National Spanish Exam

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

View of students cheering on an event.

National Spanish Exam

If you’re enrolled in a Spanish class, there’s a chance that you’ll be taking the National Spanish Exam at some point in the school year. Your teacher probably already registered your class for it. The National Spanish Examination is an online standardized assessment tool for students in Grades 6 through 12. The exam was created to measure the performance of students studying Spanish as a second language. It sounds fancy, but at its core, the National Spanish Exam’s mission aims to recognize student achievement and promote Spanish language proficiency.

We know you might be thinking “isn’t this just another test?” However, the exam isn’t for teachers who want to torture you with additional testing. The National Spanish Exam tests are the most widely used Spanish tests in The United States. In fact, in Spring 2019, over 150,000 students registered for the National Spanish Exam. That’s a lot of people. The test is meant to gauge a student’s ability in grammar and comprehension when it comes to Spanish as a second language.

The exam also provides teachers with various kinds of assessment tools to aid in vocabulary, grammar, reading comprehension, listening comprehension. The exam gives out awards and scholarships. The teachers who administer the test can potentially receive awards or scholarships as well as the students who score particularly high. Yes, that means cash scholarship prizes.

Now that we know how important the NSE is, the question is, how can you do your absolute best? How can you not only prepare but conquer that test? We share information about the test, the history of the exam, how you can best begin your test preparation, and the details on the prizes.

When is the National Spanish Exam?

There are some changes this year due to COVID-19 and the dates have been changed for the 2020 exam to accommodate school closures. Since the situation is ever-changing, head over to the News section on the NSE website for the latest updates. You’ll want to stay up-to-date in order to ensure you’re at the top of your testing game. Your teacher may also choose from one of two tests at-home options. Contact your teacher.

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The History of the National Spanish Exam

The exams are administered in an online format, but that wasn’t always the case. From the years 1957 to 2005, students had to take the National Spanish Examinations in a pencil and paper format. Those days are long gone with the advancement of technology.

In 2006, the test premiered its online format for the first time through the Quia Corporation and was the first national world language exam administered online. There is a new series of exams called the National Spanish Assessments (NSA), which is the non-contest version of the NSE. The NSA, however, doesn’t have prizes or scholarships.

Since the NSE was created to test Spanish as a second language, native Spanish speakers are not eligible to take the National Spanish Examinations. If a student grew up in a home where Spanish was spoken or if the student is bilingual to some degree in both Spanish and English, they are considered a Spanish speaker. A native Spanish speaker includes:

– A student has lived (after age 6) in a Spanish speaking country for more than a year.

– A student has studied in a Spanish speaking country for more than 4 months.

– A student whose principal language at home is Spanish or Spanish/English.

– A student whose principal language outside the home is Spanish or Spanish/English.

A shaded answer sheet with pencil and eraser on top of it.


In order to take the test, your teacher must register you online. You must be currently enrolled in their class. The thing to remember about the exams is that they won’t correspond with a teacher’s exact course or lessons. Instead, they point to a particular proficiency level of your class. For example, if you are in a novice Spanish speaking class then your teacher would likely register for the Level 1 exam. If you’re in an advanced class your teacher might register you for Level 5 or Level 6. It’s up to your teacher. Make sure to ask your teacher to register online because there are two options of exams that you can choose from:

  1. All Level Proficiency Exam – The All-Level Proficiency Exam gives the teacher the option to predict a particular level of proficiency between Intermediate Low and Advanced High. This type of test is a great option for students who are more advanced (Advanced Spanish III, Spanish IV, and above.)
  2. Specific Level Exams – The Specific Level Exams allow students to work on a specific area by providing data on their outcomes. This might include making inferences and identifying the main idea of a text.


What is the cost? There are two compulsory fees associated with the National Spanish Examinations and that is (1) the cost per teacher and (2) the cost per student. According to the National Spanish Exam website, each school pays a fee per examination to the national office that includes a national portion of $4.00 as well as an optional chapter portion (between $0.25 and $3.00 per student).

Check with your local chapter for more information on the current costs and fees associated with testing your student. There are varying chapters and coordinators depending on your state. Some states have several chapters including California, Illinois, New York, Pennsylvania, and Texas. Take some time to identify your local chapter and the fees involved.

