FAQ: How can I pass the PSC SLE Tests?

This frequently asked question is not directly addressed to me… it is a question that systematically comes back in Google searches… Obviously many people are trying to find tips on how to pass the three PSC SLE tests.  Unfortunately, there are no miracle answers! I would like to say that all you need is determination and knowledge… yet I would be misleading you.

If it is possible to get the required level in reading comprehension without prior preparation, it is quite different for written expression… usually people miss their target by few or many answers. Unless you are very lucky the day you take the two tests (multiple choice exams have some room for luck), chances are you will fail one. Getting a B is certainly easier than getting a C… but I have seen many people who had to take the written expression test more than once before they finally obtained their B

As for the oral interaction test, taking it cold turkey usually ends up by mining people’s confidence in their skills. Most of the time, they are under the impression that they did pretty well and they do not understand why they failed… There are various reasons: some are obvious, but some others are subtle… No matter how strong you feel you are when speaking French, you cannot take the oral exam without a minimum of preparation.

What I am saying is that you need some help so that you will be able to tackle those tests with calm, confidence and useful strategies… at first, those SLE tests do not seem to require much attention compared to all of the other tests candidates must take once they have been short listed for a position within the Public Service of Canada… Usually they come at the very end of a long process and results obtained will determine whether someone will get the position or not!… Pretty scary, is it not?… Therefore, minimizing the impact of those tests on the outcome of a competition within the government is a big mistake.

How many people did contact me in a state of panic after having been scheduled for their tests? Way too many indeed!… Usually the wake up call comes when they do research on the content and format of the tests they will have to take… Of course, I do my best to help them to prepare with a minimum of time. On the other hand, no one can achieve miracles in one or two weeks! So far, if 80% of my trainees met the language requirements of the positions they had applied for, it is only due to the fact that most of them went through several years of French immersion in either grade school or high school… Yet, if they had had more time to prepare, many of them could have reached a higher level (especially in oral interaction). And if they had had no training at all (even only a few hours can make a huge difference!), they would not have obtained their required level the first time they would have taken the exam.

If some lucky individuals (such as Jay, Saul, Lauren, Nelson and Luna) are given a three month reprieve to achieve their levels, the vast majority of them have only one shot at the tests… if they fail, they miss the boat!… When this happens, it is more than disappointing… and it is too late to regret not having done whatever was needed to be done.

Of course, unless you are already a public servant, you are not familiar with the nature of the PSC SLE testing… even though, you should know that you cannot take it lightly because first, those exams are anything but easy and second, your results will make the difference between getting the position you applied for and not getting it… why? because when you are invited to take those tests, it is usually after having done very well during the whole hiring process. Imagine for a minute… you have all the required qualifications and experience a Department is looking for, you even have your security clearance and, then, you will lose the position in the hands of someone maybe less qualified with less experience only based upon the fact that they met the language requirements and you did not… I am sure it is not the kind of scenario you favour… yet it might be the case if you do not invest in preparing for those tests early in the process!

Both Nelson and Krystal understood that a few months ago… Today Nelson went for his written expression test after more than three months of weekly training with me: he was not nervous when I saw him last Wednesday and I am convinced he will tell me that it went well when he will come for his lesson tomorrow. As for Krystal in Toronto (who has been taking three hours of training per week for the past three months), she is improving at regular pace and, when she will be called in for her tests,  she will be calm and will do well.

My best advice to you is: get prepared and do not wait until the last minute! Otherwise, it will only result in a mess because you will be already a bundle of nerves… it is imperative to tackle those tests with calm and confidence. Sitting on your own with the Bescherelles and a French grammar will not be of any help… it will be time consuming and useless. Going out there and speaking in French with salespersons or listening to the French radio will not help you to go through the oral interaction exam either… The three SLE tests are very structured with specific components, criterias and standards… Only someone who has an expertise in preparing people for those tests can really help you.

If you are in Ottawa, you have the option of under’going some training in one of the numerous language schools across town… yet the good ones are busy with government contracts and they are usually not interested in taking some small individual contracts… and, from what I know, they will not give you less than three hours of training in a row because they do not want to sacrifice any of their teachers for only one hour here and there. Also, chances are that you will not be able to have your sessions either at night or on weekends. Then you can register for some classes in a college, yet it will not help you with the purpose of getting prepared for the SLE tests… and, at this point, you need one-on-one training so that the teacher can target your weaknesses and work on them. You can look for a private tutor, but make sure that they know exactly what those tests are about and they can put you through the necessary drill. For instance, a retired high school teacher tutoring people from home for minimum hourly fees would not be the greatest choice!…

If you are located outside Ottawa, getting the proper help is more difficult because most language schools (in other cities)  are unfamiliar with the PSC SLE tests. It is one of the reason why I decided to provide that kind of help by giving online training in a virtual classroom so that people living elsewhere could have access to this specific type of expertise… so far I helped candidates to prepare for their tests from one ocean to the other… with today’s technology, there is not much we cannot do on the Internet. Yet it seems that traditional language schools are still behind…

Whatever approach you will choose, make sure that you will give yourself enough time to get prepared so that you will not be caught at the very last minute… looking for someone to save you!… Having a structured plan is your best option because… getting the position you applied for might depend on your SLE results…


“Ne tonds pas deux moutons à la fois, le second pourrait te mordre”

Proverbe bantou 


This entry was posted in languages, second language evaluation, second language testing tools, second language training and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.


