ASLPI Preparation

ASLPI Preparation

Greetings Examinee:

The information contained in this section is to prepare you for your upcoming ASLPI evaluation. In addition to what to expect on test day and required dress for the evaluation, we also provide the criteria evaluated, how best to approach the ASLPI, functional descriptions for the proficiency levels, and actual "ASLPI video footage" with proficiency levels identified (with consent from examinees). This information will prepare you for the evaluation and help you develop a better understanding of what is expected at each proficiency level. If you have additional questions after reviewing this information, please send email to: We will be happy to assist you.

Preparing for Test Day
Required Dress for Examinees
Test Day
Criteria Evaluated
ASLPI Functional Descriptions
Video Samples Level 0-5
Preparing for Test Day
Is the ASLPI a test for which I can study?
The ASLPI is not a test for which you study in the traditional sense of the word (such as "cramming for a test"). As with all languages, skills develop over time and that time frame varies from person to person. To improve your ASL skills, a combination of formal instruction, diagnostic assessment to identify specific strengths and weaknesses, and interaction with proficient users of the language in a variety of communicative contexts is needed. However, none of these produce "overnight" changes in your skills. As with any test, you are encouraged to do things to reduce test anxiety, such as eating well, exercising, and getting a good night's sleep before the day of your ASLPI evaluation.

How should I prepare?

With regard to preparation, consider any language and acquiring that language—English, Spanish, French, etc. Learning, understanding and using any language takes time and hard work. It is also important to remember that becoming proficient in any language doesn’t always come as quickly (or as easily) as we would like. Preparation for taking the ASLPI is not like preparing for an exam in a course (i.e., memorizing core information and regurgitating it in the same form on paper). The ASLPI is evaluating what you can do with a language at a given point in time. And, contrary to what many people believe, what you can do with a given language is not tied to a specific topic or content. Proficiency in a language gives us the ability to discuss any topic, known or unknown to us. If you were taking an English proficiency evaluation, the test would be examining how accurately you use the language to discuss the topics given the rules of that language – not what you know about the topics.

Becoming proficient in any language happens over time and that time varies from person to person. On the day of your ASLPI evaluation, you will demonstrate features, aspects and nuances for ASL that you have on the day of the test. Depending upon where you are in the language acquisition process, you may have full control over some of the features, while others you may have some control, and still others are just emerging (no control). The goal is to show what you CAN DO with the language, no matter the topics discussed. This is not a test of your knowledge. When various topics are raised, what features of the language are you able to demonstrate? What features do you choose to incorporate? Again, consider someone who is a proficient English user. If we were referring to an English proficiency evaluation, the interviewer could bring up ANY topic and that examinee would be able to demonstrate extensive and complex vocabulary, semantics, production, structure, etc. with accuracy.

Think of the ASLPI in those terms. The challenge is when our language skills are still developing and we are limited with vocabulary, syntax, semantics, etc. in a language and then must demonstrate increasing complexity with accuracy via that language. When you take the ASLPI, put all of your energy into showing what you CAN DO with the language. You will attempt to use features that you might not have full control over. You may be influenced by a non-target language, but don't fret about that. It is important to make every attempt to show what you can do. The ASLPI will evaluate your accuracy, consistency, complexity and flexibility with ASL.

Preparation can include but is not limited to: using the language as much as possible so features become part of your natural language repertoire (we lose what we don't use); continually involve yourself in ongoing formal instruction (classes, workshops, conferences); immerse yourself in social events at which you remain in the target language for extended periods of time; conduct ongoing personal assessments of your language (consciously think about what you are generating: Are you using ASL, or a more English like signing? Are you using correct grammar, semantics for intended meaning, etc.)? Ask proficient users to point out errors when they occur, and incorporate that feedback.

What is the best way to approach taking the ASLPI?

