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ACTDEC Scales of Attainment

If you are a non-native speaker of English and would like to know if your language levels are appropriate for course entry please refer to the ACTDEC Scales of Attainment below for each of the four language skills.

We would expect any candidate wishing to follow an ACTDEC course of any level to have attained the following minimum skill level:

Skill Level Point on level
Level 6/7
Level 6/7
Level 6
Level 5
(mid point)
(6 high point/7 mid point)
(mid point)
(high point or above)
If you consider that you have satisfactorily attained these minimum levels then we would be pleased to accept your application.
big 7 high, mid, low
  1. Able to understand all forms of speech normally understood by native speaker of similar background, including rapid informal conversation, speech with high noise levels and diverse styles and topics.
  2. Can understand most that is heard and is not within previous experience.
  3. Level reached only by person accustomed to living in foreign language environment.
big 6 high, mid, low
  1. Can, with concentration, understand all forms of speech normally understood by native speaker. Less ability than native speaker to comprehend novel language events and sudden change of topic or style may temporarily disrupt comprehension. If full attention not given, occasional loss of detail.
  2. Only rarely unable to follow speech between native speakers.
  3. Failure to comprehend can be induced by high level of noise.
big 5 high, mid, low
  1. Competent to follow native speaker in domains related to his/her learning experience, even when speech is not directed to him/her and not able to give full attention to listening. Can extract information efficiently but will still have difficulty following complex lines of argument and may have to ask for repetition of questions from such discussion.
  2. Highly colloquial speech between native speakers still difficult.
  3. Can distinguish different styles and copes well with noise, though with some loss of comprehension.
big 4 high, mid, low
  1. With careful attention can follow speech directed at him/her and, in general, more formal and clearly articulated styles of native-speaker speech. Still needs some repetition but even so may miss points of detail. Can usefully extract information from relevant spoken texts.
  2. Difficulties of comprehension with exceptionally colloquial speech, where considerable deletion and elision occur and where transmission conditions are adverse.
  3. No appreciation of stylistic effects or verbal humour.
big 3 high, mid, low
  1. Cannot normally follow conversation between native speakers, except to identify topic.
  2. Can follow speech directed at him/her (i.e. to a non-native speaker) on matters relevant to overall objectives and in response to his/her own utterances, but frequently has to ask for repetition or reformulation.
  3. Frequent misunderstanding where s/he cannot see person speaking — e.g. radio, telephone, cassette.
big 2 high, mid, low
  1. Can identify topic in continuous, unsimplified speech but cannot follow content. Can recognise essential information in public announcements and recurrent social usages (phatic communion, etc.).
  2. Can only with difficulty understand sentences related to objectives if these are spoken very slowly and directly to him/her. Frequent misunderstanding obliging speaker to rephrase original utterance.
big 1 high, mid, low
  1. Can recognise language being spoken.
  2. Can understand limited repertoire of isolated items, usually requiring repetition from speaker.
  3. May recognise individual items in connected speech.
big 7 high, mid, low
  1. Speaks with facility, fluency and accuracy that is indistinguishable from that of native speaker. Can cope with different style and handle language needs within same limits as those encountered by native speakers. (It is worth pointing out that (a) even native speakers may lack the linguistic skill to deal with situations that have not hitherto been within their experience, and (b) although direct observation of a non-native speaker may reveal no differences from an L1 speaker, more psycholinguistically-oriented tests will usually show that the subject's mother-tongue is dominant.)
  2. Level normally reached only by people who have lived for a substantial period in the country concerned.
big 6 high, mid, low
  1. Complete confidence in meeting all demands placed on spoken language ability. Facility in switching levels, topics, etc. Able to reformulate some ideas in differing linguistic forms for emphasis, polemics, disambiguation, etc. As effective in communication as a native speaker. Not at any disadvantage in use of second language.
  2. Fluency and spontaneity of utterance enable him/her to maintain conversation/speech in areas related to objectives with conviction, lack of strain and no imposition on hearer.
