ESL Placement Test Sample Questions

Instructor: Elizabeth Hemmons

Beth has taught early childhood education, including students with special needs, for the past 11 years. She has a bachelor's degree in Elementary Education.

ESL placement tests are a comprehensive way to assess language skills. In this lesson, we will demonstrate some sample placement test questions to practice with your ESL students.

ESL Placement Tests

It is vital that all ESL (English as a Second Language) students complete a placement test to assess what level of instruction needs to be provided. Usually, the test is administered on a computer, and most of it is read aloud to the student. Most tests are divided into three parts; reading, writing, and listening. Some tests have an additional section for grammar/word usage. This lesson will help guide you through some practice questions that your students could encounter.


Depending on the age level of the student, the reading section of the test usually provides passages that the student needs to read to themselves and then answer a few reading comprehension questions. These questions are usually regarding main ideas, vocabulary, and inferring. The following are some reading sample questions:

Elementary Level

Read the following passage and respond to each statement with true or false.

Mr. Smith loves to read. He likes to read to his sister. He enjoys reading books that are funny. Mr. Smith gets his books at the library. He goes to the library on Mondays. He brings his books back on Fridays. Mr. Smith reads books everyday.

  1. Mr. Smith likes to read books.
  2. Mr. Smith likes to read to his sister.
  3. Mr. Smith gets his books at the bookstore.
  4. Mr. Smith only reads on Mondays and Fridays.

Intermediate Level

Read the following passage and answer the questions.

During colonial times, most colonists had their clothes custom made by tailors. A tailor is a person who makes, alters, or repairs garments, including suits, coats, and trousers. Tailors worked in their shops to create clothing for colonists. The fabrics they used were made from linen, wool, or silk. Each garment was created specifically for each customer. Tailors used many tools when working with their fabrics to create garments. Pins were used to keep the fabric pieces together. Needles were used with thread to sew pieces of fabrics together. The tailor used a measuring tape to measure their customers to make sure their garments fit properly. A tailor was an essential trade of colonial times.

1. What is the main idea of this passage?

a. Living in colonial times
b. The trade of tailors during colonial times
c. Examples of garments created by tailors

2. In the passage, what does the highlighted word garment mean?

a. A tool
b. A type of fabric
c. An article of clothing

3. Why did a tailor use a measuring tape during colonial times?

a. To measure customers
b. To put clothes together
c. To put pieces of fabric together

4. Why is the trade of a tailor essential?

a. Being a tailor is hard work.
b. Colonists need clothes to wear.
c. Nobody wanted to be a tailor during colonial times.


This sub test will only be given to higher level intermediate ESL students who have had practice with written expression in English. Students are instructed to write an essay on one of the following topics. These essays should be 1-3 paragraphs and include details to strengthen the main idea.

Example 1

Explain what freedom means to Americans.

Example 2

Share an example of a time when you overcame or succeeded at something that you believed was too difficult for you.


During the listening portion of the placement test, students will be instructed to listen to sentences being read aloud. When this is done on a computer, head phones can be used to limit distraction of other students.

Elementary Level

Example 1:

What letter do you hear me say? Recording says, 'C.'

a. A
b. F
c. M
d. C

Example 2:

Listen to the passage and fill in the blanks.

Recording says, 'Spot is a dog. He loves bones. Spot lives in a blue doghouse. He loves to chew on his bones. Spot is a happy dog.'

1. Spot is a _____.

a. Cat
b. Person
c. Dog

2. Spot loves _____.

a. Bones
b. Blue
c. Houses

3. Spot lives in _____.

a. A garage
b. A blue doghouse
c. A red doghouse

Intermediate Level

Example 1:

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