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English Course Placement for ESL Students

Four courses—English 121, 122, 131, and 132—focus on teaching advanced English academic literacy to UT students whose first or strongest language is not English. To register for any of these classes, you must be a regularly admitted UT student and be placed into the class by the ESL Writing Program based on your TOEFL (or equivalent)  scores used for admissions. More information about UT’s English proficiency admissions policy can be found here. All undergraduate students must eventually complete both English 131 and 132; some undergraduate students may also be required to first take English 121. Graduate students may either be required to take English 122, or may be exempt from English.

English Placement FAQs

What is the composition requirement for undergraduate students?

All undergraduates are required to take the English composition sequence, English Composition I and II. For native speakers, this sequence is English 101 and 102. For non-native speakers, the sequence is 131 and 132 or 102/132. Based on test scores and/or English Placement Exam (EPE) scores, some students may be required to take ELI 110 and English 121 before proceeding to the composition sequence.

The class sequence is as follows, depending on the student’s test scores or EPE score:

  • A student may place directly into English 131 via TOEFL or IELTs, or the EPE. ENGL 131 -> ENGL 132
  • A student may place into English 121 via TOEFL or IELTS, or the EPE. After successful completion of 121, the student will progress to English 131. ENGL 121 -> ENGL 131 -> ENGL 132
  • A student may place into ELI 110 via TOEFL or IELTS, or the EPE. After successful completion of ELI 110, the student will register for and take the next EPE to determine the next class in the progression. Students will be instructed to register for English 121 or English 131 after the EPE is administered.   ELI 110 -> ENGL 121 -> ENGL 131 -> ENGL 132  OR ENGL 110 -> ENGL 131 -> ENGL 132   (*****DEPENDING ON RESULTS OF EPE****)

The English 102/132 class is composed of ½ ESL students and ½ native speakers. Although the class usually has modified paper length requirements for ESL students, it is nonetheless a more challenging option than English 132. It is recommended for students who made high marks in English 131 and for students who are confident in their spoken language skills.

In both 132 and 102/132, the goal is to advance the concepts learned in English 131.  The course involves intensive writing instruction focused on inquiry and research. It covers strategies for formulating and investigating research questions; locating and evaluating information; using varied sources and research methods; developing positions on intercultural and interdisciplinary from diverse texts, and presenting research using appropriate rhetorical conventions.

For more information and specific course descriptions, please visit: http://english.utk.edu/english-as-a-second-language/learning-english-as-a-second-language/

What is English 121?

English 121 is Academic English for Undergraduate Students. This 3-hour course is open to undergraduate students who place into the course based on their TOEFL or IELTS scores. English 121 focuses on academic literacy (including academic reading, writing, vocabulary, and grammar), and also focuses some attention on listening and oral presentation skills. This course does not meet University undergraduate requirements for freshman composition. Note to exchange students without TOEFL scores: this course is recommended if you have not had extensive experience with English academic composition.

What is English 122?

English 122 is Academic English for Graduate Students. English 122 focuses on intensive reading and writing instruction for international graduate students, focusing on a variety of critical and rhetorical approaches to academic writing in the disciplines. The class also includes strategies for improving professional oral communication. There will also be comprehensive review of the essential grammar for research writing.

What is ELI 110?

ELI 110 is Fundamentals in Academic English. This class is offered by the English Language Institute (ELI). If students are placed into this class and desire further information about course content, they should contact the ELI at eli@tennessee.edu and Jim Hamrick (jhamric1@utk.edu).

Course Description: Intensive instruction in the English language designed to prepare students for college-level courses taught in English. Strategies for developing proficiency in reading, writing, listening, speaking, and pronunciation and for increasing students’ understanding of both U.S. culture and academic expectations at the University of Tennessee.

How are students placed into a writing course?

Students are placed into writing courses based on TOEFL or IELTS scores (graduate and undergraduate students) and subscores (undergraduates only). If no scores are available for some reason, OR if students are unhappy with their placement, they will be required to take the English Placement Exam at the beginning of fall or spring semester, and their placement will be determined at that time.

What if I have not taken TOEFL or IELTS?

The English Placement Exam, which is given at the beginning of fall and spring semesters, will be required for students who have no TOEFL or IELTS scores. The exam will be used to determine placements for those students.

What is the English Placement Exam?

The English Placement Exam (EPE), given at the beginning of fall and spring semesters, tests students’ reading comprehension and writing skills. All students will be required to write a brief timed essay, and answer specific questions based on an assigned reading.   Students will be notified if they are required to take this exam. The exam is optional for students who have been placed into a course (such as ELI 110, ENGL 121, or ENGL 122), but want to challenge that placement.

When does the English Placement Exam take place?

The EPE is administered at the beginning of fall and spring semesters. Students will be notified by email of the place, date, and time of the exam. This information is also available during the orientation organized by the Center of International Education (CIE).

Can I retake the English Placement Exam?

No.  The EPE results are final.

(***ELI 110 students will be required to take the EPE after successful completion of that class. Please see the course sequence information for more on this**)

If I have already taken the English Placement Exam and have been placed into English 121 or 122, or ELI 110, can I retake the exam to try to change my placement?

 No.  The EPE results are final.

I earned a master’s degree from a U.S. institution. Am I exempt from taking English 122?

No. We will still place students based on TOEFL or IELTS scores, and if no scores are available, the student will be required to take the English Placement Exam.

I earned a B.S. or B.A. from a U.S. institution. Am I exempt from taking ENGL 122?

Yes. Students who completed their undergraduate education at a U.S. institution do not need to register for ENGL 122.

What is the placement process for students who are granted exceptions from TOEFL requirements by Graduate Admissions?

