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 Test (CPT).

Some things to think about:

  • What is the purpose of the CPT?
  • Can a student fail the CPT?
  • Where is the CPT given?
  • What does a student need to do to sign up to take the CPT?
  • How much does it cost to take the CPT?
  • Can a student re-take the test if he or she is not happy with the score?
  • How long is the placement test score valid?
  • Can a student study for the CPT?

The College Placement Test 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 test can be referred to as CPT or CTP exam. CPT exams are not scored on the basis of pass or fail. The CPT exam tests students in subjects like reading, writing, and math. The test results help place each student in the most appropriate level of classes. The goal is to place students into classes that are not too difficult or too easy.

Community colleges tend to rely on placement testing because students entering these colleges have a variety of backgrounds and skill levels. The test results may mean a student can skip introductory level classes or that students need to refresh or build skills in a specific area. However, if a student gets a low score on the tests, he or she 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 Speech class will require writing! As a result, many classes have a prerequisite requirement for writing. If Writing 121 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.

Many students have not taken a math class recently, or been using more than basic math in their daily lives, and may need to refresh 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 must be proficient with the math skills needed for menu planning and food cost analysis. Those are different skills than a Nursing student. A Nurse needs to be proficient in math related to dosage and other measurements. The purpose of the placement tests is to help students identify their abilities. It is important for students to take the placement tests seriously since the test scores will influence course selection. Scoring well on placement tests can save a student time and money.

Which student in the video reflects your attitude about college placement tests?

Video link:

Can a student study for college placement tests?

Students often wonder if they should study for CTP exams. Studying and becoming familiar with the type of test you will be taking is a good idea. If a student is unhappy with the CPT exam 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 a CTP 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 an Adult Basic Education program. Check to see what options exist at the college you have selected in terms of improving CPT scores. Many first-generation college students find attending Adult Basic Education 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 CTP exam is a general term and not the name of a specific test. Colleges may use different standardized tests as their CPT. Two of the most common tests are Accuplacer and Compass. As of June 18, 2015, ACT, the company who makes Compass, said in the article Finding A New Compass that it will discontinue making the test and phase out its use. If the college you have selected has been using Compass as its CPT, changes may be happening for that college. ALEKS is an assessment system that is gaining momentum with the departure of Compass. ALEKS stands for Assessment and Learning in Knowledge Spaces.

Sometimes it can be challenging to figure out which standardized test is being given by the college. If you have difficulty finding the name of the test the college is using, try the search engine on the college website for the keywords “college placement test.”

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 CTP exam. Check with the college you select to see if resources are suggested.

At Lane Community College, Accuplacer is the CPT 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. Lane Community College offers a list of free online study resources for placement tests.

Thinking about college placement tests and taking them can be stressful for students.

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

Video link:

    • 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?

Suggested Reading

Why Writing Matters Project

Finding A New Compass


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A Different Road To College Copyright © 2016 by Alise Lamoreaux is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.