Unit 1: Launch

Chapter 8: Placement Testing

Alise Lamoreaux

“Great ideas need landing gear as well as wings.”

– C.D. Jackson

Congratulations! You are accepted into college. Now what? Before you can begin signing up for classes, most colleges will require you to take placement tests.

Some Things to Think About:

  1. What are the purpose of the placement tests?
  2.  Can a student fail the placement tests?
  3. Where are the placement tests given?
  4. What does a student need to do to sign up to take the placement tests?
  5.  How much does it cost to take the placement tests?
  6.  Can a student re-take the placement tests if they are not happy with the score?
  7.  How long are the placement test scores valid?
  8.  Can a student study for the placement tests?

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 students get a low score on the tests, they 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.

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: College Placement Test Video, Golden West College.

Can a Student Study for College Placement Tests?

Students often wonder if they should study for assessment tests. Studying and becoming familiar with the type of test you will be taking is a good idea. Many college assessment websites include sample questions. If a student is unhappy with their assessment score, retesting options sometimes exist, but vary from college to college. Check the policy of the college you are choosing to attend before you take the test! Poor performance on a placement tests may end up costing you extra time and money. If the you haveto take extra classes to build the skills needed for college that may change the timeline for your goal and target completion.

If you do poorly on a placement test, you might end up placed in a remedial math or English class. These classes are designed to help students learn the basic skills necessary for more complex classes, but they rarely count towards a degree. Spending time and money to take these classes can be frustrating, especially at the beginning of your college experience. Fortunately, community colleges often have free or low-cost options for improving a student’s skill level for college courses. If you are at a university, check to see if you can take these classes at a local community college instead. If you are a community college student, check to see if there are free or low-cost options for taking these classes. These classes, called Adult Basic Education (ABE) classes can  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.

It is possible to study for placement  tests and to become familiar with the format of the tests. Some college websites may have study resources listed to help students prepare for the placement tests. Check with the college you select to see if resources are suggested.

Some placement tests use an “adaptive” model. It gives students 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.

Many colleges also use “multiple measures” to determine a students’ placement level. Sometimes high school grades for English and math are used along with other indicators a college has approved. If you have difficulty reading, writing, or listening, or if you have a documented disability, you may be eligible for special accomodations or exceptions on placement tests. Check with your academic advisor or the testing center at your college to make sure that you have the appropriate support and preparation when you take your placement tests.


Licenses and attributions:

CC licensed content, Previously shared:

Lamoreaux, Alise. A Different Road To College: A Guide For Transitioning To College For Non-traditional Students. Open Oregon Educational Resources, 2018.  Located at: https://openoregon.pressbooks.pub/collegetransition/chapter/chapter-7/  License: CC BY: Attribution.

Adaptions: Reformatted, chapter title changed back to Placement Testing, changed references back to College Testing Placement from Assessment Test, some content edited for broader audience, Kelly McGonigal: How to Make Stress Your Friend TED Talk relocated to Health unit.

All rights reserved content:

“College Placement Test Video.” YouTube, uploaded by ImageworksVideo, 27 Jan. 2015. Located at: https://youtu.be/gxQbDAWHcUI  License: All Rights Reserved. License Terms: Standard YouTube license.


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Blueprint for Success in College and Career Copyright © 2019 by Alise Lamoreaux is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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