  3. Distinguishable from native speaker only by very rare grammatical mis-judgements, by faint, residual traces of L1 accent and by very occasional error of lexical or stylistic selection.
big 5 high, mid, low
  1. Speech entirely adequate for all purposes related to domain of objectives. Although lacking facility in handling complicated issues and therefore at a disadvantage when compared with native speakers, can express ideas on all issues connected with objectives. In continuous speech still needs to plan what is said and to adjust expression or to reformulate to find more effective form for communication of ideas. Emphasis and rhetorical effect quite often misplaced, though grammatical difficulties are rarely a handicap.
  2. Interlocutors occasionally seek clarification where misunderstanding is possible.
  3. Obvious linguistic errors occur only occasionally. Frequently recurring language situations handled with ease and variety. Some uncertainty persists in more rarely encountered situations.
big 4 high, mid, low
  1. Able to convey most types of information relevant to objectives with little risk of confusion in hearer. Can relate events in their temporal sequence, whether biographical or descriptive, and can transmit accumulated factual information. Unable to construct chains of reasoning and deploy arguments to polemic effect. Relatively passive in situations where discussion among native speakers unless directly addressed. Will always opt to use mother-tongue if this is acceptable to addressees.
  2. Degree of fluency and spontaneity that makes regular interaction with native speakers quite possible without imposing strain on either party. Occasionally seeks assistance of person addressed.
  3. Notable reduction in frequency of grammatical errors, except where long sentences of speech attempted, but features of L1 accent still noticeable. Still often at a loss for vocabulary and faults of idiom and style recur.
big 3 high, mid, low
  1. Can use grammatical knowledge to construct utterances relevant to overall objectives. Range of expression very limited so that the speaker is often forced to adapt content of message to forms at his/her disposal. Little capacity to generalise grammatical knowledge and therefore to handle unforeseen communication needs. Only competent to deal with largely predictable needs. Tends to use single sentence utterances.
  2. Can be understood by most native speakers with effort, but patient understanding still necessary in continuing conversation, i.e. some strain/irritation in hearer.
  3. Grammatical error and uncertainty still frequent, but some capacity for self-correction. Pronunciation error still very noticeable. Speech still slow, with repetitions, reformulations and hesitations. When responding, requires thought if gross errors to be avoided.
big 2 high, mid, low
  1. Can attempt to construct grammatical sequences relevant to most pressing aspects of overall objectives. Only effective in meeting most easily identifiable and clearly statable needs. Generally dependant on memorisation of well-rehearsed sentence-types with limited capacity for lexical substitution. No creative capacity, nor any likelihood of generalising linguistic knowledge beyond already familiar situations. (Can read aloud a prepared written text.)
  2. Heavily dependent on understanding interlocutor.
  3. Speech is very hesitant, with repetitions, self corrections and frequent grammatical and phonological/phonetic errors. Deliberate in actual articulation (or nervously quick) and slow in response to other utterances.
big 1 high, mid, low
  1. Can produce strictly limited repertoire of holophrastic phrases — i.e. isolated lexical items, fixed phrased (e.g. greetings). No grammatical knowledge and pronunciation based wholly on mother-tongue.
  2. Can be understood by native speaker used to dealing with foreigners.
  3. Needs to support linguistic skill with paralinguistic (kinetic) devices.
big 7 high, mid, low
  1. Wholly competent to read all types of texts associated with objectives.
  2. Able to adapt reading to style and content of text and to purpose in reading. No measurable difference from the native speaker of similar background in rate and comprehension.
  3. Level normally attained only by person accustomed to operating almost wholly in the foreign language.
big 6 high, mid, low
  1. Able to read with complete comprehension all texts associated with objectives.
  2. Differs from native speaker only in rate of reading and possibly in flexibility with which reading can be adapted to different texts and purposes.
