National Spanish Exam

Becky Bogan

One of the activities that I have enjoyed over the years is administering the National Spanish Exam to my students. It affords teachers the opportunity to see how their students at the same level measure up against other students in the state and nation. Last year, I was sorry to see that we did not have a state coordinator or contest, so this year I decided to volunteer!

Students get excited to see how they compare to others in their class as well as with others in South Carolina. Even though the format of the test is different than the AP or IB exams, the more practice they get with standardized tests, the better prepared they are for the next one.  It is also a valuable tool for students to self-assess their weaknesses and strengths.

What is the National Spanish Exam?

The National Spanish Examinations are online, standardized assessment tools for Grades 6 -12, given voluntarily by about 4000 teachers throughout the United States to measure performance (interpretive communication) and achievement of students who are studying Spanish as a second language.

The National Spanish Examinations are the most widely used tests of Spanish in the United States. In the spring of 2016, a total of 169,697 students participated in the online version of the exam.

What is the purpose of the National Spanish Examination?

The purpose of the National Spanish Examination is

  1. to recognize achievement in the study of the Spanish language
  2. to promote proficiency in interpretive communication in the Spanish language
  3. to assess the national standards as they pertain to learning Spanish
  4. to stimulate further interest in the teaching and learning of Spanish

In addition:

  • Many teachers state that they use the National Spanish Examinations to prepare students to take other standardized tests such as AP, IB, SAT II and college placement exams.
  • Many administrators state that they can use data from the National Spanish Examinations to create reports to show how their schools have improved over an academic year.

What is the mission of the National Spanish Examination?

The mission of the National Spanish Examination (NSE) is to recognize student achievement and to promote language proficiency in the study of the Spanish.

Who can participate? 

Any member of AATSP can register students currently enrolled in his/her class.  The exams are leveled from 01-6, depending on the number of years the student has studied Spanish.  Students are grouped into three categories to make the competition fair:  Classroom Experience, Outside Experience, and Bilingual.

Levels of competition…..explained

Students must be registered for the National Spanish Examination in the level which corresponds to the same Spanish course in which they are currently enrolled, allowing students with like-exposure to compete with each other.

There are seven (8) levels of National Spanish Examinations:


Entry level enrichment class where students have just begun their study of Spanish and where the class does not meet every day. (Grade 6)


Entry level for any program where the course content is equivalent to the first half of first year high school Spanish. (Grade 7)


  • Second year for JHS / MS students where the course content is equivalent to the second half of first year high school Spanish (Grade 8) or
  • Entry level for any program where the course content is equivalent to a full year of high school Spanish. (Grades 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 or 12)


Second level of high school Spanish. (Grades 8, 9, 10, 11 or 12)


Third level of high school Spanish. (Grades 9, 10, 11 or 12)


Fourth level of high school Spanish. (Grades 10, 11 or 12)


Fifth level of high school Spanish. (Grades 11 or 12)


Sixth level of high school Spanish. (Grades 11 or 12)



AP Language / IB-SL: Students enrolled in a course labeled AP Language or IB-SL should register to take the current year’s NSE exam at one level higher than the course in which they were enrolled the previous year. [Example: A student who is enrolled in AP Language this year and took Spanish 4 last year would sit for the Level 5 exam this year.] Under no circumstance may an AP Language / IB-SL student take the NSE at lower than Level 4.

AP Literature / IB-HL: Students enrolled in a course labeled AP Literature or IB-HL must take the NSE at either Level 5 or 6. These students should register to take the current year’s NSE exam at one level higher than the course in which they were enrolled the previous year. Under no circumstance may an AP Literature / IB-HL student take the NSE at lower than Level 5.

Block Scheduling

Students who are not enrolled in a Spanish class during the Spring semester should register for the level of exam for the course in which they were enrolled during the previous Fall semester.


Students who are enrolled in a Spanish class during the Spring semester should be registered for the level of exam for the course in which they are enrolled during the NSE testing window (March 1 – April 10). However, instead of administering the examination 10 weeks prior to the close of the academic year, teachers should administer the examination 5 weeks prior to the close of the year, provided that testing is completed by April 10. This later administration date will allow students to have had more instruction.

When is the test?

Registration opens on November 1, 2016 and will close on January 31, 2017. The cost is $4.25 per student. ($3 National fee, $1.25 State fee)

The test can be administered anytime between March 1 and April 10.  All you need is computers with internet access. You will need to double check the tech requirements as listed on the NSE website.  Students can use their own headphones for the listening portions of the test.

For more information:

How do I register?

Go to .

Once you are ready to register, you simply enter the student names along with their level and press SUBMIT.  Once you do that, an invoice will be generated and sent to you.  You print it out and send a copy of the invoice and payment (check) to:

National Spanish Examinations

PO Box 2058

Valparaiso, IN 46384

You may also pay by credit card.

