Placement Tests

Most adults going to college for the first time are not expected to provide SAT or ACT scores. Instead, colleges may expect students to take a placement test after their acceptance at the school. The placement test determines how prepared you are to do college-level work.

Types of Placement Tests

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. Not all community colleges use the same placement tests. Look at the school’s website to determine which test they use. Usually, information about placement testing can be found in the Admissions section of the college’s website.

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. You can also check your college’s website to see if they offer a sample test.

COMPASS – computer test

To see what kinds of questions are on the Compass test, check out the Test-Guide website.

ASSET – paper-and-pencil test

Practice questions for the ASSET test can be the Test Prep Review website.

Some schools use their own placement test. Check to see if you can take it on a computer or on paper.
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.
  • Most of these tests are timed.
  • Scores are shared immediately.


  • Reading text on a computer screen can be difficult for some people.
  • For the math section, you need to work out the problem on scrap paper and then input the correct answer in the computer.

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. Questions tend start off relatively easy and then get harder.
  • It might take a few days or weeks to receive the results.

Preparing for a Placement Test

You cannot fail a placement test. But you still need to 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 college’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. Check out the Academic Brush Up page for more review resources.

If English is Your Second Language:

It is important 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.

Commonly-used Placement Tests with an ESL component


This test is taken on a computer and assesses grammar and usage, reading, and listening. It is used to place you in the correct course level, either developmental (ESL) or college-level. You may have to pay to take the test. Ask at the college for more information. Or, visit the ACT website to read 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.


This test is used to judge your English language skills in reading and grammar. For more information about the format and grading of the test check out the National Reporting System for Adult Education website.

Websites to Help Prepare You for COMPASS ESL
My Compass Test Prepare for the test by taking both of the free sample tests. Mometrix Test Preparation Mometrix Test Preparation offers free videos and practice tests to help you prepare.
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. Test Preview 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.
Websites to Help You Prepare for the CELSA
Estrella Mountain Community CollegeUnder “ESL Testing” click download the free CELSA practice test. QuiaQuia, Quintessential Instructional Archive, provides CELSA practice questions online. Click “Play this game”.

What’s Next?
Once you’ve finished taking your placement tests, it’s time to pick out your courses for the semester!