The National Examinations in World Languages (NEWL)

NEWL main page image


Endorsed by the College BoardNEWL® is administered by American Councils for International Education (American Councils) in four languages considered critical by the U.S. government: Arabic, Korean, Portuguese, and Russian. Approximately 1,000 high school students, both in the U.S. and internationally, take the exams each year. Modeled after the College Board’s AP® foreign language exams, NEWL is proficiency-based and intended for secondary school foreign language learners, both heritage and non-heritage language learners. Examinees receive an AP®-style score reports, which can be used to apply for college credit and/or placement.  NEWL is offered online each spring around the time of the AP College Board exams.



NEWL is intended for secondary school students who wish to continue their language study at university. Students must be enrolled in 9th grade or above, OR who have turned 14 before September 1, 2022, in order to take the 2023 exams.  


NEWL assesses functional proficiency in the interpersonal, interpretive, presentational modes of communication. NEWL does not assess achievement according to specific language curricula or the accumulation of literary, cultural, or historical knowledge. The four sections of NEWL are reading comprehension, listening comprehension, integrated writing, and integrated speaking. More detail on each of these sections follows below. 

Reading Comprehension consists of a series of short, culturally and linguistically authentic texts followed by one to three multiple-choice questions in English. Text types include lists, short advertisements, pamphlets, schedules, and brochures, as well as paragraph length texts. The topics range from personal information, basic needs, social conventions, and routine daily tasks to formal announcements and more advanced topics with lengthier prose. 

Listening Comprehension consists of similar material to the reading section but requires examinees to listen to brief audio scenarios: dialogs, newscasts, radio shows, and other audio media. All reading and listening topics are in keeping with the Fairness and Equity guidelines as put forth by Educational Testing Services (2009). 

Integrated Writing consists of audio and written prompts that elicit the ability to respond in writing.  For example, the writing tasks may require examinees to type notes to friends, write letters or emails, or present opinions on topics, all in the target language.  Examinees need an appropriate language keyboard enabled on the computer they use for the exam.  The online exam system supports the standard keyboard layouts for each language on both Mac and Windows systems. 

Integrated Speaking consists of audio and written prompts that require a spoken response. Topics come from everyday conversational topics about self, school, friends, and other social phenomena. Examinees use their headsets with microphones to record their spoken responses via a recorder embedded in the testing browser window. Examinees do not need to install any specific software on their computers used for the exam. Examinees will be able to use scratch paper to develop responses for both the speaking and writing sections of the exam. 



NEWL Section Times




  • Reading Comprehension: 60 minutes 

  • Listening Comprehension: 45 minutes 

  • Integrated Writing: 45 minutes 

  • Integrated Speaking: 45 minutes 

  • Total: Approximately 3 1/2 hours with a 10-minute break 


Exam specifications align with the World Languages Framework (College Board, 2006) and the proficiency guidelines developed by American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL). The exams target language skills at levels of difficulty that are appropriate for high school language test-takers beginning with Novice High through Intermediate High on the ACTFL Scale.


The best way to prepare for NEWL is to study culturally authentic materials such as communications, dialogs, books, websites, news reports, TV shows, etc. that are intended for native speaker audiences.  American Councils offers an annual practice exam in March to help prepare students for the main administration (see registration section). The practice exam is shorter than the main exam and scores are presented on a percentage correct basis.


NEWL Practice Section Times




  • Reading Comprehension: 14 minutes 

  • Listening Comprehension: 10 minutes 

  • Integrated Writing: 15 minutes 

  • Integrated Speaking: 15 minutes 

  • Total: Approximately 1 hour 

Additionally, to review a sample of exam questions you may visit


American Councils relies on psychometricians, assessment specialists, linguists, and experienced language teachers to score NEWL.  American Councils releases exam results in July. Student scores on each subsection calibrate to the ACTFL performance scale and are indicated in the score report that each student receives. An overall composite score is also derived across the four sub-scores. The composite score is converted to a 5-point scale, comparable to the College Board's AP score.   

Score reports indicate a final score on the 1-5 scale with a score level of 5 reflecting the highest proficiency assessed (intermediate high).  The table below also offers colleges, universities, and department faculty suggestions for placement and/or credit, based on the scores.   

Figure 3. Recommended College Placement by NEWL Score 

NEWL (5-point) Grade 

Suggested Semester Placement 

5th (first semester of third year) 

4th (second semester second year) 

3rd (first semester of second year) 

2nd (second semester of first year) 

1st (first semester of first year)