Frequently asked Questions about the Oral Proficiency Interview (OPI)
(From prospective OPI candidates)
1. It seems like the OPI rating is totally subjective, depending upon the raters who interview you.
After the OPI is over, the two raters who interviewed you compare the speech sample they elicited from you with the Interagency Language Roundtable (ILR) Skill Level Descriptions for Listening and Speaking to determine your rating. These standards are used in all US government agencies for measuring language proficiency. Though different people may conduct the OPIs, they all use the same standards to evaluate your proficiency. These standards also provided the basis for the development of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) Proficiency Guidelines used in US high schools and colleges.
2. Can I study for the OPI?
Since the OPI is a proficiency test (that is, a test which measures your overall ability to understand and speak the language, not how well you mastered a set of course objectives), you cannot specifically study for the OPI. However, everything you do to raise your language level - learning new vocabulary, correcting errors in structure, increasing your fluency, and improving your pronunciation - will contribute to your performance on the OPI.
3. If the interviewers ask my opinion about something and they don't agree with me, will I get a lower rating?
There is no "wrong" answer on an OPI. The interviewers are not evaluating "what" you say, but "how" you express it.
4. What if I feel uncomfortable discussing a certain topic which they ask me about in the OPI?
Just tell the interviewers you would rather not talk about that topic in a way that lets the raters know that you understand the question but just don't want to address it.
5. May I ask for questions to be repeated?
Just as in a regular conversation, if you don't understand something, you may ask for it to be repeated. However, if you ask for everything to be repeated, the interviewers will think your comprehension is weak.
6. Does one person who makes a certain rating ("2" for example) understand and speak exactly as well as another person who achieves the same score?
Each level actually represents a range of proficiency. Some "2" speakers are stronger than others. Some are close to the "1+" border, while others are approaching a "2+" level. Moreover, some may be very strong in one or another factor (for example, grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, or fluency). However, everyone rated a "2" must meet the minimum standards for that level in all the rating factors.
7. What are the chances that I would make the same score on the OPI if I took it two days in a row?
Since the OPI is a performance test, it measures the proficiency you display in a given situation, on a given date, and at a specific time. You might perform better or worse on another occasion, depending on such factors as your health, mood, level of stress, etc. Nevertheless, the difference in your performance probably would not make a difference in your rating unless your proficiency were right on the border between two levels (for example, "1+" and "2"). The maximum error of measurement in the OPI is a "plus point." For example, if your performance were rated a "2" on one day, you might perform at a "1+" level or a "2+" level on another day, depending on where in the "2" range your proficiency level falls. In general, your rating reflects the minimum competence (ability) level you possess, based on your performance during that test.
8. Is it true that the more I talk, the higher my rating will be? If my interview is short, does that mean my rating will be low?
It's not the quantity so much as the quality of what you say and how you say it that counts. Of course, you should try to show that you can use extended discourse (that is, speak in "paragraphs"), using the best grammar and vocabulary you can. However, "more" is not always "better," especially if you make a lot of errors. On the other hand, monitoring your speech too closely will have a negative impact on your fluency. The length of the OPI is not necessarily an indication of your level, though students with a higher proficiency level do have to be tested on additional tasks, which may make the test longer.
9. How does someone become a certified OPI rater?
All academic personnel at DLIELC receive OPI Rater Certification Training to familiarize them with the ILR Skill Level Descriptions, OPI elicitation techniques, and rating procedures. During this two-week (80-hour) training session, participants conduct and observe practice OPIs. At the end of the training, only those trainees who have demonstrated a thorough understanding of, and ability to conduct, the test are certified to be OPI raters. The decision whether or not to certify a participant is based on their elicitation performance in the practice interviews and the accuracy of their ratings.
10. How long is OPI rater certification valid?
OPI rater certification is valid for three years. It is renewed if the rater demonstrates consistent reliability in elicitation techniques and rating accuracy.
11. What kind of quality control measures are in place to ensure consistency of rating among interviewers?
After every OPI, the interviewers review the standards and rate independently. If their ratings do not match exactly, they negotiate until they agree on a rating or the OPI is referred to a third party for review (in the rare cases where they do not agree). All OPIs at DLIELC are recorded to allow for review by the rating team itself or an OPI rater trainer, as necessary. In addition, all certified raters participate in a five-day recertification training every three years to ensure that their elicitation and rating performances are still reliable.