Let's first consider an English test that requires you to write one page comparing and contrasting two topics. You will be writing about the topics provided, but for this assignment, your writing will be evaluated on the following:

  • Range of vocabulary
  • User of grammar and complex sentences
  • Structure of paragraphs (opening, supporting sentences, and closing)
  • Clear comparison and contrast of the two topics
  • Overall cohesion of the paper

The details you include in your paper may range from personal experiences to support your argument or you might take an historical and factual approach, if you have that knowledge. The bottom line is - the paper will be graded on your English writing skills.

Let's now turn to the ASLPI. Your language skills are measured via a range of topics discussed, from concrete to hypothetical. First and foremost, be confident with the skills that you have, knowing what you can do with the language, as well as having awareness of areas needing improvement. Know that language skills which are still developing will emerge and then evade you. That's the nature of second language learning. It is not until you master specific skills that they stay present.

On the day of your interview, bring the language skills you have. When you take the ASLPI, put all of your language skills "on the table." Demonstrate what you CAN DO with the language.

The interviewer will cover a range of topics with the goal of giving you every opportunity to show what you can do with the language. The topics may include something you have signed about before. There may also be topics that you have never signed about before. There are stories, events and topics you may feel comfortable signing about because you have practiced and rehearsed them. It is when random topics are raised that true ASL proficiency is identified which reveals skills that are mastered. Random topics will also reveal language aspects that are still emerging, or are not present at all.

You are not being evaluated on facts, data or knowledge on any given topic. Your responses will be what comes to mind from your own personal experience or perspective. There is no right or wrong answer. The goal is to show what you can do with the language.

Example #1 from an interview: The interviewer asked about how we could get more people to recycle. The examinee admitted that he did not personally recycle but the community does make an effort to keep the environment clean. For example, the community has doggy stations and bags are provided to pick up after pets. This moved the discussion to the area where the examinee lives and the layout of the community. This discussion provided a great opportunity for the examinee to demonstrate an array of language aspects.

Do not get hung up on the topic or question. There is no "right" answer. The interviewer is not looking for what the examinee knows about recycling. The interviewer's goal is to give each examinee every opportunity to use the language as proficiently as possible. Respond with what comes to mind.

Responses to questions might involve something you read, heard, discussed with someone, or how you feel about the topic. It might remind you of someone or something that personally happened. It does not matter. What is important is demonstrating through the interview your ASL skills no matter what topic comes up.

Example #2 from an interview: The examinee was asked if she could describe how to change a tire. She had never done that which she told the interviewer, but the examinee also responded that she could imagine what she would need to do. It gave her an opportunity to demonstrate an array of language aspects as she walked through the steps she thought would be taken if she did have to change a tire. Again, it's not about getting the actual steps right -- it's about language use and what she CAN DO with ASL. In summary, the ASLPI is not about having facts and knowledge on a topic. The purpose of the ASLPI is to capture your highest proficiency level which is completely dependent upon the language skills that YOU bring to and demonstrate during the interview. Put all of your skills out there and do not be afraid that you don't know enough about any of the topics raised.

Remember: The purpose of ASLPI is to capture what you CAN DO with the language.

What if I don't know a sign; is it okay to ask what it means?

The Evaluators will typically not provide new vocabulary if it is not known to you. Demonstrating range of vocabulary is a part of the evaluation. Examinees can use other strategies in the interview. How do you handle being in a conversation with someone who says something you don’t understand? We ask for clarification. We repeat what we heard and say, “Did you mean…?” For those of us who took formal instructional ASL classes, we learned sentence structures from simple to complex. That included Y/N and WH questions, command statements, rhetoricals, how to ask for clarification. Use the features of the language that you have learned. Do remember, though, that the Evaluator will not function in an “ASL Teacher” role. S/he will not provide you with signs when you don’t have that vocabulary in your language repertoire. Demonstrate the language that you are able.