Test Preparation

The National Spanish Exam is recognized by teaching organizations and associations at a range of local, state, and national levels, including the National Association of Secondary School Principals. This exam can make all the difference, especially if you want to major in Spanish at university. Even if you don’t want to major in Spanish, scoring well looks excellent on your college admissions. As the world’s premier Ivy League admissions consulting company with the highest acceptance rates in the industry, we know a thing or two about college admissions. It doesn’t hurt to get ready and equip yourself. As we mentioned in our blog post How Early Should You Prepare? the earlier you start preparing for your college admissions, the better.

Your teacher will usually run practice exams prior to the actual test. It is recommended that students use the Online Practice Exercises throughout the school year in order to improve concepts such as interpretive communication when it comes to reading and listening to Spanish. Teachers use the National Spanish Exam as a tool to prepare students for other standardized tests and college placement exams. If you do well on the NSE, you can apply those same studying techniques for other exams such as AP or SAT tests and into your college admissions process.

Taking a practice test helps lower the risk of having problems on the actual test day, such as a technical issue with the computer or test. Ask the teacher to allow time for the students to complete the Online Practice Examination from last year’s exam.

three medals dangling

Online Past Examinations

Worried about the test? Don’t fret too hard. You can access Online Past Examinations and Online Practice Exams for all levels (Level 01 through Level 6), including practice exams relating to Achievement (Vocabulary and Grammar) and Proficiency (Reading and Listening). You can even print it out. We highly recommend utilizing this feature and practicing as much as feasible.

If your child is struggling with Spanish or particularly worried about their results, taking the practice exam can prove very beneficial. It helps them get a sense of how the actual test will flow as well as how the questions are structured. There are multiple-choice questions, fill in the blank grammar, and typing in the correct answer in the blank space provided.

To get a feel of what you’re up against, you can even look at previous National Spanish Examination average scores by category. The categories include vocabulary, grammar, reading comprehension, listening comprehension, achievement, and proficiency. The results also show how many people took the test for that year. This information is useful to see how many students took your test in a given year as well as the average result for students. This average is calculated based on the scores and the number of students tested a particular grade, 6th through 12th. Once you take the test and get the results, you can look at the data to see how you scored in relation to others in your grade. This information can be helpful in your college admissions process.

After the Exam

Once the exam closes, teachers receive a range of reports via email. The Percentile Report for Individual Measurement Categories itemizes the raw scores and the student percentile. The Percentage Report for Learner Outcomes in Interpretive Communication lists the student percentages for specific learner outcomes. The Student Report Cards are individual documents for each student with raw scores as well as national percentile rankings. The percentiles can break down whether students qualify for a prize or scholarship, or not.

Due to privacy regulations, the reports are only sent to the teacher who administered the NSE to their students. You will not be sent your itemized report, but you can ask your teacher to download a certificate for you to print out.


It doesn’t hurt to have a little reward after a test. Back in elementary school that might have meant a fun pizza party with the class, but in high school the prizes are a bit more useful. Student prizes range from national recognition to scholarships.

The National Spanish Exam offers Global Citizen Scholarships for 8th, 9th, and 10th-grade students. For 11th grade students, NSE offers the Junior Study Abroad Scholarship which allows the eligible students to travel to a Spanish-speaking country so they can study the language and the culture in an immersive experience. Students take 90-minute classes and then experience a cultural excursion to reinforce the lesson. This immersive experience looks great on your Ivy League admissions. There are a variety of excellent scholarships for high school seniors.

Students who receive exceptional scores on their exams get national recognition. Students scoring at or above the 95th percentile are called Premio de Oro. The other percentiles are recognized as Premio de Plata, Premio de Bronce, and Mención Honorífica.

Your teacher can even download a certificate to print out. Senior Scholarships are eligible for high school seniors who score above the 75th percentile (Premio de Bronce and above). Some local chapters offer awards to their winners, so check with your local chapter or coordinator for current prize structures. The previous award and scholarship winners of the National Spanish Exam have gone on to some distinguished schools across the United States and the world.

At AdmissionSight, we live and breathe college admissions. If you need any tips on the college application process, we’re here to guide you through the journey. The National Spanish Exam is meant to challenge your Spanish, grammar, reading comprehension, listening comprehension, and vocabulary. It will be difficult but you can do it. Remember to practice, practice, practice before taking your online exam. You can access the Online Practice Exams for all levels. It’ll help you feel more prepared and you’ll eliminate any computer or technological problems. You’ll be able to conquer the National Spanish Exam and perhaps win an award while you’re at it.

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