What is the test like?  How do we prepare?

On, you can find previous tests, computer requirements, as well as online practice exercises.

Once the test window is closed, you will receive a spreadsheet from me containing your students’ results as well as a list of state (and ultimately national) winners.  State winners will receive a prize from the state chapter and you will have the ability to print award certificates for all who participate.

If you have any questions or if I can help you in any way, please email me at or call me at 864-355-3105. I ask and encourage you to participate in this rewarding activity, both for you and for your students.

Elementary Language Teachers:  We’re Better Together!

Jennifer Godwin

“Wo ist der Spüle?”  (Where is the sink?)  I asked anyone who even mentioned German when I was in elementary school.  I continued asking this question throughout middle and high school until I was butchering the pronunciation so much that it became unrecognizable.  I loved it, though, because it was one thing that I had held on to since my days of taking a world language in elementary school.  At my elementary school in Greenville, we took a world language class each year, although I don’t remember if it was weekly, monthly or completely up to the teacher.  In first grade, my teacher had a set of Japanese flashcards that she would show us for a few minutes a week.  In 5th grade we had a new student from Germany so his mom would come to our class for about 30 minutes a week and teach us some basic vocabulary.  Each year our classes looked something like this – the language based on our teacher’s interest or what language the students (and their volunteer moms) spoke at home.  I applaud my teachers’ and volunteers’ efforts to introduce us to a new language and culture, but our world and our students’ needs have changed since the early 90’s.

After 5th grade, I did not take a world language again until I took Spanish in ninth grade.  I fell in love all over again. I continued taking Spanish classes through college and graduate school, where I earned my Masters in the Art of Teaching Spanish.  In graduate school, I learned that some districts actually hire teachers to teach world language classes to elementary students.  This seemed far too good to be true.  I student-taught with Gloria Quave at Red Bank Elementary School in Lexington County School District One.  I witnessed kindergartners, yes five-year-olds, speaking only in Spanish, writing books in Spanish, singing songs in Spanish, even doing math assessments in Spanish, and I was forever changed.  I now work in the same school district where I currently teach Spanish to third through fifth graders.  Every third through fifth grader in our district takes Spanish for 90 minutes a week.  The classes I teach are rooted in third through fifth grade social studies and science standards and are proficiency-based.  The only children who are excluded from this are partial immersion students, who take math and science classes in a world language everyday.

Amazed by what the students and teachers were doing in our schools, I decided I wanted to get more involved and help advocate.  In early 2014, I asked a friend and colleague, Liz Lawrence-Baez, what I could do to help and she suggested I become the National Network for Early Language Learning (NNELL) representative for our state.  When given the list of current members, I was a little disappointed with only a handful of names.  I wanted to network and collaborate.  I wanted to see what awesome things were happening in other districts in our state.  I wish I could say that I advertised for NNELL and grew the organization in our state and that now there are dozens of us who collaborate and host workshops annually, but that is simply not the case.  That is why I am writing this article and encourage you to share this article with any elementary world language teachers that you know!

I have found elementary world language teachers to be some of the most adaptable people I know.  We have professional development in our schools, where the focus is usually on math or ELA.  We have professional development at conferences, where the focus is usually (not always!)  on middle or high school learners.  Yet, we somehow always walk away with something.  Elementary world language teachers can listen to just about any presentation or read just about any article and find at least a small way that they can use it with their young learners.  That being said, I would still love to see what these teachers would come away with if they were given more opportunities to network and collaborate with professionals when the focus was on world languages in the elementary classroom.

NNELL could be exactly what some early language teachers are missing in their professional lives.  NNELL advocates and provides professional development geared towards elementary world language and elementary language immersion teachers.  Webinars, news, and a journal, Learning Languages, are available for members on their website with topics that any elementary world language teacher would not have to stretch or adapt to use in their class.   Some of these topics include literacy in the L2, storytelling, developing an effective elementary program, using class time effectively, playing to increase proficiency, providing students with hands-on opportunities, school clubs and summer camps.  Their website also provides parent resources, which include ways parents can help their students learn an L2 at home, but also provide ways for teachers to best respond to parents’ questions and concerns.  One of the most engaging things that NNELL has to offer is their summer institute.  This takes place annually and features prominent professionals in our field and revolves around the needs of elementary world language teachers.

Despite the small amount of members in our state, NNELL has helped me become a better advocate and WL teacher.  During the 2015 and 2016 Southern Conference on Language Teaching (SCOLT), I have had the chance to meet with NNELL members from across the country, including the current president, Nadine Jacobsen-McLean.  I have had the chance to have conversations about best practices in the elementary language classroom, growing an immersion program, and advocating for our programs with teachers far more experienced than myself.  This in-person networking has led me to connect with more people in my position via social media, which has provided me with so many great ideas in my classroom.  Over the summer, I watched webinars which have helped me tremendously this year.  One of these webinars inspired me to create a digital newsletter for my students’ families and this has been a great way to advocate for my program and keep parents in the loop!  I will be representing NNELL with Dr. Kelly Davidson Devall this year and cannot wait to connect with more elementary teachers!

