3 Placement Assessment

Great ideas need landing gear as well as wings.
~C.D. Jackson

Congratulations! You are accepted to college. Now what? Before you can begin signing up for classes, most colleges will require you to take a College Placement Assessment (CPA) or College Placement Test (CPT). At Chemeketa the test is known as the College Placement Assessment (CPA).

Some things to think about:

  • What is the purpose of the assessment or CPA?
  • Can a student fail the assessment or CPA?
  • Where is the assessment or CPA given?
  • Does a student has to sign up for an assessment or CPA in advance?
  • How much does it cost to take the assessment or CPA?
  • Can a student re-take the test if the student  not happy with the score?
  • How long is the assessment score or placement test score valid?
  • Can a student study for the assessment or CPA?

The College Placement Assessment is an entrance examination that is a required part of the admissions process for many community colleges and other schools in the United States. The placement assessment can be referred as the Placement Assessment (CPA) or the College Placement Test (CPT). Placement assessments/tests are not scored on the basis of pass or fail.

The CPA assesses students in subjects like reading, writing, and math. The assessment provides current skills level results which are used to provide entry into different classes at Chemeketa.

Community colleges tend to rely on placement assessments because students entering these colleges have a variety of backgrounds and skill levels. The assessment results may mean a student can skip introductory level classes or that the student needs to build skills in a specific area or refresh specific skills. For example, if a student gets a low score on the assessment, the student may need to take extra classes to be able to register for a certain class in a specific program.

Across the college campus, in many different classes, a student will be asked to read and write on a daily basis as part of the class activities. Even a Communication class will require writing! As a result, many classes have a prerequisite requirement for writing. If Writing 121 completion is a prerequisite to starting a class, and a student scores into Writing 115, the student will need to take 2 classes, Writing 115 and Writing 121, before gaining entrance to the class with a prerequisite.

In the case, of Math for example students who have not taken a math class recently may need to refresh their math skills or build their skills to be able to handle the course requirements of college. Also, certain programs emphasize specific math skills in order for students to be successful in those programs of study. Culinary Arts students for example, must be proficient with the math skills needed for menu planning and food cost analysis, but a Nurse needs a higher level of math to calculate dosage of a certain drug to give to a patient. Remember that the purpose of the placement assessment is to help students identify their abilities, not to provide a barrier for students achievement. It is important for students to take the placement assessment seriously since the test scores will influence course selection. Scoring well on placement assessments can save a student time and money.

Smarter balance (sbac)

If you are as student who attended High School in Oregon in the 11th grade, there is a big chance that you took the Smarter Balance test or SBAC test. SBAC scores can be submitted to some colleges in place of taking the placement assessment or CPT. At Chemeketa you can use your SBAC scores up to a year after taking the test.

Some things to notice is that is the student’s responsibility to ask for the SBAC scores report from your high school of attendance. Many high schools do not have a lot of information on their website about SBAC scores. If you are submitting SBAC scores, you have to call or go in person to your high school of attendance or graduation and request your SBAC scores to be sent to Chemeketa. If you are handed a copy of your SBAC scores you can take them to the Advising center, the Placement Assessment Center or you can email them to placement@chemeketa.edu. Make sure to to write your K# and your date of birth to the SBAC form. Remember to allow for two to three days of process before you make a meeting with your advisor, so the scores can be entered by a Chemeketa staff member.

A thing to know about SBAC scores is that submitting your SBAC scores do not immediately grant you placement in college level classes. Your SBAC scores will be processed and assessed by a specialist to know your college level placement in math, reading and writing.

Advanced Placement (AP) Exam Credit

If you took AP classes and tested, at Chemeketa you also may be able to receive credits based on the scores on the exams. You will be only be able to receive credits for the classes you took exams in and have scores. To receive credits, first you must order your AP transcripts. You can log in to their webpage to order them or call Ask that your transcripts are official, sealed and sent to Chemeketa. Once Chemeketa receives the transcripts, they are evaluated and you will receive an email to My.Chemeketa informing you of the number of credits transferred. Chemeketa accepts scores 3-5 in selected AP courses for particular Chemeketa courses.

Chemeketa has a website with detailed information as well as the official address where you should send your AP transcript.

Other Exams or Course Work Credit to Transfer

If while in High School, you have also taken the College Level Examination Program (CLEP exam), International Baccalaureate Exam, or have received credits through Willamette Promise, you can also transfer the credits to Chemeketa. There is more information at the Chemeketa website on how each works. Also if you have taken college classes at other accredited colleges or universities, you can also begin the process of evaluation. Lastly, if you served in the military and you took college classes, you can also begin the process of evaluation. Remember that although you have taken the exams, or have completed coursework at other institutions, the transfer of credits is a process and takes time. Remember also that depending on the score on the exam, and or grade you receive in your coursework, you may or may not receive Chemeketa credits. The only way to find out if you will receive credits is via evaluation of transcripts.


Video: https://youtu.be/gxQbDAWHcUI

Can a student study for College Placement Assessment?

Students often wonder if they should study for placement assessments. Studying and becoming familiar with the type of test you will be taking is a good idea. Students can even take a pre-assessment online to study before their placement assessment. Chemeketa has a website on how to prepare for a placement assessment that can be very useful.  If a student is unhappy with the  assessment score, retesting options usually exist, but vary from college to college. Check the policy of the college you are choosing to attend. Poor performance on an assessment may end up costing the student extra time and money. If the student has to take extra classes to build the skills needed for college that may change the timeline for the student’s goal and target completion.

Community colleges often have free or low-cost options for improving a student’s skill level for college course through a Basic Skills Development program. Check to see what options exist at the college you have selected in terms of improving assessment scores. Many first-generation college students find attending Basic Skills Development classes to be very helpful for getting ready for the rigors of college expectations. Along with improving academic skills, a student can also become familiar with the culture of the college before becoming a full-time student.

The  placement assessment is a general term and not the name of a specific test. Colleges may use different standardized tests as their placement assessment. Two of the most common assessments are Accuplacer and Compass. Chemeketa uses the Accuplacer assessment tool.

It is possible to study for these tests as well as becoming familiar with the format of the tests. Some college website may have study resources listed to help students prepare for the placement assessment. Check with the college you select to see if resources are suggested.

At Chemeketa Community College, Accuplacer is the assessment given. Accuplacer is an “adaptive” test. It gives you one question at a time. You must answer every question it presents. When you get a question correct, the computer adapts by giving a harder question worth more points for the next question. A wrong answer gives you an easier question worth fewer points for the next question. Chemeketa Community College has website that you can visit to better prepare for the Accuplacer test. You can work through some sample questions, or practice taking the test online. It also lists some test taking strategies for before and during the test.

Thinking about college placement assessment and taking them can be stressful for students. However, remember that is a small step needed to make your classes challenging enough to gain knowledge and education but also a right fit for your math, reading and writing levels. At the end is about finding a happy middle.

Kelly McGonigal: How To Make Stress Your Friend (TED Talk)

Video: https://youtu.be/RcGyVTAoXEU

  • How does the information provided by Kelly McGonigal in her TED Talk apply to preparing for and taking college placement tests?
  • What tips can you take away from her talk that might help you with college related stress?

Licenses and Attributions

Original chapter work is attributed to Alise Lamoreaux. Chapter editing and additional work on the chapter is attributed to Grecia Garcia and Ashley Duran.


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A Different Road To College: A Guide For Transitioning To College For Non-traditional Students by Alise Lamoreaux, Grecia Garcia and Ashley Duran is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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