How Long Is A Placement Test For College?

By Amanda HoyleJanuary 7, 2022
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Amanda Hoyle
Amanda is a proficient and widely published educational leader, with Master's degrees in both Education and Psychology.
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Getting an acceptance letter is one thing, qualifying for college-level courses is another.

Many college institutions use admission requirements to filter applications; rejecting or accepting based on standardized test scores, essays, extracurricular activities etc. Open-access institutions (mostly two-year colleges with non-selective admission standards). require further assessment after accepting all applicants.

A lot of four-year institutions with competitive admission also choose to do some assessment for their accepted applicants before putting them in suitable course tracks.

This assessment done after acceptance into college is known as a placement test. The aim is to test college-level course readiness based on scores.

Early on in the 20th century, rigid policies (i.e academic probation, prerequisite, progression and graduation policies) for placement were set in place. The rigidity declined in the 1970s, allowing college students who are perceived as adults to make decisions as regards their placement and even if it results in failing the course.

These policies have been refined giving room for those who have bad scores in placement tests, get support in the form of remedial class/ developmental courses to help prepare them for advanced college courses rather than allow them to fail it or have them wrongly placed.

Placement Tests assess students’ competencies in important subject areas like mathematics, reading, writing, and a foreign language. It gives the college an idea of your academic skill set and how well you can fit into the institution. 

Who Takes A College Placement Test?

The majority of freshman students in four-year college institutions and two-year institutes take a placement test. On some occasions, it is a requirement, while other institutions make it optional. Students who transfer from one college to another, usually need to do a placement test in their new college institution also. 

Community colleges find this a necessity because most of them admit all students with a high school degree. The test is used as a way of identifying the varying skill levels of its students and allocating them to the right course track or otherwise providing necessary support.

In some college institutions, it is only a requirement for students who have graduated high school more than 5 years before their college admission. While others who have graduated from high school probably within 2 years of getting into college are placed in appropriate classes based on their high school grades.

It is also a requirement for students who need to get financial aid or take dual credit courses in high school. 

How Long Does A College Placement Test Take?

This varies for different college institutions. Some college institutions have timed placement tests while others don't. But on average, it takes around 2 hours to complete the test. The number of subject areas being tested too differs among students. Some colleges permit you to spread the test over two days- i.e mathematics today and then complete the English language the next. 

In colleges where the tests are not timed, the length is dependent on how quick each student is. On the college website, you should find an average on how long it takes the average student to complete the test.

Types Of College Placement Tests

Colleges access new students mostly for mathematics, writing and reading course placements. Common test makers used by colleges are COMPASS,  ACCUPLACER,  ALEKS, ESL. These test makers offer varying tests from reading to writing to mathematics, writing essays and English as a second language.

Writing tests usually assess the ability to identify mechanical and usage errors i.e errors in grammar, punctuation. In writing essays, test-takers are required to write a free response to a prompt.

The Compass test is written and designed by American College Testing, ACT, an independent, not-for-profit organization that provides various assessments for educational advancement. The Accuplacer, which competes with the Compass as a college placement exam, is written and designed by the College Board, also a nonprofit educational testing and services company. 

Compass tests are untimed and multiple-choice, except for the writing essay. The Compass is not a traditional test, in the sense that there are no passing scores. Instead, the test identifies areas of strength and weakness in major subject areas. Results are provided immediately upon completion of the test, and the score report includes placement messages informing the test-taker of courses he or she must or is eligible to take.

The Accuplacer test, like the Compass, is in multiple-choice format and is untimed. However, for the Accuplacer test, the format is more adaptive. Your answer to a question will determine the next question asked. You are required to answer a question before you can move on to the next. It selects questions for you based on level of ability. You’re not allowed to move on to the next question without answering the present one and changing the answer to an already answered question is not possible.

ALEKS uses artificial intelligence for assessment. This test is organized by McGraw Hill using big data. It has been used for Mathematics, Statistics, Accounting and Chemistry by over 25 million students. ALEKS- Placement, Preparation, and Learning (ALEKS PPL) is a web-based program that uses artificial intelligence to map a student's strengths and weaknesses. In 30 questions or less, PPL’s open-response Placement Assessment determines students’ knowledge across 314 topics and places them into courses from Basic Math to Calculus, including corequisites, Statistics, and non-STEM courses. There are free personalized practice questions you can use for your study in preparation for this test.

ESL is used to test English Language proficiency especially for non-native english speakers. This is commonly used for International students, testing their vocabulary, grammar and reading comprehension.

How To Study For College Placement Tests

Learn More About the Test (Research For Your College)

Your colleges’ website should have details on the nature of the tests you would be taking and what it should cover. Take note of how to prepare for the test, when it will take place and what is required to start the test. Your college might also have workshops in place to prepare you for the placement test.

Review high school Notes

An ideal place to start from is your high school notes. Review your high school textbooks that are useful for preparing for the test. Your foreign language notes and textbook come in handy here. If it has been several years since you attended high school and you no longer have high school notes, you can get a SAT or ACCUPLACER review book from a library close to you. If it is too brief and not helpful, you can get a subject-level review book as an alternative.

Look For School Resources Online

There are resources available online as you prepare for placement tests. Khan academy provides access to free mathematics videos that are useful for college placement tests. ACCUPLACER is a common test maker used by most colleges. You can find numerous practice questions on different sites online. Your college website also provides you with the resources you need to prepare for the test.

Get A Good Night’s Sleep Before You Test

For every test or exam you take, it is always a good idea to sleep well before writing. Sleep is important for consolidating all you have learnt. There is no need to cram before writing a placement test. If you cram before taking it, your test results won’t be accurate and the essence of taking a placement test in the first place is defeated.

Can You Fail A Placement Test?

Placement tests are designed to assess your ability level and not to give you pass or fail grades. It is not possible to fail a placement test. If you don’t do as you expect, you are allowed the opportunity to take the test again in most colleges. Results are typically out immediately and you are to meet your college advisor to guide you on what classes to take based on the results from your test. 

Placement Test Waivers

High SAT and ACT scores taken recently can serve as waivers for placement tests. For transfer students, transcripts that reflect good grades qualify as transcript waivers.

It is common for colleges to accept ACT scores higher than 19, taken with 5 years of admission time as an exemption from taking placement tests.

High SAT scores are used as waivers. The score varies by university. Some colleges use Evidence-based reading & writing scores of around 480-500 minimum and Mathematics scores of 480-530. 

Other tests that commonly qualify as waivers include:

  • College Level Examination Program (CLEP)
  • Advanced Placement examinations (AP exams)
  • The International English Language Testing System (IELTS)
  • Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL)
  • General Equivalency Diploma (GED)

Placement testings don't affect admission decisions or provide course credit. It doesn't appear on your degree transcript or affect your GPA. Studying for it is not overrated; the test is only meant to help you be more successful in college. You are advised not to cram to do the test as the results will not be valid and won't be of any use to you because there is a likelihood that you're wrongly placed. 

It's also okay if you do not score high marks; that's where your college comes in and supports you with remedial courses. That might result in extra college expenses and more time though. 

To save money and time, don’t just stop at getting accepted into college, go the extra mile and prepare yourself for college-level courses. Those classes you avoided or thought weren't useful/didn't fully understand in high school, might just be necessary to understand college-level courses- It is a good time to review them.

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Amanda Hoyle
Amanda is a proficient and widely published educational leader, with Master's degrees in both Education and Psychology.
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