Preparing for Community College Placement Tests

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Community colleges commonly use placement tests in lieu of lengthy application processes. Learn more about these exams and pick up some helpful study tips to prepare for them as well.

Tips for Taking Community College Placement Tests

Unlike 4-year universities or grad schools, most community colleges utilize an open admissions policy. This process allows you to bypass the seemingly endless slog of essays, letters of recommendation, and personal statements that prospective university students face and enroll directly in the degree or certificate program of your choosing.

Because community colleges do not require as much information, they need a means of determining the capabilities of new students. To gauge the skills of these students, community colleges use placement tests, which are skills assessments used to place new students in the courses that are most appropriate for their level of knowledge.

Proper preparation for these exams is essential. By following the steps listed below, you can ace your placement exams and start your college career on the right foot.

Multiple Choice Test

Step 1: Check Your Exemption Status

Depending on your past academic history, there's a chance that you might not even need to take a placement test. Community colleges offer a number of exemptions for all sorts of academic achievements.

In general, students with the following credentials are commonly excused from taking placement tests:

  • Transcripts from another college/university proving completion of prior college-level courses
  • Adequate standardized test scores (i.e. SAT scores of 500 or above in each section and ACT scores of 21 or above in each section)
  • Prior placement test results (no older than two years)

Conversely, you'll probably need to take a placement test if you have never attended college before and your standardized test scores are below the school's minimum standard.

Requirements vary from school to school. Check with your school to confirm their standards for exemption. If you're exempt, congratulations! You're ready to enroll in classes. If you still need to take the exam, don't worry about it. The next sections contain plenty of information on how to get ready.

Step 2: Know What You're Up Against

Once you've checked your status and confirmed that you need to take a placement test, it's essential to find out which test you'll be taking. Placement tests come in all shapes and sizes, so let's take a look at what you're most likely to expect.

The most common placement test is the Accuplacer. This standardized test is actually comprised of several sections designed to test a student's aptitude in essential knowledge areas, such as reading, math, and writing. The Accuplacer is a computer-adaptive assessment, meaning that the exam adjusts the difficulty in real time as students answer questions correctly or incorrectly.

Depending on your nationality, you may be required to take English proficiency exams. For example, non-native English speakers looking to enroll at Prince George's Community College are required to take the Michigan Test of English Language Proficiency.

Students taking test

Your location may also play a role, as several states and individual schools have devised their own entrance examinations for incoming students.

Step 3: Start Preparing

Placement tests are unlike past exams you may have taken in high school. These exams assess general knowledge, which can make it tricky to prepare for them. Fortunately, there are plenty of online resources to help you get ready.

If you're taking the Accuplacer, the best place to go is straight to the source. This web-based app was designed by the makers of the Accuplacer and provides practice tests and quizzes with detailed explanations of the correct answers. Best of all, it's completely free of charge!

There are many online resources for students about to take a placement test. Study.com, for example, offers courses on each of the Accuplacer sections. These courses include study guides on all the topics you could encounter on the test, as well as sample questions and practice tests. Other study tools are available from community college websites, including online workshops and study guides. These guides are especially helpful because they familiarize you with the type of questions that will be found on the real exam.

Study group

As always, general test-taking strategies can be extremely beneficial. Keep these tips in mind, and you'll be sure to do well on your test:

  • Get a good night's sleep: If you show up tired, it'll be much harder to focus. Get at least eight hours of sleep, and you'll enter the test feeling refreshed and alert.
  • Wear comfortable clothing: Exams can last several hours, and uncomfortable attire can be a serious distraction.
  • Read directions carefully and thoroughly: Some questions will try to trip you up, so be sure to read each one carefully so that you completely understand what is being asked of you.
  • Manage time wisely: Be aware of time constraints, if any. Not all sections of the Accuplacer are timed, but you should still stay organized and prevent yourself from spending too much time on any one question.

Step 4: Take the Test!

Once you've done all you can to get ready, there's nothing else to do but take the placement test. If you're nervous, keep in mind that there's no way to 'fail' these exams. Administrators use these scores to determine which classes you will be placed in - nothing more. A poor score does not mean you cannot still attend classes.

Happy test taker

With proper preparation and careful focus, you're sure to earn a great score on your placement test and set yourself up for a successful community college experience. Good luck!

By Bill Sands
November 2017
college preparing for college

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