Preparing for the Hebrew Capacity Exam - Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
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Preparing for the Hebrew Capacity Exam

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Preparing for the Hebrew Capacity Exam

The Rabbinical School, Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music and the residential MA programs of the Schools of Education require a Hebrew language capacity equivalent to one year of college-level Modern Hebrew, as demonstrated by performance on the Hebrew Capacity Examination (HCE).  At the time of your interview at the College-Institute, or close to that time, you will be asked to take the HCE. It has been designed to assess whether you have attained the minimum level necessary to begin the program, and to place you in the appropriate Hebrew level to optimize your learning.

We are enclosing some examples of text and grammar questions from different levels to give you sense of the exam (see Resources below).  A useful text in preparing for the most basic levels of the HCE is Volume One of a book known in English as Hebrew From Scratch. In Hebrew the book is entitled עברית מן ההתחלה כרך א' .  The book is written by Shlomit Chayat, Sara Israeli, and Hilla Kobliner, and it is published by Academon in Jerusalem. If you demonstrate high proficiency in this work, most particularly up to page 326, it is extremely likely you will do well on the examination.

In general, in order to meet our minimum requirements, examinees need to demonstrate that they can

  • Read with comprehension texts that discuss daily life, describe people and places, narrate past events, etc.
  • Demonstrate proficiency with basic grammar.

The examination comprises three sections, each of which are organized according to increasing levels of difficulty:

1.  Reading Comprehension.  There will be up to ten texts at increasing levels of difficulty. After each of these texts you will be asked questions of different types. You may be asked to select missing words from a given list; or to determine whether a statement is correct or incorrect based on your understanding of the text; or to answer a number of multiple choice questions. 

2.  Grammar. You will be asked to answer multiple choice questions which ask you to select appropriate verbs, prepositions, plural forms, construct forms (semichut), question words and other grammatical forms,

3.  Writing. You will be invited to write a composition or answer a question from a range of possibilities. The length of the composition will vary from 30 to 200 words and more depending on the level of difficulty.

All questions in sections 1 and 2 should be answered in order. All questions in these sections are either multiple choice, or they ask you to add missing words.  When you start guessing answers in section 1, we recommend you move on to section 2. When you reach the same point in section 2, move to section 3.  In section 3 you will be asked to write a short composition in Hebrew. You will be given a choice of several topics. The intention here is to get a sense of your current ability to express yourself in writing in Hebrew.

Candidates are sometimes concerned with the length of the examination. Please don’t be. The exam is designed to accommodate a wide range of Hebrew levels. You are not expected to complete more than you are comfortably able to do. 

Results of the Hebrew Capacity Exam

Admissions decisions are reached independently of the results of this exam. Admitted applicants who do not demonstrate sufficient proficiency in Modern Hebrew may be required retake the exam, attend HUC-JIR’s Pre-Ulpan Hebrew Learning Program on the Jerusalem campus, or defer enrollment to improve their language skill.  You will be contacted to let you know the results of your Hebrew Capacity Exam.  Rather than give you a precise grade, we will let you know which of the following four categories your results place you in:

A. You passed!

Congratulations. You may begin the year in Jerusalem at the regular starting point in July. When you arrive there you will be placed in an appropriate Hebrew class.  In cases of exceptional ability in Hebrew, there may be the possibility of exempting out of Hebrew studies, or of tailoring a special program to allow you to develop your Hebrew skills at the highest possible level.  For most candidates, however, being in Category A simply means: we look forward to seeing you in Jerusalem in July.

B.   Pre-Ulpan

For the last few years the College-Institute has offered an intensive Hebrew program in the weeks leading up to the start of the regular summer semester. This pre-Ulpan program begins in June.  If you are in category B, you will be invited to participate in the pre-Ulpan program. If you do well in that program, you will then continue in the regular program just like candidates in Category A. You may wish to re-take the exam (we have prepared a shortened and revised form of the examination for this purpose). If you do well, you may then be moved from Category B to Category A. If not, you are invited to join the Pre-Ulpan.

C.   Worth Re-Taking

If you are in Category C, you did not reach the minimum Hebrew level for acceptance this year, but you came close. There is a good chance that, with additional guidance and study, you will be able to reach Category B.  We encourage you to re-take the exam (described above in Category B). If you do not pass the re-take, your admission to the school will be deferred until you can demonstrate the minimum necessary Hebrew level.

D.   Did Not Pass

You did not reach the minimum level of proficiency. You may choose to study further and then re-take the exam, or you may wish to defer until you have a chance to strengthen your Hebrew.

A candidate in Category A who defers their entrance to the College-Institute by more than two years will have to re-take the Hebrew Capacity Exam. 


Below are a few resources to help you prepare for this Hebrew requirement: For an in depth evaluation of your abilities, download the Sample Hebrew Capacity Exam. This Examination is of a similar difficultly level to the actual exam but only a quarter of the length. In addition, check out these additional resources to improve your Hebrew.