Reading Exam

Reading Comprehension Exams are offered three times each year on specific dates in September/October, February, and in late-March/early-April as listed on the Academic Calendar. Entering students are strongly encouraged to attempt the reading comprehension exam when they first arrive in September. Students entering in January are strongly encouraged to try the exam in February or April of their first semester.

Guidelines for the Reading Comprehension Exam:

The language exam guidelines reflect a consensus that the Fletcher foreign language reading exam should test students’ abilities to read, comprehend and restate in written English primary materials on contemporary topics involving foreign affairs rather than test students’ abilities to translate with precision foreign journals, newspapers, and scholarly works on international relations topics. Students should restate the text into English but their work should not be judged on the basis of exact translation, specialized vocabulary, or elegance of English expression. However, the meaning of the passage must be accurately and coherently conveyed and words should not be skipped. The ability to convey meaning accurately is more important than testing knowledge of specific vocabulary items.

  1. Length of reading passage

    Students receive a passage from a foreign journal, newspaper, or scholarly work on a current topic in international affairs. The passage will be approximately 300 words in length for students seeking limited or general proficiency and approximately 500 words in length for students seeking advanced proficiency. A single article, approximately 500 words in length, may be used for both proficiency levels. In this case, the 300-word mark will be clearly indicated on the text so that students opting for “general proficiency” will understand the end point of their exam.

  2. Time limits

    Students have one and half hours (90 minutes) for exams in the Roman alphabet languages and two hours (120 minutes) for exams in the non-Roman alphabet languages except for exams in Arabic, Chinese, Japanese and Korean where three and a half hours (210 minutes) are permitted.

  3. Dictionaries

    Bi-lingual paper dictionaries (foreign language to English, e.g. Chinese to English) may be used for all language exams at the limited, general, and advanced proficiency levels. Cell phones and electronic dictionaries are not permitted. Dictionary usage is not allowed for exams targeting the functionally native proficiency level.

  4. English Rendering of Text

    The student’s written paragraph by paragraph English rendering of the foreign text should be roughly equivalent in length (that is 300 words for “general proficiency” and 500 words for “advanced” proficiency) to the primary material which is read. Students must restate the foreign text into English, but their work will not be judged on the basis of exact translation, specialized vocabulary, or elegance of English expression. However, the meaning of the passage must be accurately and coherently conveyed.

  5. Functionally Native Proficiency

    Functionally native proficiency will be based on a superior performance on a separate text selection. Students may only attempt a functionally native exam after they have passed at the advanced proficiency level. The functionally native proficiency exams are only offered in April. Interested students should speak with the Fletcher Language Coordinator.

Texts from Past Exams

Arabic – Limited Working Proficiency

Arabic – General Professional Proficiency

Arabic – Advanced Professional Proficiency

Chinese – Limited Working Proficiency

Chinese – General/Advanced Professional Proficiency






Japanese – Limited Working Proficiency

Japanese – General/Advanced Professional Proficiency

Korean – Limited Working Proficiency

Korean – General/Advanced Professional Proficiency (now two separate texts, examples coming soon)