  1. oriana
    Posted January 18, 2010 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

    I passed the French written and reading tests. Then I had a fifteen minute phone interview. Are we also tested for our debit and tone of voice and answers we give regardless of our knowledge of the language? Does linguistic testing mean the same as language proficiency?

    • Posted January 18, 2010 at 9:57 pm | Permalink


      I am quite surprised that you had only a fifteen minute phone interview: usually, the oral interaction test lasts between 30 and 45 minutes… the test has four components and the examiner stops when the candidate can no longer answer the questions that are asked.

      Of course someone with a flowing debit and a good tone of voice in the second language (in other words, someone who sounds natural and not robotic) qualifies for a higher level though hesitations are acceptable as long as it is obvious that the candidate is hesitating with his thoughts (and not struggling with grammar and syntax).

      The oral interaction test that was introduced in the summer of 2008 has little to do with the knowledge of the language I am afraid! 🙁 Now, they tried to assess people’s skills quantitatively instead of qualitatively… candidates are expected to speak formally using as much gov’t jargon as they can. I have been preparing people who were fluent in French, yet they had failed to get a “C” only because their speech was too colloquial. I had to polish their speech and provide them with the jargon essential to pass this test… unfortunately the content is of lesser importance… on the other hand, the container is what examiners are looking at!

      • Oriana
        Posted January 20, 2010 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

        Yes, someone called me 2 days before this short interview to ask me if I was available for a phone interview. I had the choice to either do it in French or English and when I said I did not care (either one), the representative said it was up to me, so I chose French.

        When the interviewer called me, he informed me that he was going to ask me 5 questions. Most were work-related. The next step according to this person if I am considered for the position , is an oral test – second language.

  2. Posted January 20, 2010 at 10:20 pm | Permalink

    I’m aware of such an in-house testing Oriana… however it seems it occurs only in Montreal: I guess they want to eliminate candidates who don’t show enough skills in their second language earlier in the hiring process. In the “official” process, people are tested for their second language only at the very end once they passed all the other tests/interviews… I think it makes much more sense to have that kind of screening…

    Hopefully you’ll be considered for the position you applied for within the PSC!

    • Oriana
      Posted January 21, 2010 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

      Thank you Lyne, that is what I thought! For your information, I received my written test results today.

      Remember when I told you I thought the reading comprehension was harder than the written test and you concluded that they probably used Montreal candidates as guinea pigs and gave us the new version. I received a score of 53 out of 65- the required C. As for the the test of written expression, 57 out of 65, which means an E.

      Thank you for your help. I will keep you in mind if I am considered for further testing.


      • Posted January 22, 2010 at 12:15 am | Permalink

        Congratulations Oriana! 🙂

        Indeed, my student Corey (in Montreal) also got his C in reading comprehension (54 out of 59, because he didn’t have enough time to do the last six questions).

        It’s always a pleasure for me to hear such great news! And, if ever you need a coach for the oral, I’m just around the corner! 😉

  3. Oriana
    Posted January 24, 2010 at 10:23 pm | Permalink

    Hi again Lyne,

    I was called in for the interview! Not the lingusitic one though. Again, the person who called me told me it was up to me to chose whether I wanted to be interviewed in English or French. I was asked to bring in my official documents and name of referees.

    I guess the oral interview is at the end like you said.

    • Posted January 25, 2010 at 9:07 am | Permalink

      Right Oriana… sometimes people are invited to take the reading comprehension and the written expression tests before the interview, but the oral exam is always at the very end of the hiring process (they want to make sure that candidates passed all the other tests/interviews because it costs them quite a substantial amount of money to send someone for the oral interaction test)…

      Good luck! 🙂

  4. Aida
    Posted January 25, 2010 at 9:07 pm | Permalink

    Hi, my name is Aida. I passed both the reading and written exams. I am waiting to be scheduled for the oral exam. I would like some help with that exam Lyne. I would appreciate if you would contact me.

    • Posted January 26, 2010 at 8:28 am | Permalink


      I will send you an email with more information on how I can help you tackle and ace that oral test some time before the end of the day.

  5. Georgi
    Posted April 7, 2010 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    Hello Lyne,

    I have also passed the written test and have an oral one scheduled for the next Thursday. Would you mind sending me some tips on how to prepare for the oral exam?

    Thank you in advance.