  3. Level achievable only where learner uses the foreign language frequently.
big 5 high, mid, low
  1. Can read all types of text in domain with high level of comprehension. Perceives and understands many stylistic markers. Re- reading rarely necessary, except where normal even for native speaker. Needs dictionary only when dealing with text of quite unusual orientation. Can read more familiar kinds of text with little attention. Reading ability an effective tool.
  2. Some flexibility in rate of reading but even familiar type of text read noticeably more slowly than by native speaker.
big 4 high, mid, low
  1. Can read most texts in domain with satisfactory level of comprehension. Re-reading necessary where complex discussion in text, but information can normally be extracted and narrative followed with little difficulty. Significant or marked stylistic features unlikely to be noticed, but unfamiliar lexical items can usually be identified from redundancy of text. Dictionary still needed where significant point of detail may be lost. (Reading skill acquired in own domain transfers quite effectively to other types of text — specialist vocabulary items apart.)
  2. Reading rate still generally slow and inflexible.
  3. Can read most handwriting with an effort.
big 3 high, mid, low
  1. Can without a dictionary identify topic and preoccupation of texts in fields relevant to overall objectives, but can follow detail of text only with extensive use of dictionary.
  2. Reading rate generally very slow and can be increased only with immediate and considerable loss of comprehension.
  3. Handwriting particularly difficult to read.
big 2 high, mid, low
  1. Can identify topic of continuous, unsimplfied prose and can follow minimally structured material (lexical terms) relating to overall objectives.
  2. Can understand gist of elaborate public notices, forms, etc.
  3. Can extract data presented in non-linguistic form from a text.
big 1 high, mid, low
  1. Can decode orthographic system of the foreign language.
  2. Can understand most common public notices.
big 7 high, mid, low
  1. Possessing the writing ability of the educated native speaker in relation to specific objectives. Limit set only by level of education and intelligence of individual.
  2. Level achieved only by person accustomed to working etc., in the target language.
big 6 high, mid, low
  1. Entirely competent to write language relevant to objectives. Grammatically and orthographically free of error. Can adapt style to circumstances. Range of vocabulary wide and great flexibility in exploitation of grammatical systems.
  2. No need to use reference books.
  3. Distinguishable from native speaker only by very occasional faulty lexical or stylistic choice and marginally slower rate.
big 5 high, mid, low
  1. Can produce text appropriate to all purposes associated with overall objectives. Descriptive narrative and discursive writing all possible, although still influenced by features of L1 writing. Formal grammatical errors occur only occasionally. Cannot develop rhetorical features of writing as effectively as in mother-tongue and therefore most unlikely to be mistaken for native speaker. Quite successful in adapting to different stylistic needs, though errors of selection still occur. Most commonly met needs now handled efficiently and with variety. Still tendency to compose more intellectually ambitious material in L1 and translate into L2.
  2. Limited use of dictionary necessary.
  3. Rate of writing markedly slower than native speaker.
big 4 high, mid, low
  1. Can construct continuous texts in target language reporting sequences of events and factual information. Can produce longer texts according to standard format provided on familiar topics with recurrent themes. Communication successful within these limits but grammatical errors, particularly errors of syntax, will still occur. Limited capacity for stylistic variation. Not competent to prepare discursive texts or to cope with quite unforeseen needs associated with domain or activity.
  2. Dictionary still an essential tool.
big 3 high, mid, low
  1. Can construct individual sentences in English, though with frequent grammatical and orthographical error. Very limited in capacity to construct continuous text and unable to adapt text stylistically. Can adjust largely predetermined types of text to suit particular factual situations.
  2. Generally dependant on use of dictionary for anything except well-rehearsed material.
big 2 high, mid, low
  1. Can perform writing tasks involving minimal linguistic creativity, principally for the adaptation (through substitution, etc) of routine written forms to particular circumstances. Can fill in forms.
  2. Can take dictation given slowly and with repetitions, but will need correction afterwards.
big 1 high, mid, low
  1. Can copy script in the foreign language.


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