I am so excited about the future of NNELL in our state.  As World Language programs grow in our elementary schools, I look forward to more of you joining NNELL so that we can network with more teachers in similar (sometimes lonely) positions at elementary schools across South Carolina.  My dream is that one day our handful of members grow into dozens of members and that we could host a workshop right here in our state for NNELL members to collaborate, network, and grow together.  If you are an elementary world language teacher, please consider joining me on this mission.  NNELL memberships are only $30!

In closing, I would like to thank all elementary language teachers for being so adaptable and “making it work” after every math and ELA professional development session you have been to and for doing more for our students than simply teaching colors and numbers.  Keep advocating, keep growing, and keep networking even if you are the only one in your school who understands how important world languages are.  Keep making a difference in the lives of your students through growing their proficiency and opening their eyes to world cultures!  Keep providing them with meaningful learning experiences so that one day they will look back and remember a lot more than “Wo ist der Spüle?” when they think about their own journey with their second language.

Teaching Culture in Portuguese Class

Alanna Breen, Instructor of Portuguese and Spanish, University of South Carolina

Encountering culture through life experiences is natural, memorable and engaging, but teaching culture sometimes seems forced and forgettable. Yet cultural sensitivity and a bit of specific cultural awareness may be the only things that stay with students taking languages just to graduate. For the past few years, I had freedom over my own courses, and one of the things I overhauled was how I approached culture. For example, in second semester Portuguese, I dedicated four classes to culture with the themes of music, sports, Carnaval, and history.  Full disclosure: I ran those class periods in English because it was more important for the students to discover and absorb a great deal of cultural input. Follow up was done in the target language. The culture days were more like culture weeks as they were preceded and followed by work at home, including posting and responding to posts in a private Facebook group that I had set up for each class. For that, I had a professional Facebook account, but if I were to do it now, I would use Google Scholar.

`           Before the class on music, students had to read a page in their textbook about music in Brazil and answer the brief comprehension activities;  write five new words learned from the reading; search for a very recent news article in English that discusses news directly related to Brazilian (or Lusophone) music culture, print it and write a one to two sentence summary in Portuguese on it; and search for and choose a song that they personally like (in Portuguese but from any country), listen to it and figure out the gist of what the song means, print the song lyrics, and arrive at class  explain (in English) how they found/chose the song plus what it is about.  During class, the students get in small groups (or one big group) to share their song and music-news discoveries. After talking in groups for a while, we listen to clips of songs that they call out as well as a couple bits of significant or famous songs that I briefly discuss. Before the next class, they must post their songs on the wall of the Facebook group along with a sentence in the target language about it.  Then, before the following class meeting, everyone must comment in Portuguese on two other songs that have been posted.

Through these steps, a culture reading evolved from a comprehension spot check activity to an enthusiastic conversation in which everyone came ready to say “I found this song I really like and I get what it means.” This kind of cultural experience, combined with using songs for teaching, gives us all a greater appreciation for music as a universal culture.  Moreover, students tell me months later that they certain songs on their Spotify lists came from our class.


My Three Go-Tos

Erin Carlson, Instructor of Spanish, University of South Carolina,

Regardless of whether you are like me—a slave to a procedure—or more free-spirited, I wholeheartedly believe in the routine I use to start each of my classes. These three activities have served my students and me very well as class starters, but they can be employed at any point during your daily lessons. They work well in a communicative classroom and help prepare students for the IPA. But if you or your school haven’t made the leap to the communicative model or to the IPA as your assessment yet, they still work well.

I always start my classes with a diario, a phrase of the day, and questions of the day.

The diario is an authentic reading that matches the themes of your unit—the culture, the grammar/ support structures, and the vocabulary—and the students answer 3-4 comprehension questions about it. If, for example, your unit is centered around life after school—the job hunt—then you could have students reading authentic resumes that you find online in the target language. If your unit is centered around the house—rooms, furniture, chores—you could find ads describing homes for sale in the target language. It can be tougher to find readings for the beginning of level I, but it’s still possible to do: focus on small bit of language and cognates! I have photocopied the contents page of a magazine and asked about page numbers, I have used job or passport applications and asked what might be written in a certain sections, etc. If all else fails, you are certainly able to use readings that you find in your textbook’s materials and use them. The goal is to have your students reading Spanish everyday—that’s hopefully authentic—not to exhaust yourself while trying to find an authentic unicorn.

Create questions that focus on the vocab, grammar and themes from your unit as well as on cognates. These readings are meant to warm up the students, not beat them down mentally before class has really begun. They are also a great way to ‘sneak in’ culture; you can point out word variations, cultural differences, and more.

