Preparing for Placement Exams

This article discusses how students can prepare for their placement exams.

By Lynne Blumberg — January 18, 2023


Preparing for Placement Exams

Many colleges require entering students to take placement tests before registering for classes. While the colleges believe the students they accept have the potential to graduate, some students enter with weaker academic backgrounds than others. The placement tests should indicate whether students must take remedial or introductory classes before their regular college course load. Nonetheless, many students claim their placement test scores do not reflect their actual abilities. Thus, the introductory classes they place into will waste their time and tuition dollars. When I was an academic advisor, many students requested to take a retest. Unfortunately, these requests were rarely granted. To avoid this situation, do some preparation before taking the exams.



Preparation

One way students can prepare for placement exams is to ask their counselors in admissions or academic advising what placement exams they will be required to take. They should also ask what resources the college has available to help them prepare. Many schools use Accuplacer exams to test students' backgrounds in Math and English.

Test takers can go to the Accuplacer website (https://www.accuplacer.org/) for summary information about these placement exams and take practice tests. Consider reviewing material from prior courses to refresh your memory. For example, a writing placement exam may require students to write a five-paragraph essay. Review former notes and textbooks on essay writing.

Test Anxiety

Anxiety and not getting enough sleep can also affect test performance. For test anxiety, the common wisdom is to strike a balance between the fear of failure and feeling too confident and relaxed. It's okay to feel a little nervous while taking an exam. This nudges a tester to think harder and double-check answers. When testers are too nervous to think clearly or too relaxed to care about what they are doing, problems arise. College advisors may know of workshops and other resources that offer information about test-taking strategies and test anxiety.

If the test material is new to a student, preparation prior to the exams probably won't be sufficient. The student will be placed into a remedial or lower-level class and learn the tools necessary to be successful at advanced levels. Sometimes students are surprised that their high school backgrounds are found inadequate. I remember when I taught remedial writing at a university, and a student came to my office and said she got straight A's in her high school English classes. She assumed she would be placed into English 101. We reviewed her writing so that she understood why she needed to take my class, and she was promoted to a college-level writing class the next semester.

Stigma's

The stigma often attached to taking lower-level classes adds to students' surprise. I constantly reminded my remedial writing students that studies that compared (showed) students required to take remedial classes were as successful in college as students who didn't require them. Their initial test scores could not predict their future outcomes. When students witnessed how their writing improved during a semester, some started to believe me.

Whether the material needs to be reviewed or is new, study the material, learn how to handle stress, and apply test-taking strategies. These practices will be useful for placement tests and future exams. The important thing to remember is that test scores aren't etched in stone. With the appropriate efforts, scores can be improved.

Lynne Blumberg

Lynne Blumberg

Lynne Blumberg has worked as an educator and academic advisor. She enjoys sharing insider tips with students and their families, so they are unintimidated by college policies and procedures.
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