Are you familiar with the “hearing nod” (the deer in head lights feeling) that many of us used early on in the language learning process? That glazed over look with our head nodding “yes” when we really didn’t understand what was being signed. When we use our first language in our daily lives, we ask for clarification when we don’t understand something. That is functional language in the works. It is not different in ASL. The goal is to use the language with accuracy (if possible) when asking for clarification. Understanding and being understood is an important part of every language and there are features of every language that serve that purpose. It is also important to realize our current skill level. If you know that comprehension is still developing, then understanding may be a challenge. That is okay. It is where we are at that moment in time. As mentioned above, use features of the language to get clarification and understand what is being discussed.

Can I steer the conversation to a topic about which I am more comfortable?

Let’s look more closely at the word “comfortable” in this question. The ASLPI Evaluators proceed through rigorous training which includes intensive focus on types of questions appropriate for language testing purposes. Sensitive topics are not included in the evaluation. In this question, it appears we are referring to topics that are not familiar, which in turn equates to “discomfort” because of our limited vocabulary and limited language use. Don’t let unfamiliarity make you uncomfortable. Use an array of language features to gain an understanding about the topic and then respond hypothetically on the topic. We talk about unfamiliar topics in our native language every day. It is “comfortable” because we have a wide and flexible range of language features that move us through the discussion.

The purpose of the ASLPI is not to simply touch on topics with which you are comfortable and have familiarity (previously signed about them). That would plateau your language proficiency level. The purpose of the ASLPI is to measure your maximum overall proficiency. Again, if we are proficient users of English, we can use the language with accuracy, complexity and flexibility across any and all topics. For unfamiliar topics, use the same language strategies as you would in your native language such as, “That is an interesting question. I am not familiar with that, but if I had to deal with that situation, I would ….” As you can see, there is language accuracy, and complex sentence structure. The ASLPI is not evaluating your knowledge on any topic. The attempt to answer the question raises the language proficiency level because of the language features demonstrated, as opposed to responding, “I don’t know.”

The evaluator probes into linguistic areas that are familiar and unfamiliar which identifies both the maximum skills (ceiling) and limits (floor) of the examinee's ability.

How are the topics for the evaluation selected?

The topics vary from evaluation to evaluation depending upon the examinee, his/her interest, and where a topic leads the conversation. It is a very interactive exchange between examinee and evaluator. The evaluator’s goal is to pull out all of the language features that the examinee has to show. As the evaluator moves forward, s/he is looking for language features and the complexity and proficiency to which the examinee is able to use those features. Questions and topics are designed and asked to pull out those features of the language that have not yet been demonstrated.

How are the ASLPIs evaluated?

Evaluators go through extensive training to develop a shared understanding and mental model of each proficiency level from 0-5. The proficiency levels and functional descriptions are posted on the website. Feel free to review them as frequently as you like. The evaluation system has very strong inter- and intra-rater reliability among its evaluator pool. This means that all evaluators have the same knowledge and understanding of each proficiency level, and come to the same rating decision.

When the evaluation is completed, individual independent evaluators view the recorded evaluation in its entirety. Each is required to decide on the proficiency level individually before meeting to share their decision. If complete consensus cannot be reached (which is rare), another rating team is assigned.

Are there any preparation tests?

Something very beneficial prior to taking the ASLPI is simply having self-awareness about your current language skills and proficiency. Many signers have errors unbeknownst to them. Becoming a “conscious” ASL signer and examining everything you are doing with the language is imperative. Taking a close look at the video samples of the proficiency levels on our website can be helpful in comparing them to your own skills and identifying where you currently fall on the scale. Prior to taking the ASLPI, you should know where you are in your language acquisition and the proficiency level you receive should not come as a surprise given the self-awareness you have developed.

