History and Art History
College of Humanities and Social Sciences

Language Proficiency Exam

Proficiency in a foreign language is essential for the study of art history. Whether it is research in the archives or online, you are likely to encounter several resources both primary and secondary that are not in English. Faculty who can provide a comprehensive test of your knowledge administers the language exam. The exam is best taken early in your academic studies to prepare you for your research.

Students who have attained a B or better in a second year, university level language course do not need to take the language proficiency exam. They may instead submit an official transcript, or similar proof, of the grade to the Graduate Director. This language coursework may be completed prior to or concurrently with the student’s time in the Master’s program.

Below are some commonly asked questions regarding the language exam. If you have any further questions, contact the Graduate Director or the Graduate Coordinator.

Why do I have to take the language proficiency exam?

The purpose of the language exam is to ensure that you have graduate-level research competency in at least one language other than English. The language exam is meant to test the accuracy of your translation skills for research purposes. Competency in a second language is an expected skill for humanities degree programs. Be aware that PhD programs expect MA level applicants to be proficient in two or more research languages.

Which languages are offered?

Available languages for examination are French, German, Italian, or Spanish. Other languages can be accommodated with permission and coordination from the Graduate Director. Students should consider their research area and the needs of their field when choosing a language.

How long is the exam?

The foreign language exam will consist of 500-700 words of text that must be translated into comprehensible English. You may use a standard dictionary that you provide. The requirement for this exam is that you create an overview passage that is not necessarily a word-for-word translation, but shows that you understand the key points that are being made.

You will have up to 2 hours to complete the exam. You are expected to translate most of the passage, but the quality of the translation is more important than completing the entire text. 

How is the exam scored?

This exam is pass/fail. Notification is usually sent from the faculty member administering the exam within 72 hours of completion. You are not judged on the number of words translated, but rather on the accuracy and comprehensibility of your translation.

When should I take the foreign language exam?

We strongly encourage students to take the exam within their first year. Those with strong backgrounds in the chosen language are urged to test early. If you are in need of coursework or other educational venues to strengthen your skills, there are several resources available through the University as well as outside opportunities.

You may retake the language exam once.

Students who do not pass their exams on the second try may take the exam again in the following fall or spring semester. Alternately, they may successfully pass an Intermediate (200 level) language course at George Mason or at a regional community college. Successfully passing a course means earning a B or better. An official transcript must be supplied to verify the grade. Passing a 200-level course may be substituted for taking the exam. 

How should I prepare for the language exam?

There are several strategies to help you study for the exam. Find a monograph or similar source to work with in your intended language. Resources are available to you through Fenwick library. A reference librarian can help you find one with a parallel English translation you so you can practice. It is always a good idea to discuss with your peers and support one another in this process.

Another method for boosting your language background comes from the classroom. When conducting research for your papers in 599/699, where appropriate, use sources in your intended language to practice your translation skills. It may take you a little longer to conduct your research, but every opportunity to expose yourself to the language is beneficial.

You may also consider taking foreign language coursework during the Summer. Courses are typically offered through Mason, but you are also free to enroll with area community colleges or languages courses.

Many local cultural institutions offer language courses such as:

Alliance Francaise de Washington (French)

Goethe Institut (German)

Casa Italiana (Italian)

Spanish Now (Spanish)

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