What Are College Placement Tests?

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After you’ve been accepted by a college, you may need to take placement tests. Colleges use placement tests in subjects like math and English to check the academic skill levels of entering students. Then the college can place each student in classes at the right level.

Placement tests are used to determine the academic skills of entering students. Based on the test results, the students will be placed in the classes that best match their current skills. Low test scores may mean taking developmental courses to improve your academic skills.

Do Placement Tests Matter for College?

Many colleges require all of their incoming first-year students to take placement tests to determine their academic skill level. Their scores are used to place them in the appropriate first-year math and English classes.

Who Uses Placement Tests?

Most two-year colleges and many public four-year colleges require new students to take at least one placement test when they first get to campus. Some private four-year colleges also use these tests.

Community colleges─most of which admit all students with a high school degree─tend to rely on these tests because their entering students can have very different skill levels.

looking down on group of students studying

What Do the Results Mean?

Your test results may mean that you can skip some introductory courses. Or they can show that you need more preparation before taking on college-level work.

If you need more preparation, a college may require you to take a developmental course. A number of four-year colleges and most community colleges offer developmental classes.

What Are Developmental Courses?

Developmental classes allow you to improve your skills in a subject so that you can take on college work in that area. If you find out that you need to take remedial classes in subjects like math and English, don’t get discouraged. These classes will show you your strengths and weaknesses so that you’ll know where you need to focus. They also will increase your chances of academic success in college.

What Are Placement Tests Like?

Colleges use several common placement tests. The tests usually measure skills in these subjects:

  • Math
  • Reading
  • Writing

Some colleges also offer placement tests in foreign languages and areas of science. Because many institutions give placement tests on computers, you may get your scores as soon as you finish. Several states and individual colleges have developed their own placement tests.

Are College Placement Tests Online?

In most cases, college placement tests aren’t online. They must be taken in an approved testing location where test takers are supervised for the duration of the test. In some cases, virtual test-taking appointments can be made for students who are planning to attend an out-of-state college or live more than 45 minutes away from the college they plan to attend.

How Can I Prepare?

Placement tests measure skills you’ve already learned in high school, so taking them doesn’t require much preparation. To get ready for these tests, you can do the following:

  • First, check with an admissions officer at your college to find out if you have to take a placement test.
  • If so, find out what subjects the test will cover./li>
  • Ask the admissions officer what you can do to get ready. Or check the college website for information about the test and ways to prepare for it.
  • It's also wise to practice with sample placement exams before the test. For better preparation, try simulating the real testing experience by not using calculators or other resources to complete the practice exams

What Kind of Math Is on a Placement Test?

The topics on a math placement test may include linear equations and inequalities, exponents and polynomials, factoring, roots and radicals, quadratic equations, fractions, and order of operations. All of these topics must be sufficiently covered without the use of a calculator to pass the placement test.

Is the College Placement Test Multiple Choice?

The typical college placement test consists of 60 multiple-choice questions that must be completed in 90 minutes. There’s only one correct answer per question, and partial credit isn’t given.

What Happens After I Take the Test?

Once your test results are available, you may be assigned automatically to the course level that fits you best. Or you may have a meeting with your academic adviser to decide on your first-semester courses.

What Are Good College Placement Test Scores?

Tests and the scoring systems can vary from school to school. An adviser can tell you the scoring range and what you’d need to achieve based on your academic pursuits.

Can You Fail a Placement Test for College?

You can’t fail a placement test for college. If you receive a low score, you'll be placed in developmental classes for that subject to help increase your knowledge of the topic before you advance to more rigorous courses.