    • Posted April 7, 2010 at 3:37 pm | Permalink


      There are no “tips” for the oral test unfortunately… it is about strategies and going through the “drill” so that you can go there as much prepared as you can. In other words, you need to go through a minimum of training hours… if your test is scheduled for this coming Thursday, it is too late… if you still have a week, you can do it… if you are interested, send me an email at: lyne@ladamedragon.com

      Have a good day!

  6. Layla
    Posted June 22, 2010 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

    Hello Lyne,

    I have an oral test in exactly a week! After reading this, I’m kind of getting nervous. Could you please inform me of the strategies and drills that I may use to prepare myself for the exam?

    Thank you very much!

    • Posted June 22, 2010 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

      Hi Layla,

      Unfortunately, I can’t provide you with strategies and drills that you can try to apply on your own. You need to see it for yourself with my guidance…

      But if you’re ever interested in having a couple of online sessions, you can send me an email at :


      Good luck! 🙂

  7. Dana
    Posted November 17, 2010 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

    I am wondering if you have any tips for the written exam.

    • Posted November 18, 2010 at 8:34 am | Permalink

      Hi Dana,

      Unfortunately, it isn’t that easy… everything is in how to approach this test strategically and avoid traps… we can only do that by working on the test samples with our trainees.

      Have a good day! 😉

  8. Amy
    Posted January 5, 2011 at 8:05 am | Permalink

    Hi, I passed both the reading and written exams. I am waiting to be scheduled for the oral exam. I would like some help with that exam Lyne. I would appreciate if you would contact me.

  9. Debby
    Posted April 5, 2011 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

    I am about to write my Comprehension Ecrite for the first time. I need a C, but lately everyone seems to be missing it by a few points. Can you give me some pointers where I should focus my efforts?

    • Posted April 5, 2011 at 8:55 pm | Permalink

      Hi Debby,

      Unfortunately, I cannot really help you with this… all I can tell you is to approach the test strategically and be careful not to fall in the traps thare are set everywhere in the new reading comprehension test. Focus on the gov’t jargon… read stuff on their websites as much as you can… The SLE tests have more to do with people’s mental discipline than with their knowledge of the language.

      Good luck! 😉

  10. michelle
    Posted April 28, 2011 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    Hi, I passed both the reading and written exams. I am scheduled for the oral exam May 13. I would like some help with that exam Lyne. I would appreciate if you would contact me.

  11. Anna
    Posted September 2, 2011 at 9:41 pm | Permalink


    I plan to get tested in about 4 months. I last got by BBB levels in 2003 and it is to my benefit to get retested. I heard the exams have changed since then. Correct?

    • Posted September 9, 2011 at 9:21 am | Permalink

      You’re correct Anna… they changed (and more than once)… they are more difficult and you have to be well prepared before you take them.

  12. Dina
    Posted September 19, 2011 at 11:34 pm | Permalink

    Hi, I’m being tested by Canada Post Corporation and was wondering if their french test was similar or the same as the SLE Tests? I’ve gone through the interview process, and cleared security… my guess is this is the last step prior to making an offer. I was just contacted today by Canada Post advising me that their “language coordinator” would be getting in contact with me this week. I’m not sure when they’ll schedule the test and whether it will be online or in person. I’m bilingual from Montreal but now live in Ottawa, I would like to prepare as much as I can for this, just not sure where to start or how much time I have.

    • Mike
      Posted May 11, 2015 at 11:58 am | Permalink

      Hi Dina,

      How did you find the tests? Were they anything like the PSC tests? I am in the same boat as you, have everything cleared but my language. How was your experience with the hiring process overall?

  13. abboud
    Posted October 30, 2011 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

    Hi Lyne
    im scheduled for an oral test this tuesday fro government of canada can you help me i sent you an email also

  14. Vivien
    Posted March 25, 2015 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    I just undergone the SLE-TOP and only obtained a “B”. I don’t understand how I would have a B while conversing with other federal employees who have a B or higher, I noticed their speech are often very broken and lack fluidity.
    The B scale must have a lot of latitude. Any advice you can share?

  15. Annoyed
    Posted February 25, 2016 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    Had my oral in French on Feb 15th of this year….another B. The fact that no feedback is given advising the candidate on where the assessor felt they lacked is EXTREMELY frustrating. In the meantime, dreams of moving up in the federal government are squashed; linguistic levels supersede any candidate’s proven experience, skills, and abilities that are deemed as required to do the job.

    • Posted February 27, 2016 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

      The problem with this test is that it is supposed to be objective… therefore, assessors are expecting the same thing from the candidates… You have to keep in mind that this is a TEST, not a conversation! and assessors aren’t concerned with the content of your answers, they are only concerned with the container (meaning the structure of your sentences). Annoying? YES! but it is the way it is and we have to live with it… my advice is that you get prepared for this test with someone who knows what is expected from you…

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>