Cultural Understanding Exam (CUE)

Christ at the Core Curriculum

Core Competency – Modern and Classical Languages Requirement

Wheaton College’s Christ at the Core curriculum affirms the strategic priority of “globalizing a Wheaton education” and requires as part of the new Foreign Language Requirement that all students grow in cultural understanding (i.e., intercultural competency) during their undergraduate studies here at Wheaton. Most matriculating students will demonstrate growth in intercultural competency by completing intermediate language and culture coursework in a modern or classical language at the 201 level and by passing an intermediate-level language competency exam that is administered by the Department of Modern and Classical Languages. Students with extensive cross-cultural experience outside the Anglo/Anglo-American context and advanced non-native linguistic competency beyond the intermediate 201 level that has been validated by scores on approved tests (SAT II, AP, IB, ALTA, ACTFL) will demonstrate growth in intercultural competency via one of the following options:

  1. Completing an upper-division course (300-level or higher) in the language in which intermediate competency has been demonstrated
  2. Completing a course in a new language (at any level)
  3. Participating in an approved non-English based Global and Experiential Learning (GEL) experience
  4. Passing the Cultural Understanding Exam (CUE).


Description of the Cultural Understanding Exam and Assessment

In August 2014, the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) stated that global competence includes not only linguistic competence but the ability to:

  • Interact with awareness, sensitivity, empathy, and knowledge of the perspectives of others.
  • Withhold judgment, examining one’s own perspectives as similar to or different from the perspectives of people with whom one is interacting.
  • Be alert to cultural differences in situations outside of one’s culture, including noticing cues indicating miscommunication or causing an inappropriate action or response in a situation.
  • Act respectfully according to what is appropriate in the culture and the situation where everyone is not of the same culture or language background, including gestures, expressions, and behaviors.
  • Increase knowledge about the products, practices, and perspectives of other cultures.


The Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), in a similar vein, speaks of cultural understanding in terms of intercultural knowledge and competency which it defines as “a set of cognitive, affective, and behavioral skills and characteristics that support effective and appropriate interaction in a variety of cultural contexts.” In the Intercultural Knowledge and Competence VALUE rubric, the AAC&U highlights several key areas of knowledge (cultural self-awareness and knowledge of cultural worldview frameworks), skills (empathy and verbal and nonverbal communication), and attitudes (empathy and openness).

The Cultural Understanding Exam is comprised of two substantive essays in which students demonstrate “cultural understanding” as described in these terms. The first essay requires students to thoughtfully consider their own culture, articulate potential differences they may encounter in a new cultural setting, and identify skills and attitudes necessary to navigate interpersonal interaction in a new cultural context. The second essay requires students to evaluate a specific cultural incident they have experienced. Students will have two hours to draft the two essays.

The essays will be evaluated independently by faculty members in the Department of Modern and Classical Language at Wheaton College, using the AAC&U’s Intercultural Knowledge and Competence VALUE rubric and the aforementioned definitions. In order to pass the Cultural Understanding Exam, student essays must demonstrate “Milestone Three” for each of the six categories of the AAC&U rubric.

Administration of the Cultural Understanding Exam

The Cultural Understanding Exam will be administered at the beginning of each semester and on Reading Day at the end of the semester. Students will need to register for the exam at least two weeks in advance of those dates. The registration process will include students’ providing culturally and linguistically relevant biographical information. Students will be charged a $25 testing administration fee.

Students may only take the Cultural Understanding Exam once. If the student does not pass, he or she will be required to satisfy the Foreign Language Requirement through one of the other three options outlined in the first paragraph of this document.