About the Exam
Format & Length
What does the NSE measure?
The National Spanish Exam is a standards-based assessment which evaluates both content standards (what a student knows) and performance standards (what a student is able to do) over various levels of secondary instruction (grades 6-12).
The Achievement Section of the test assesses content standards through specifications for vocabulary and specifications for grammar.
The Proficiency section of the test assesses performance standards as defined by the National Spanish Examination Proficiency Levels. This section assesses Interpretive Communication: both Reading and Listening Comprehension.
Exam Format & Length
The format and length of the National Spanish Exam for all levels (01-6) is as follows:
Achievement exam (vocabulary and grammar) is 40 minutes.
Proficiency exam (reading and listening) is 40 minutes.
For a more detailed guide on format and length, download the updated NSE 2023-24 Format & Length chart.
The National Spanish Exam (NSE) offers seven levels of competition, ranging from Level 01 – Level 6.
Recommended for entry-level beginners. The course content is equivalent to the half of the first year of middle-to-high school Spanish. (Grades 6-12)
Students where the course content is equivalent to the second-half of 1st year high school Spanish (eg. Grade 8) or entry-level for any program where the course content is equivalent to a full year of high school Spanish. (Grades 6-12)
Second level of high school Spanish. (Grades 7-12)
Third level of high school Spanish. (Grades 8-12)
Fourth level of high school Spanish. (Grades 9 – 12)
Fifth level of high school Spanish. (Grades 10 – 12)
Sixth level of high school Spanish. (Grades 11 – 12)
AP Language / IB-SL Students
AP Language / IB-SL
Students enrolled in a course labeled AP Language or IB-SL should be registered to take the current year’s NSE at one level higher than the course in which they were enrolled the previous year. For example, an AP Language/IB-SL student who sat for the exam at Level 4 in 2023 should be placed in Level 5 in 2024. Under no circumstance should an AP Language/IB-SL student take the NSE at lower than Level 4.
AP Literature / IB-HL Students
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 be enrolled to take the current year’s NSE at one level higher than the course in which they were enrolled the previous year. Under no circumstance should an AP Literature/IB-HL student take the NSE at lower than Level 5.
Level placement is at the teacher’s discretion, however, as a general recommendation we suggest placing your student in the level that corresponds to the same Spanish course in which they are enrolled (eg. Spanish I = Level 1). This allows students with like-exposure to compete with each other.
Please note: Students are not allowed to repeat Levels (ie. if they competed in Level 1 last year, the should compete in Level 2 the following year).
For a more detailed guide on Level placement, download the Instructional Hours chart.
The National Spanish Exams are used to measure performance (interpretive communication) and achievement of students who are studying the Spanish language in the United States. In order to allow students with like-exposure to compete against one another, the NSE has defined three categories of exam competition.
A student whose only contact with Spanish is in a classroom setting.
A student who has had specific experiences with Spanish beyond the classroom, for example:
• The student’s native language is a romance language (Catalan, French, Galician, Italian, Sicilian, Portuguese, Rumanian, etc.)
• The student has been enrolled in a Spanish immersion or dual language program for the prior 3 years or more.
• The student is a heritage speaker who has had exposure to Spanish but limited practice in their home environment. The student may hear or speak some Spanish at home.
• The student has participated in an elementary Spanish language program during grades K-6 for three years or more. *Note: This specification only applies to Levels 01 and 1. Any student taking the Level 2 exam or above who participated in an elementary Spanish program may be placed in the CLASSROOM EXPERIENCE category.
For the purpose of the NSE competition, an elementary Spanish Portuguese language program is defined as having had 30 minutes or more of language instruction per week for three years or more during Grades K-6.
A student who comes from a home where Spanish is the predominant language.
• The student has grown up in a home where Spanish is predominantly spoken.
• The student is bilingual to some degree in both Spanish and English.
Please Read: Teacher Discretion is Advised
Category placement is at the instructor’s discretion. We recommend reading the following indications before making a decision:
Does my student belong in the Outside Experience or Bilingual category?
The following language experiences are examples of how a student may be placed in either the outside experience category or in the bilingual category:
• A student has lived (after age 6) in a Spanish speaking country for more than a year.
• The student has studied in a Spanish speaking country for more than 4 months.
• A student whose principal language at home is Spanish, or a mixture of Spanish and English.
• A student whose principal language outside the home is Spanish, or a mixture of Spanish and English.
What about native language speakers?
Native Spanish speakers should compete in the Bilingual Category only. The teacher may need to evaluate the appropriate Competition Level of the NSE for these students to maintain the integrity of these National Exams.
• Foreign exchange students.
• Students who were born in and who have studied the Spanish language formally in a native classroom environment before moving to the United States.
The instructor should use discretion when making a decision as to which category is appropriate for their student(s).
Students with outstanding scores on the NSE are recognized as follows:
Premio de Oro
Gold medals are awarded to students who score at or above the 95th percentile. The 99th percentile is the highest rank.
Premio de Plata
Silver medals are awarded to students who score at or above the 85th percentile.
Premio de Bronce
Bronze medals are awarded to students who score from the 75th through the 85th percentiles.
Perfect Score medals are awarded to students who answer every question correctly.
• Many teachers choose to give the Achievement exam and the Proficiency exam on two separate days during the normal class period. These days do not have to be consecutive.
• If a student is absent on the day of the administration of the exam, the teacher may administer the exam to the student at a later date as long as the exam window is still open.
PREPARING FOR THE NSE
Exam Content & Practice
Grammar & Vocabulary Specifications
Interpretive Communication: Reading & Listening
The National Spanish Examinations assess Interpretive Communication in Reading Comprehension and Listening Comprehension.
The student is given (1) a context in English, (2) an authentic text in Spanish and (3) a question based on one of the learner outcomes below and then followed by four answer choices. Learner outcomes increase in difficultly as the student progresses to higher levels.
Authentic texts are printed material / texts that have been produced by and for native speakers for a culturally authentic purpose, and may include:
- A sign
- Lists of words and phrases
- A schedule
- A personal note, letter, postcard
- Instructions / directions
- A posting on social media
- An advertisement, poster or notice
- A narrative
- A brochure
An excerpt or passage from:
- an article
- a letter
- an essay
- a journal / diary
- a magazine
- a book or novel
- a news source
- an editorial
- a short story
- a poem
- a legend
- a fable
- a fairy tale
- a website
The student is given (1) a context in English, (2) an authentic spoken passage in Spanish and (3) a question based on one of the learner outcomes below and then followed by four answer choices. Learner outcomes increase in difficultly as the student progresses to higher levels.
Authentic texts are spoken passages that have been produced by and for native speakers for a culturally authentic purpose, and may include:
- A conversation
- A description
- A set of instructions / directions
- A film or video clip
An excerpt or spoken passage from:
- a news bulletin
- a radio broadcast
- a speech
- an article, a letter
- an essay, a magazine
- a play
- a newspaper
- an editorial
- a short story
- a poem
- a legend
- a fable
- a fairy tale
- a website
Click the button below to download the updated Grammar and Vocabulary Specifications for 2023-24.
TAKE THE INITIATIVE
Start the Conversation
Information For Schools
Are you a teacher who is interested in administering one of our exams in your school? Click the button below and download our PDF conversation starter for teachers, instructors, and administrators.
Information For Individuals
Are you a parent or student who is interested in participating in one of our exams? Click the button below and download our PDF conversation starter for parents and students.
Visit our Proctoring section for more information about use of aids, student accommodations, and more.