Have the reading available to your students as they enter the room and the questions posted somewhere. I would print and photocopy the readings and have the questions on a PowerPoint slide already up and ready for them to get started. I found that doing the diario at the beginning of class got the students seated and working quietly each day, it gave them a chance to ‘switch on’ their ‘Spanish brains’ and warm up in the language, and it gave me a chance to get myself adjusted to that class. The rush of switching between levels and taking care of administrivia (attendance, absences, giving back papers…) during the first few minutes of class is always so obnoxious when I am also trying to corral students, but they work on diarios while I do what I need to do, and then we can start class smoothly when the diarios are done.

I typically gave the students about 5-10 minutes to do the reading and then we went over the answers together as a class. You can also ask for volunteers to answer individually or call on random students to keep them on their toes and to ensure completion and participation.

Don’t reinvent the wheel: Try to find longer readings from which you can squeeze three to four days’ worth of questions. It’s a pain to find a new reading every day, to copy it, etc. Also, you can find pins on Pinterest with links to lots of authentic readings and resources. Try this one for telling stories, for example:

I like to follow the diarios with the phrase of the day. These phrases can serve many purposes—teaching beginning students handy phrases, like ¿Cómo se dice…? or ¿Me permites ir al baño? They can expand on the given vocabulary list for a unit—additional ways to talk about the weather, for example. They can be phrases to strengthen their speaking and writing—like sentence connectors, ways to agree/ disagree, etc.

After each set of 10-ish, I quizzed the students on the phrases. I also required them to use their phrases in both the speaking and written portions of their tests and quizzes. It worked really well, and my students sounded less like Spanish robots and more like Spanish speakers, because their production was sprinkled with these phrases that improved what they were saying and writing.

Don’t reinvent the wheel: Because I am human, I simply had the same set of phrases of the day that I recycled every year and used the same set for all levels, but you—daring, exciting teacher that you are!—could have different phrases of the day for each of the levels that you teach. You can also find pre-made lists on Pinterest; try this site:

Because I required phrases of the day on tests and quizzes, I also required them in students’ daily practice. One place to practice using them in speaking is in the questions of the day—las Preguntas del Día, or PdD. Oh, how I loved PdD! They serve so many purposes: 1. Students practice speaking in the target language. 2. They are an excellent gauge of how well students are acquiring the content of the lesson. 3. They prepare students for the speaking portion of the IPA.

I would write the questions of the day on the back board of my classroom, but putting them on a PowerPoint slide or writing them up as you start the activity—or some other way that you like—also work well. I created questions that reviewed the content that we covered in class the day before and that set them up to be successful for the speaking portion of the IPA (review where we’ve been while steering them toward the final destination.) If we struggled with one of the questions one day, I might repeat it—or a similar variation—the next day or two in class, as well.

Each day, we looked at the questions, discussed what they were asking, and discussed what some possible answers could be—all as a class. Then I gave them time to work with partners to practice with each other one on one for about two minutes. Then I had the students do a double circle (Half of the students stand in a circle shape, shoulder to shoulder, facing out; the other half of the class stands in a circle around this inner circle standing shoulder to shoulder facing in—so that each person in the outer circle is facing a person in the inner circle. See the visual and forgive my drawing skills.)


In this formation, the students then practice with a different person from the class, and then I would have them move—outside circle only—two or three students either right or left to practice again, and then, depending on time, perhaps another move around the circle to practice a third time.

My classroom is set up in a semi-circle purposefully to allow space for this double circle formation (which I use for other speaking practice activities, as well.), but there are lots of ways to partners students up to practice—or perhaps you stop after they practice with a partner near them for two minutes. You do what works best for you, your students, your curriculum, and your specific needs and limitations. Just because you don’t do it exactly like I did doesn’t mean that it’s not amazing—and maybe even better than how I do it.

Don’t reinvent the wheel: Keep a list of your PdD as you go in your first year. Make note of which questions worked well and which were a bust. Note which required extra practice, as well, and that can inform how you plan this unit the next year. I also used these questions—or very similar questions—on both my writing quizzes and as part of the speaking portion of the IPA. The students knew that they were likely to see the questions—or similar ones—later on important assessments, so they took the practice time more seriously and it cut down on my prep time in creating the assessments, as well. (two birds, one stone!!)

I love these activities, and I found that they really helped to lay a great foundation of skills for my students—not just within the unit or class, but as Spanish speakers in a world where they can actually walk out the door and use the language. They are short but mighty; even if all I could squeeze into my lesson on Pep Rally day or Fire Drill day were the diario, phrase of the day and questions of the day, then I felt great that my students read authentic Spanish every day and had conversation in Spanish every day. I hope that you will find them to be helpful as well, and if you would like any more information or explanation, please feel free to email me!