College Placement Tests: Math And English

Female college student with bun in her hair with textbook covering her face. She is standing in front of a brick wall frustrated from studying for the college placement tests

College freshmen may be required to take placement tests, also called assessment tests. Concurrent and dual enrollment students may be required placement tests too. If you have SAT/ACT scores, your placement may be calculated utilizing the scores for math placement.

Be sure to check out, Why Students May Not Need To Take SAT And ACT Tests.

Purpose of Placement Tests

The purpose of college placement tests are to determine how prepared you are to do college-level work, whether you’re starting at a community college or a 4-year university. Your test scores give a college an idea of your academic skill level. You cannot fail the test. Your placement will ensure you enroll in classes that are at your academic level. Usually, tests aren’t timed, they are composed of computer-generated multiple-choice questions. The tests are free and most colleges allow them to be taken twice. If you don’t do well the first time you can study and retake it.

Universities often have set times during the year to take placement tests. While community colleges don’t. However, usually, it is necessary to schedule an appointment. Once you have taken placement tests and subsequent English and Math classes, you will not need to take a placement test when you transfer.

You do not need to take both placement tests at the same time. I took my Math placement because I knew I wanted to take a Math course early on. I didn’t take my English placement until two years later when I was ready to start taking college-level English. Remember, I was a concurrent enrollment student, so my class structure was slightly different, not of a typical college student.

I attended college in California. When I enrolled in community college, assessment tests were required. However, in 2017, bill AB 705 was passed, removing placement testing. California students are placed utilizing their high school GPA and coursework. Students who did not complete at least 10th grade in a U.S. high school, graduates of a non-U.S. high school, or international students, will need to complete the Guided Self-Placement process to decide what English and Math to take.

Computerized College Placement Tests

Most college placement testing is computerized. This type of testing is adaptive and customized for each student. Subsequent test questions are based on responses to previous questions. The first few questions are of average difficulty and randomly chosen. These questions measure an individual student’s skill level. Computerized tests are adaptive. Subsequent questions update according to how the previous question was answered. No two tests taken are the same. In most cases, the student will be able to know their result immediately after taking the test.

Subjects Students Are Tested On

Typically, colleges test students in areas like English and Mathematics. Though uncommon, some schools will test in Science and Foreign Language.

English Placement Test:

English placement tests usually contain three sections: English usage, sentence correction, and reading comprehension. The English usage and sentence correction sections of the test ask questions about verb, pronoun, diction, modifier, and sentence composition problems.

The Reading Comprehension section requires students to demonstrate the ability to understand and interpret passages similar to those they will read at a college level. These items specifically require students to comprehend the literal meaning, interpret figurative language, draw inferences from what they read, and recognize principles of organization.

For most students, if English is their first language, the English placement test will be basic and easy. For students whose first or native language is one other than English, the test might be a little more challenging. If you take your time and study, you will be able to place into college level English grammar, vocabulary, and reading comprehension. If you don’t place where you thought you should remember you can take the placement tests again and utilize the resources available to prepare.

Math Placement Test:

A Math placement test generally includes several areas of math. For example, basic arithmetic, fractions, pre-algebra, algebra, geometry, and trigonometry. Your score determines the level you will be placed in. Doing well in the algebra section of the test will allow you to skip remedial math and jump right into College Algebra. If you score very well, you can place out of College Algebra. It’s important to score in College Algebra or higher because those classes count toward your certificate or degree, and they are transferrable.

My Math Placement Test

I took my placement test when I was 14 and in 9th grade at Butte Community College. I was placed in Intermediate Algebra, which is one class lower than College Algebra. Intermediate Algebra is a remedial class. Therefore, it did not count toward my associate degree. I took the placement test once, I’m certain if I had taken the test again, I would have been able to test out of Intermediate Algebra.

However, I didn’t mind taking the class as it counted for high school credit. It was also very important to me that I ensured my math foundation was solid, I didn’t want to take a higher class where I might struggle. Once I began the Intermediate Algebra class, I quickly realized it was much too easy for me and I should have placed in the class above, but again I was still earning high school math credits, so it was beneficial.

Math can be a hard subject for many students. This article has lots of tips and tricks on, How To Pass Your Math Classes.

Yellow stair case with math multiplication number on the risers representing college placement tests.

Take Practice Placement Tests

Take as many practice tests as you can. Not only will you learn the material better, and become more familiar and comfortable with it, but you will also boost your testing confidence. The key to doing well is to practice questions that are similar to the actual test questions. Almost all colleges have sample questions and practice tests, these will be specific to their tests. Check your college’s website, usually, information about placement testing can be found in the Admissions section.

Online Resources For College Placement Tests

If you feel like you need more help, there are many resources online. I recommend, Khan Academy and ACCUPLACER Practice Tests. Both are free and include practice questions and explanations for correct and incorrect answers.

The goal of a placement test is to place at the college level. This saves you time and money because you can skip introductory courses that won’t count toward your degree. If you don’t do well the first time, don’t panic. Study a little more and retake the test.