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Spanish and Portuguese Reading Exams for Graduate Students

Spanish or Portuguese Graduate Reading Exam


The Graduate Reading Proficiency Exam in Spanish/Portuguese is designed to allow graduate students to demonstrate reading proficiency in Spanish/Portuguese in their area of specialization. The exam is for students not enrolled in the Spanish/Portuguese graduate program of the Department of Spanish and Portuguese. It is offered once in the Autumn and Spring semesters.

The Graduate Reading Exam consists of the translation from Spanish/Portuguese to English of a 500-word and a 250-word passage from secondary sources, typically scholarly journals, in the candidate's area of study. Candidates will have two hours to complete the translation and may use a paper dictionary. A 500 word reading passage in Spanish/Portuguese is provided by the student's department (either the advisor or the Graduate Studies Chair). One 250 word text in Spanish/Portuguese is supplied by the examiner. The exam is graded on a pass/non-pass basis by the SPPO testing coordinator(s).

Note: Students will take the exam through Carmen. See below for more information.

For questions regarding the SPPO Graduate Reading Exam, please contact:

Details on the Reading Exams

To request a Spanish or Portuguese Reading Exam, students must complete the following webform:

SPPO Reading Exam Request


  • This request must be for the exam date listed below. If there is a conflict with the date, please provide documentation along with your request and another date may be considered.
  • You will be asked to provide a 2-hour window on the exam date that you are available to take the exam.
    • Note: the exam has a 2 hour time-limit, the extra half an hour is to provide exam takers some flexibility for accessing the exam, tech issues, etc.
  • You will be asked to confirm that you will have access to a laptop/computer and an internet connection strong enough to access Carmen.

Once the student has submitted the request webform, students must have their advisor submit a 500 word passage using the same webform as above at least one week prior to the exam date date (see deadline below). The passage to translate needs to be in Microsoft Word format and it is the advisor’s responsibility to submit the passage in the correct format.

Autumn 2024

Deadline to request an exam

  • Thursday, November 7, 2024 

Deadline for advisor to submit passage    

  • Thursday, November 14, 2024 

Exam date

  • Thursday, November 21, 2024

Spring 2025

Deadline to request an exam

  • Thursday, March 27, 2025

Deadline for advisor to submit passage    

  • Thursday, April 3, 2025

Exam date

  • Thursday, April 10, 2025 

The Spanish or Portuguese Reading Exam will be administered remotely through Carmen. SPPO testing coordinators will provide students information on how to access the exam once the exam request has been finalized. On the day of the exam, students will be given access to the exam for the pre-established two-hour testing window on the exam date. Students will have one and a half hours to translate both the 500-word document from the student’s advisor and the 250-word document from SPPO.

Why is the exam limited to secondary sources?

Traditionally the exams have been limited to secondary sources, primarily articles taken from scholarly journals. Primary sources, including works of fiction, diaries, journals, field notes, etc., may pose problems of interpretation in the original which are beyond the scope of a translation exam. Included in these challenges may be extra-textual references, use of slang or non-standard vocabulary, sentence fragments, puns, and all varieties of poetic language.

What is the best dictionary?

There are a number of good bilingual "college" dictionaries, and best of all would be an unabridged version. Collins, Larousse, and Harrap's are among the most popular. Above all, avoid using a pocket dictionary; they are not designed for translating complex, scholarly texts.

May I use an online dictionary?

Yes, online dictionaries are allowed in the exam. DO NOT use Google Translate or other such service to aid with this translation. It is also not recommended that you use translators to practice, as they are designed to translate simple oral communication and not written documents typical of graduate-level research.

Do I translate literally or should I put my translation in fluent English?

Your English translation should read fluently while preserving the meaning of the Spanish or Portuguese original. A too-literal translation can lead to faulty meaning, while a too-free translation can miss essential nuances in the original. For a lengthier discussion of this question, see the American Translator's Association.


The Department of Spanish and Portuguese does not offer a Spanish or Portuguese Language in Translation course. If you have had previous courses in Spanish or Portuguese you may choose to take a Language Placement exam to obtain a quick evaluation of your reading skills. If you place beyond Spanish or Portuguese 1103 it is possible that your language reading requirement may be met. Please check with your department's language requirements as each department's policies vary. You may also use our free tutoring services offered in our Teaching and Learning Centers (TLC) or take our elementary/intermediate courses for an audit or credit to prepare for the exam.

The test coordinator will email the student and the advisor the reading exam results. The exam will be evaluated as pass/no-pass. If a student does not pass the reading exam, they will be able to retake it the following semester.