We recommend that examinees take some time and do video recording in conversation with another person. Do not practice or set an agenda. It is even more helpful if you can identify someone with a language background and high level proficiency who would be willing to work with you. Set up a video recorded free flowing conversation using skills in your natural language repertoire. Do not practice signing about the various topics. Then, review the video recording and look for patterns that are pulling your skills down from the proficiency level you want to achieve. Do you have patterns of "English" (or other non-target language) signing that are popping up and affecting your syntax, vocabulary? Are you incorporating a vast and increasingly complex range of language features? Are you incorporating more English like signing instead of incorporating more complex ASL features? Look closely at your vocabulary, syntax, semantics and overall accuracy.

How long is the evaluation?

The evaluation ranges from approximately 20-25 minutes depending upon the skills demonstrated. As the evaluator moves forward, s/he makes every attempt to give the examinee the opportunity to demonstrate a wide range of language features with increasing complexity.

Does a videophone format impact my language skills?

We have two options: live interview at ASL Diagnostic and Evaluation Services (ASL-DES) or via videophone from a neutral site. The location of the ASLPI has no bearing on the language skills an examinee is able to demonstrate. If language proficiency exists, an examinee can “show their stuff” no matter the location.

What is the interview format?

The ASLPI interview process has four phases which include: warm up, level check, probing, cool down. The warm-up phase is brief but gives the examinee a few minutes to calm. During the level check phase, familiar topics are raised which provides the evaluator with linguistic information as to what the examinee can do with the target language. The evaluator then moves into the probing phase which is designed to pull the examinee up to his/her highest proficiency level (challenging the examinee across topics). And finally, the cool down brings the examinee back to a comfortable language level before closing the evaluation.

Does the interviewer slow down for a new signer?

The evaluators do indeed slow down when an examinee is struggling. However, evaluators also have other strategies to bring the examinee to a higher proficiency level which could include finding another way of stating something so the examinee has an opportunity to demonstrate an increasingly higher proficiency level by “stretching” in their language skills. Simply slowing down and keeping the evaluation at a specific “plateau” or lower proficiency level does not given the examinee a chance to show what s/he can do with the language, thus capping the proficiency level when the examinee might have been able to achieve a higher level.

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Required Dress for Examinees
Appropriate dress is required for your evaluation. To make your video recorded interview visually comfortable to evaluate, wear plain solid color clothing that contrasts with your skin tone (i.e., darker background with lighter skin tones and lighter background with darker skin tones). Do not wear any upper body garments that are red or that contain print or plaid designs. Remove sun glasses from your head. Toss chewing gum. Refrain from wearing any visual distractions such as dangling earrings, bracelets, or rings on every finger. These can interfere with clear signing.
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Test Day
If you have not previously taken the ASLPI, please ask questions before the interview begins. NO FOOD OR DRINKS PERMITTED as you take the ASLPI evaluation.

The evaluation is video recorded. When you enter the testing room, your interviewer (or proctor) will provide you with instructions about where to sit. Adjustments will be made for proper lighting and camera (or VP) positioning if needed. For examinees who come for a face-to-face evaluation, the TV will be turned off before the evaluation begins so you are not distracted by it.

The ASLPI takes 20-30 minutes. Your interviewer will ask questions designed to maximize your use of ASL, and to give you every opportunity to show what you can do with the language. Ask for repetition or request clarification as needed. An array of topics are discussed during each interview, none of which are asked to test your knowledge. Remember that the purpose of the interview is to capture your highest ASL proficiency. You are not being evaluated on how much you know about a given topic. The topics discussed are simply a means for capturing your language proficiency.
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Criteria Evaluated
We recognize that individuals apply their ASL and English skills in a variety of ways, depending upon the communication needs of specific situations. The purpose of the ASLPI is to measure the American Sign Language (ASL) skills that an individual has at a given point in time. As a criterion-based evaluation designed to test your overall ability to use and understand ASL, each recorded interview is rated on the basis of specific criteria in five different categories:

  • Grammar: linguistic elements include sentence types, grammatical categories and discourse functions. Such elements are conveyed by synchronization of non-manual components (e.g., eye-gaze, inflection, and movement).
  • Vocabulary: range and accuracy of vocabulary selection across a variety of topics. The use of colloquial expressions and figurative language is also considered.
  • Accent/Production: accuracy of sign formation, i.e., handshape, palm orientation, location and movement as well as clarity of fingerspelled words and numbers.
  • Fluency: flow of thought which follows a rhythm and pace of delivery that fits the topic being discussed.
  • Comprehension: overall understanding of the conversation. Also examined are the examinee's spontaneity, responses to questions, and ability to provide visual feedback to the interviewer.
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ASLPI Functional Descriptions
Except for LEVEL 5, the ASLPI proficiency level received may include the assignment of a plus value (+). This does not represent a midway point between two levels, but may be inferred to indicate that the examinee exceeds the requirements for a particular level but does not satisfy in all respects the requirements of the next higher level.

Level 5

Signers at this proficiency level are able to communicate with accuracy and fluency in order to participate fully and effectively in conversations on a wide variety of topics, both formal and informal and from concrete and abstract perspectives. They discuss their interests and special fields of competence, explain complex matters, and provide lengthy and coherent narrations, all with ease and impromptu detail. They present their opinions on issues and provide structured arguments to support those opinions. They are able to construct and develop hypotheses to explore alternative possibilities. They demonstrate no pattern of error in the use of basic structures, although they may make sporadic errors, particularly in low-frequency structures and in complex high-frequency structures. Such errors, if they do occur, do not distract or interfere with communication. They are able to use the language consistently with accuracy, complexity, flexibility and intuition and incorporate depth and breadth of vocabulary, colloquialisms, and pertinent culture references. Comprehension is excellent across a broad spectrum of topics, which includes fully understanding both what is stated, as well as what is inferred.

Level 4+

Signers at this proficiency level are able to demonstrate spontaneous elaboration on all familiar and unfamiliar, formal and informal topics but they are not able to maintain accuracy or complexity for the duration of the evaluation. Such discourse, while coherent, may be influenced by language patterns other than those of the target language. Even with this influence, they are consistently able to demonstrate all of the linguistic features required for high level proficiency. Comprehension is excellent across a broad spectrum of topics, and inferences are understood.

Level 4

Signers at this proficiency level are rarely taken as native signers. They demonstrate spontaneous elaboration on all familiar and most unfamiliar topics, however, there is incorporation of language patterns other than those of the target language. They are able to use an array of rhetoric (narration, description, argument, and hypothesis) with complex topics in paragraph-length discourse related to employment, current events, and matters of public and community interest. Although they command a good number of grammatical features, they are deficient in some areas such as cohesion, non-manual signals (NMS), and depiction. They are able to present information with sufficient accuracy, clarity, and vocabulary selection to convey intended meaning without misrepresentation or confusion. Comprehension is very good with demonstration of confidence in the discussion of most complex topics.

Level 3+

Signers at this proficiency level demonstrate spontaneous elaboration on all familiar and some unfamiliar topics with increasing incorporation of language patterns other than those of the target language. When they attempt to perform tasks at the next proficiency level, they exhibit features of breakdown, such as shorter paragraph-level discourse, errors with mapping, cohesion, affect and non-manual signals (NMS) and incorporation of English mouthing. Those breakdowns create an increased amount of hesitation in discourse. Despite noticeable imperfections, they are able to present broad vocabulary with sufficient accuracy and clarity. Comprehension is good on all topics, but repetition and/or rephrasing might be needed.

Level 3

Signers at this proficiency level are able to express language with sufficient structural accuracy and vocabulary to participate in most familiar and unfamiliar topics about practical, social, and professional situations. They can discuss particular interests with reasonable ease. They demonstrate confidence discussing topics at the paragraph discourse level, but exhibit errors and breakdown when in depth elaboration and detail is requested. Occasional groping for vocabulary can be present. There is good control of grammar but there are some noticeable imperfections and errors which may interfere with understanding. They tend to function reactively by responding to direct questions or requests for information. They are capable of asking a variety of questions when needed to gather information pertaining to certain situations. They combine and recombine known language elements to create short paragraph length responses. Their language contains pauses and self-corrections as they search for adequate vocabulary and language forms. Comprehension is often accurate with highly familiar and predictable topics although misunderstandings may occur.

