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.