Exceptions granted by Graduate Admissions do not affect English Department requirements. If students have an official transcript of their TOEFL or IELTS score, they may use this for placement purposes (these transcripts will need to be provided to the Director or Assistant Director of the ESL program).  Otherwise, they will need to take the English Placement Exam, as described above. We prefer TOEFL or ILETS scores, which are two years old or newer.

If I place into English 122, when do I have to take it? Can I wait until the following term?

 Students placed into English 122 must enroll in the course during their first term of enrollment at the university.

Other related questions

Is there a limit on how many other classes graduate students can take when they are enrolled in ENGL 122?

A student may not enroll in more than nine additional hours of course work while enrolled in ENGL 122.

What other classes can I take to improve my English?

Other than the composition courses, students wishing for additional practice in their written or spoken English may wish to take other 200-level English classes, such as Public Writing (English 255).  Business majors may particularly benefit from Public Writing (English 255) and Business and Technical Writing (English 295). Additionally, students may wish to register for Communication Studies 210 (Public Speaking), for practice on diction and oral presentations, or other general Humanities courses.  Students who are specifically working on practicing and improving English skills, even graduate students, should NOT take upper-level English Literature courses, which are designed for English majors and will involve large amounts of reading and analytical writing.

Graduate students may wish to take one of the following two upper-level classes:  Technical Editing (English 460) or English 462 (Writing for Publication).

Placement Guide

Undergraduate Students

A combination of scores and subscores will determine English course placement.  You will be contacted by the English Department as soon as you confirm attendance.

Students with the following score combinations will be placed into English 131: 

TOEFL (iBT)
90+ total, with:
24+ writing subscore
20+ speaking subscore
IELTS
7+ total, with:
6.5+ writing subscore
6.5+ speaking subscore

Students with any of the following three score combinations will be placed into English 121:

TOEFL (IBT)

a. 90+ total, with:
18-23 writing
18-19 speaking
OR 
b. 80-89 total, with
18+ writing
18+ speaking
OR
c. 70-79 total, with:
24+ writing
20+ speaking

IELTS

 7+ total, with:
6.0 or below writing
6.0 or below speaking
OR
b. 6.5 total, with:
6.0+ writing
6.0+ speaking
OR
c. 6 total, with
6.5+ writing
6.5+ speaking

Students with any of the following two score combinations will be placed into ELI (English Language Institute) 110:

TOEFL (iBT)

a. 70-79 total, with:
23 or below writing
19 or below speaking
OR

b. Any subscore 17 or below
(with any total)

IELTS
a. 6 total, with:
6 or below writing
6 or below speaking
OR
b. Any subscore 5.5 or below
(with any total)

ELI 110: Fundamentals in Academic English is offered by the English Language Institute (ELI). For more information, contact the ELI at eli@tennessee.edu and Jim Hamrick (jhamric1@utk.edu).

Graduate Students

The ESL Writing Program uses standardized test scores to place graduate students into ESL writing courses. If graduate students do not have test scores or are not satisfied with their test scores, they can choose to take an English Placement Exam, which usually takes place in August and January about a week before classes begin.

No English Required:

TOEFL iBT 100 and above, OR
IELTS 7.5 and above, OR
TOEFL CBT 250 and above, OR
TOEFL PBT 600 and above

English 122 Required:

TOEFL 99 or below, OR
IELTS 7.0 or below, OR
TOEFL CBT 247 or below, OR
TOEFL PBT 597 or below


Exchange Students

Exchange students are not required to take English courses. However, if you would like to take English, please refer to the placement guidelines for undergraduate students above. Please also send an email to esl@utk.edu telling us (1) your full name (2) your student ID #, and  (3) which English class and section you would like to take. If you do not have official scores (TOELF or IELTS) and would like to take English, please read the descriptions below and choose the course best suited to your English proficiency level.

ESL Courses

English 121 (undergraduate)

This 3-credit hour course is open to undergraduate students who place into the course based on their TOEFL or IELTS scores.

English 121 focuses on academic literacy (including academic reading, writing, vocabulary, and grammar) and also focuses some attention on listening and oral presentation skills. This course does not meet university undergraduate requirements for freshman composition. Note to exchange students without scores: This class is recommended if you have not previously had extensive practice in English academic composition.

English 122 (graduate)

This 3-credit hour course is open to graduate students who place into the course based on their TOEFL or IELTS scores.

English 122 focuses on intensive reading and writing instruction for international graduate students, focusing on a variety of critical and rhetorical approaches to academic writing in the disciplines. The class also includes strategies for improving professional oral communication. There will also be comprehensive review of the essential grammar for research writing.

English 131 (undergraduate)

This 3-credit course meets the university’s undergraduate requirements for freshman composition (equivalent to English 101). This class involves intensive instruction in writing, focusing on analysis and argument. The class also covers strategies for developing substantive arguments through systematic revision, addressing specific audiences, integrating sources, and expressing ideas with clarity and correctness. Note to exchange students without scores: This course is recommended if you already have experience with English academic composition.

English 132 (undergraduate)

Before enrolling in English 132, all students must have passed English 131 with a grade of C or higher. This 3-credit course meets the university’s undergraduate requirement for freshman composition (equivalent to English 102). The goal of this course is to advance concepts introduced in English 131. The course involves intensive writing instruction focused on inquiry and research. It covers strategies for formulating and investigating questions; locating and evaluating information; using varied sources and research methods; developing positions on intercultural and interdisciplinary issues from diverse texts (print, digital, and multimedia); and presenting research using appropriate rhetorical conventions.

For more information about ESL courses, contact esl@utk.edu.

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