Level 2+

Signers at this proficiency level demonstrate less structural accuracy and vocabulary to participate in familiar and unfamiliar topics. When they attempt to perform tasks at the next proficiency level, they exhibit breakdown in the demonstration of language features, such as a reduction in depth, breadth and accuracy of vocabulary, affect, and non-manual signals (NMS). There is struggle linking ideas, using paraphrasing, or circumlocution which create errors that interfere with expression and understanding. Comprehension may be fairly good across topics but periodic repetition and/or rephrasing may be needed.

Level 2

Signers at this proficiency level are able to express uncomplicated communicative tasks in straightforward practical and social situations. They demonstrate the ability to elaborate on concrete and familiar topics (e.g., current events, work, family, autobiographical) with some confidence. They can also discuss with hesitancy some unfamiliar topics, relying on learned phrases and recombinations. Sentences are discrete and are influenced by language patterns other than those of the target language with noticeable errors, ranging from occasional to considerable, affecting clarity. They may display self-repair ability. They are able to respond to simple, direct questions or requests for basic information. Their responses are short and may leave sentences incomplete. If asked to handle a variety of topics, accuracy cannot be maintained. Comprehension is good with familiar topics but frequent repetition and/or rephrasing are needed with unfamiliar topics.

Level 1+

Signers at this proficiency level are able to express personal meaning by combining and recombining what they know and what they receive from the interviewer. They create short statements and discrete sentences but they are not able to maintain the next higher proficiency level. While attempting to convey the message, their responses are often filled with hesitancy and inaccuracies as they search for accurate linguistic forms and vocabulary. Their production, vocabulary and syntax are strongly influenced by non-target language. Despite misunderstandings that require repetition or rephrasing, they can generally be understood by the interviewer who is accustomed to dealing with non-native language users. Comprehension limitations are evident due to the need for more frequent repetition or rephrasing of questions on both familiar and unfamiliar topics.

Level 1

Signers at this proficiency level are able to manage a number of uncomplicated communicative tasks in straightforward practical situations. Conversation is restricted to some concrete exchanges and predictable topics necessary for survival. The language consists primarily of short and sometimes incomplete sentences in the present, and may be hesitant or inaccurate due to influences by non-target language. Limited vocabulary is apparent and memorized phrases at the elementary level are demonstrated (e.g., routine travel needs, minimum courtesy requirements, work, school, pets, hobbies). They resort to repetitive vocabulary or short utterances (e.g., I don't know). They demonstrate sporadic confidence with frequent groping for vocabulary. They can understand simple questions and statements, but slowed communication and extralinguistic support are needed. Comprehension requires frequent repetition but misunderstanding may still occur.

Level 0+

Signers at this proficiency level are able to respond to simple, direct questions or requests for information but they are unable to maintain functions associated with the next higher proficiency level. They frequently resort to repetition, silence or fingerspelling when they do not know the vocabulary. They demonstrate limited communicative exchanges with short phrases and/or non-target language sentences with memorized vocabulary, and topics are limited to survival needs (e.g., work, school, pets, hobbies). They attempt to recombine known vocabulary or incorporate vocabulary used by the interviewer. Comprehension is limited requiring considerable repetition and/or rephrasing, and slow simplified communication with extralinguistic support are needed.

Level 0

Signers at this proficiency level demonstrate no functional language ability and may be unintelligible. Given adequate time and familiar cues, they may be able to exchange greetings, provide limited background information, and identify a number of familiar objects from their immediate environment. They use memorized vocabulary. In the absence of needed vocabulary, they resort to fingerspelling or silence. Comprehension is limited or almost non-existent even with the most simplified and slow communication.
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