledge (online; non-credit): offered spring, summer and fall
- German 391 (online transfer credit): offered continuously
- Italian for Reading Knowledge (online; non-credit): open in 2018
- Spanish Grammar for Reading and Translation (in person course; non-credit): offered summer
Contact individual language departments for information on individual tutoring
- Department of French and Italian: frit.wisc.edu
- Department of German: german.wisc.edu
- Department of Spanish and Portuguese: spanport.wisc.edu
Retaking the exam
You may retake the exam up to 3 times. Follow the normal online registration process for a future date. Each time you take the exam, you will be presented with a new text to translate. You should plan to take a course or get tutoring to make sure you are adequately prepared for the next test.
German-specific exam instructions
The text you will be asked to translate will be academic German prose from a scholarly publication generally compatible with your graduate degree program.
The percentage of the text which you translate accurately and coherently will be compared to the average quantity of that particular exam text which UW-Madison students can translate at the time they completed 4, 5, or 6 semesters of German language coursework at UW-Madison. On some exams you can achieve a "Pass" rating with as little as one-third of the exam text translated accurately. You may choose to skip some sentences of the exam text, as long as the sentences you do translate are coherent and fit their context.
Note for School of Music students who wish to take the 2-semester exam: After consulting with your Graduate advisor/coordinator, when your register for the exam, select “other” to answer the minimum pass level question and then enter in the text box, "2nd semester pass."
Graduate students in the School of Music may request the special exam for demonstrating music-relevant reading ability at the 2-semester level. Note that if you choose to take German 391 as a way to prepare for this 2-semester exam, you will need to have mastered the material in that course through at least Unit 10, which covers the main grammar topics you would have covered in German 101 and German 102.
You can get an idea of the minimum level of German grammar skills you will need by reviewing the course content covered in UW-Madison's German 204 ("Fourth Semester German"). For example, you could look through the textbook chapters that are covered in that course and make sure you are able to accurately decipher sentences written using all of those German grammar features. More information about German 204 can be found at the German Department's Web site: german.wisc.edu
You may view a sample exam (using a text that would be appropriate for an English Department graduate student). Download a sample exam.
We strongly recommend that you practice the skill of writing timed translations in advance. Feel free to use the above sample exam, as well as working through self-timed translations of additional scholarly articles in German from your own field of research. Memorial Library has a vast collection of German-language scholarly publications, and the Web is also a source of such texts.
Preparing for a retake
If you fail the exam, you are strongly encouraged to use the time before an exam retake to seek intensive, outside help in improving your German reading skills before attempting this exam again. Please consider the advice above (under “Preparation”) and below about how to improve your German reading skills before your retake. Options available to you include:
- Individual tutoring from UW German Department graduate students. Contact the German Department at 608-262-2192 or german.wisc.edu
- Credit or noncredit courses in German for Reading Knowledge. See continuingstudies.wisc.edu/languages/german-reading.html
- Work on your own with the free, open textbook Foundation Course in Reading German at courses.dcs.wisc.edu/wp/readinggerman or with the commercial, widely-available textbook German for Reading Knowledge originally by Herbert Jannach, now published as Jannach’s German for Reading Knowledge.