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What Are College Placement Tests?

Last updated February 22, 2024

When starting college, you may need to take a placement test in order to be placed into the appropriate class. We break down what you need to know about college placement tests!

Person in gray sweatshirt writing on a paper with a mechanical pencil on a wooden table - What Are College Placement Tests?

What are college placement tests?

Schools use college placement tests to evaluate a student’s proficiency in core subjects– like math, reading, and writing– to place them in classes that match their skills. The purpose of these tests is to ensure that students aren't taking classes that do not accurately reflect their proficiency in a certain subject.

The type of placement test you will take will likely depend on the school you’re attending. For example, the most common placement test used by community colleges is the ACCUPLACER, which tests a student’s proficiency in math, reading, and writing. Individual colleges may have their own version of this test as well.

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

Do I have to take college placement tests?

While some two- and four-year colleges may require incoming students to take placement tests, they are most commonly used at community colleges. You may be exempt from taking placement tests, so be sure to check in with your school’s enrollment or admissions office to learn more. Things that can make a student exempt from taking placement tests are:

  • SAT/ACT scores
  • Transcripts or transfer credits from a college you previously attended
  • Recent placement test scores
  • AP test scores
  • High school GPA

How does my placement test 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 receive your degree.

Are college placement tests 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 placement tests?

Here are a few things you can do to prepare:

  1. Visit your school’s enrollment or 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. They might even have study groups or 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.

Have any questions about college placement tests? Text #College to 33-55-77 to chat with one of our advisors. If you're using a mobile device, click here to have the text message set up for you!

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