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What Are College Placement Tests?

Last updated June 22, 2022

Need to take a college placement test? Here’s what you need to know about them- why they’re important, how much they cost, and how to study for them!

What Are College Placement Exams?

What are college placement tests?

Schools use college placement tests to evaluate a student’s proficiency in math, reading, and writing in order to place them in classes that match their skills. The purpose of these tests is to ensure students don’t waste time or money spent in classes that do not accurately reflect their skills or proficiency in a certain subject.

The type of placement test you will take will likely depend on what school you’re going to. The most common placement test used by community colleges is the ACCUPLACER - which tests a student’s proficiency in math, reading, and writing. It is also possible that your school has their own version of these tests.

Additionally, if you are a non-native English speaker, you might be required to take a separate or additional ESL placement test, so be sure to check in with your school’s enrollment & admissions office about what’s required before you start taking classes.

Do I have to take them?

If you plan to attend community college, you will likely need to take a placement test before starting classes. Some two and four-year colleges may require incoming students to take placement tests, but they are most commonly used to place students in community college classes.

You may be exempt from taking these tests - so be sure to check in with your school’s enrollment & admissions office to learn more. Things that can make a student exempt from taking these tests are:

  • SAT/ACT scores
  • Transcripts or transfer credits from a previous college or university
  • Recent placement test scores
  • AP test scores
  • High school GPA

How does my score affect my education?

First and foremost: You cannot fail a placement test! While the idea of taking these tests can be daunting, they’re just used to ensure you’re enrolled in the right classes to succeed. It is important, however, to prepare and study for these tests so that you’re placed into the right courses. If you’re not well prepared, there is a chance you could be placed in a lower-level course, meaning you’ll have to spend more time (and money) in classes to be able to graduate or receive your degree.

Are they free?

While some placement exams are free, others may range in price. Check in with your school’s registration office to inquire about a fee waiver and the requirements to receive one.

How can I best prepare for these tests?

Here’s a few things you can do to prepare for the test:

  1. Visit your school’s enrollment & admissions office to learn about the format of the test. Will they be using a testing platform such as ACCUPLACER? How long will it be? What tool(s) are you allowed to use and bring (calculator, scrap paper, etc)? What material will be covered? How long can you expect to wait for your results? Knowing what to expect beforehand can help you further prepare for the test.
  2. Gather practice tests and resources to study. Check in with your school’s testing center about getting any practice tests or list of suggested resources to help you prepare for the test. They might even have study groups or practice sessions on or around campus to help you prepare. The College Board also has great free study resources for the ACCUPLACER, like practice exams and essays.

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