Students who have recently graduated from United States high schools are usually expected to provide colleges with SAT or ACT scores. Most adults going to college for the first time are not expected to provide these scores. Instead, colleges may expect students to take a placement test after they have been accepted at the school. The placement test determines how prepared you are to do college-level work.
Types of Placement Tests
Not all community colleges use the same placement tests. You should look at the school’s website to determine which test they use. There are usually three main placement tests. They test math, reading and writing abilities. You may need to brush up on these skills before testing time. Here are some of the more commonly-used tests and some ways to prepare for them:
ACCUPLACER or CPT- computer test
To practice for the Accuplacer test, check out the Test Prep Review website at
You can also check your college’s website to see if they offer a sample test. Usually, information about placement testing can be found in the Admissions section of the college’s website.
COMPASS - computer test
To see what kinds of questions are on the Compass test, check out the ACT's website at
ASSET – paper-and-pencil test
To see what kinds of questions are on the Asset Test, check out
Some schools use their own placement test. You may take it on a computer or on paper.
You may not have the option of choosing whether to take the test on a computer or on paper, but it is good to know general information about both methods so you can be prepared.
Things to know about tests on a computer:
- There are fewer questions.
- The questions change to match your ability. For example, if you answer a question incorrectly, the next question will not be harder.
- It is not timed. You can take as much time as you need.
- You receive your scores immediately.
- You cannot go back and check or change your answers after you have finished answering all the questions.
- Reading text on a computer screen can be difficult for some people.
- For the math section, you have to work out the problem on scrap paper and then input the correct answer in the computer.
- Taking a test this way can be difficult if you are new to computers.
Things to know about tests on paper:
- You can go back and check or change your answers when you are done answering all the questions, if you have time.
- You do not need to know how to use a computer to take it.
- You can work out math problems right in the test booklet.
- The test is timed. For example, you may have to complete 25 questions within 35 minutes.
- The level of difficulty of the questions cannot change to match your ability. On a paper test, the questions tend start off relatively easy and then get harder.
- You may not receive your scores for a few days or weeks.
Preparing for a Placement Test
You cannot fail a placement test. But this does not mean you should not study! The test determines what courses you will be placed in when you begin at college. Depending on your score, you may need to take extra developmental courses or you may be able to start regular college courses right away. If you give yourself time to brush up on some of the skills on the test, you increase your chances of doing well on the test and starting in a higher-level class than you would otherwise.
Your school's website may have test preparation information or links to other test preparation websites. You can also go to the local library and borrow a few GED test practice books in math and language arts.
If English is Your Second Language:
Important: Be sure to ask at the college which placement test they use if you want to earn college credits towards a degree. Some schools use one test for people who want to take ESL courses that don’t count towards a degree, and a different test for people who want to take college courses to get a degree.
Here are some of the more commonly-used placement tests with an ESL component:
This tests grammar and usage, reading, and listening. It is used to place you in the correct course level, either developmental (ESL) or college-level. You take it on a computer. You may have to pay to take the test. Ask at the college for more information. Or, visit the ACT website to read the about the test and to see example questions and level descriptors:
This is another test to place you in the correct college course. It covers sentence meaning, language use, reading skills, listening, and writing. It is a computer test. You may have to pay to take the test. Ask at the college for more information. For more information visit the College Board website: http://www.collegeboard.com/student/testing/accuplacer/accuplacer-esl-tests.html
Here are some websites to help you prepare for the ACCUPLACER ESL:
Minneapolis Community and Technical College
To read this document, you need the free Adobe Acrobat Reader software. Go to the Links and Worksheets page in the Resources unit to get it.
On the home page, click on “Accuplacer Test Practice.” Scroll down to the Self-Assessment Modules and take the practice tests. For lessons, go to the Accuplacer Test Practice page, scroll to the bottom, and click on “Self Improvement Directory.” Click on “Accuplacer,” and click on a topic.
CELSA - Combined English Language Skills Assessment
This is another placement test for ESL students. It tests understanding of meaning in context and grammar. It can be a computer or paper-and-pencil test. You may have to pay a fee to take it, or it may be free. For more information, visit the Assessment Testing website:
Here are some websites that can help you prepare for the CELSA:
Houston Community College
On the home page, click on “Future Students.” Under “How Do I Get In?” click on “Testing,” then click on “CELSA.” Read about the test, then click the link for sample questions. You will need the free Adobe Reader software on your computer. You can get it from the Links and Worksheets page in the Resources unit.
El Paso Community College
On the home page, move your mouse over “How to Enroll,” then click on “Placement Testing.” Scroll down and click on “CELSA test information.” You need the free Adobe Acrobat Reader software. To get it, go to the Links and Worksheets page in the Resources unit.
Add CLEP from the docs