What Is a College Placement Test?

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  • Many colleges require placement tests for incoming first-year students.
  • Placement tests assess your English, reading, math, and foreign language skills.
  • College placement test results determine your first-year English and math classes.
  • Many free resources exist to help you prepare for test day.

Congratulations on entering college! You worked hard to get to this moment, which likely included earning good scores on an entrance exam, such as the ACT or SAT. However, you may still need to prove yourself one more time before enrolling in your first college-level English and math classes.

Many colleges, especially junior and community colleges, require English and math placement tests for first-year students. Learners who learned English as a second language may also need to take an ESL college placement test.

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What Is the Purpose of College Placement Tests?

College placement tests assist schools with open enrollment to place incoming students into their first English and math classes. Some public and private four-year schools also require college placement tests. Degree-seekers take these tests to fulfill part of their orientation checklist.

Colleges use these tests to increase retention and improve students' learning outcomes. Your college math placement test scores may show you need a semester of remediation before entering a typical first-year class. Remediation helps prepare you for future academic success.

On the flip side, a high score could let you skip a first-year English or math class. This advantage helps you graduate sooner than your peers and save money on your education.

Who Is Required to Take College Placement Tests?

First-year students without college experience may take placement tests during the enrollment process. Typical test settings include your home and an on-campus testing center.

Placement tests for community college or four-year school enrollment do not apply to all students. You may receive an exemption based on your academic history. Evidence schools accept include:

Note that schools may accept additional or fewer forms of evidence, depending on their policies.

Research your school's standardized test score or GPA cutoff before enrolling. Do not assume your school will enroll you in remedial classes if you do not meet the cutoff. Your performance on placement tests may make the final determination.

What Are the Different Types of College Placement Tests?

Research which college placement tests your school requires. These tests, like the ACCUPLACER, assess your math, reading, writing, and foreign language abilities.

ACCUPLACER

The College Board created the ACCUPLACER test for community colleges and four-year schools. You take three multiple-choice computerized tests covering reading, writing, and math. The math section assesses your knowledge of basic math, quantitative reasoning, algebra, and introductory statistics.

The ACCUPLACER also features the WritePlacer Essay. Your essay must take a position based on a provided prompt. Graders assess your ability to focus, organize and develop an argument, and use grammar correctly.

Math Placement Tests

College math placement tests are essential in ensuring you enroll in a class aligning with your skill level.

A typical test lasts 90 minutes and requires you to answer 60 multiple-choice questions. Questions may cover functions, linear equations, and rational expressions. Your school may offer college placement test practice materials, such as an online readiness test.

Reading Placement Tests

Reading placement tests other than the ACCUPLACER may start with a self-assessment alerting you to your improvement areas.

Your school may provide study materials addressing your improvement areas. Following these recommendations may boost your skills and prepare you for placement test day. Please note that retake policies vary by school.

Writing Placement Tests

Even if you earned top grades on high school essays, you still might need help before tackling college-level English classes. Writing placement tests let colleges give you the academic support you need to excel in this subject.

You read a brief prompt or passage before responding to it in an essay. You receive approximately two hours for outlining and writing. Ensure your essay addresses the prompt, includes a thesis, and uses supporting evidence.

Foreign Language Placement Tests

You may feel confident about your foreign language skills going into college. However, your high school education may differ significantly from other first-year students who studied the same language. Colleges use foreign language tests to determine which class matches your ability level, especially if you plan to major in a foreign language.

Questions cover listening, grammar, and vocabulary. Some colleges also require an in-person or virtual oral exam. Please note that your school may not let you challenge your class placement or retake the test.

How Do You Register for Placement Tests?

To register for a placement test, you must first meet with an enrollment advisor to review your academic history. Standardized test scores or good grades may exempt you from testing. Reviewing these and other documents helps advisors make a final decision.

The registration process varies by college but may include signing into your student account. Typically, the registration page features upcoming dates and times for placement tests.

Signing up for at-home testing involves downloading testing and proctoring software. Your computer must meet your school's technology requirements. Other testing regulations may apply.

How to Prepare for Placement Tests

Although placement tests do not award a letter grade, the results can affect your college experience. Underperforming may result in your taking a math or English class that doesn't align with your abilities. Other negative outcomes may include earning a poor GPA, failing a class, or dropping out of college.

Fortunately, the College Board offers practice materials, including free reading, writing, and math questions, for the ACCUPLACER. Other guides cover the WritePlacer Essay.

Your school's testing or admissions office may provide more practice college placement tests. Online tutoring services like Khan Academy can help you do your best on test day. Use these and other resources to ensure you earn the best score possible.

Frequently Asked Questions About College Placement Tests

How much do placement tests cost?

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Unlike the ACT, SAT, and other standardized tests, college placement tests do not charge additional fees. However, you may need to pay your tuition or enrollment fee before your school lets you take a placement test.

Some colleges let you retake a placement test if you think the result does not match your ability level. Retakes do not cost anything. Avoid paying for any study materials before asking whether your school provides them for free.

When do I receive my results of the placement test?

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Multiple-choice placement tests for college deliver results almost immediately after you finish. You can typically find these results in your student account alongside your recommended or required class placement. You may request a meeting with an academic or enrollment advisor to discuss your placement. Consider asking for a retake if you feel you did not do your best on test day.

Writing test results usually take longer. The College Board grades your WritePlacer Essay offsite. English professors or other employees may grade writing tests developed by the school.

Are there placement tests for English as a second language (ESL) students?

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The ACCUPLACER ESL Tests assess your reading, sentence meaning, language use, and listening skills. Unlike the regular ACCUPLACER, the results provide more than a score and a class placement. You'll also receive proficiency statements and strategies to improve your English.

Earning a high score on the ACCUPLACER ESL Tests or a school-developed test generally lets you skip English remediation classes. Take advantage of free test prep resources by signing into your ACCUPLACER account.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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